Discussing your parents’ end-of-life wishes is one of the most difficult conversations you will have in life; it’s also one of the most important. This conversation, if had far enough in advance, can ensure that you honor your parents’ preferences and have a role in the decision-making process leading up to and following their deaths. If you put off this discussion until it’s too late, you will have to navigate the unknown during an already emotionally stressful time and you may not be able to uphold your parents’ wishes.
While the idea of discussing your parents’ end of life may seem scary or uncomfortable, it can strengthen your relationship by allowing you to reach a new level of caring and understanding. You will want to cover the following topics during your discussion:
Health and wellness
When approaching this conversation, it’s crucial that you let your parents know ahead of time that you would like to discuss their end-of-life plans with them. If possible, provide them with an outline of what you would like to cover; this will help them come prepared, which means you can have a more productive discussion.
If you have any siblings, always extend an invitation to them as well. Even if you’re the oldest or the executor of your parents’ will, your sibling(s) should still participate in the conversation. This can also help to prevent any feelings of ill will when you eventually need to carry out your parents’ end-of-life wishes.
Finally, set expectations for your family and yourself. This will influence the tone of your meeting. If you make it clear from the beginning that your goal is to understand your parents’ end-of-life wishes to ensure they are upheld, then you will have more productivity and engagement amongst your family. You may run into some hesitation or resistance when discussing your parents’ preferences because some may find it difficult to talk about their own death. Approach these feelings with understanding and break your discussion into multiple parts if needed; for example, one conversation to cover your parents’ financials, a second to discuss their health preferences and a third to preplan their funeral.
The first set of end-of-life questions to ask your parents pertains to their financials. Specifically, you will want to have a strong understanding of their estate plan or determine if they need to work with an attorney or tax advisor to develop one.
Do Your Parents Have a Power of Attorney?
If your parents do have an estate plan, have they identified their power of attorney as well as a backup? A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that grants a person, called the agent, the authority to make certain financial decisions on behalf of another person, called the principle. A POA terminates immediately when the principle dies. The key with appointing a POA is to make sure your parents pick someone they trust, whether it’s the other spouse, you or one of your siblings. It’s also recommended to select a back-up POA if their primary POA is no longer available.
Do Your Parents Have a Will?
A will is a legal document that coordinates how you want your assets distributed after your death, and it typically includes designation of an executor, beneficiaries, instructions for how and when the beneficiaries will receive their entitled assets and guardians for any minor children. If your parents don’t have a will in place, the state in which you reside will decide how to distribute their assets; the results could go against many of their end-of-life wishes. Encourage your parents to work with an attorney to draft and update a will that reflects their wishes if they haven’t done so already.
Tip: Collect the contact information of your parents’ tax advisor and/or attorney.
Who is Their Executer?
In your parents will, they should have designated an executor, the person who will carry out the provisions of their will. Unlike a POA, an executor can only carry out the directives in the will after the person dies. Similarly, though, it’s also recommended that your parents identify a back-up person if the primary executor cannot or will not serve. If your parents do not identify an executor in their will, the laws of the state in which they reside will dictate who should serve as the executor.
Who Are Their Beneficiaries?
Your parents’ will should also include any beneficiaries who will inherit your parents’ assets. Common types of inherited assets include retirement or investment accounts that do not list any beneficiaries or transfer of death (TOD) instructions, cash, real estate, businesses, personal property and valuable items.
Do Your Parents Have a Trust?
A trust, or living trust, is another legal document that indicates who will receive your assets. The difference between a trust and a will is that a trust will take effect immediately upon signing and funding it whereas the latter doesn’t go into effect until death. You can have both a will and trust, so remember to check if your parents do have a trust during your conversation.
Where Do Your Parents Keep Their Money?
After understanding the foundational elements of your parents’ estate plan, you should next assess where they keep their money. Do they keep everything in a checking and savings account, or do they have their funds in various stocks and bonds? What about a safety deposit box? Knowing where your parents’ money is and how to access it will help you feel more organized and in control of the situation when it comes time to settle their estate and distribute their assets.
Tip: Gather bank account information like routing and account numbers as well as usernames and passwords ahead of time. If you are the POA, doing so will help you more easily manage their funds if they can no longer make financial decisions for themselves.
Do Your Parents Have Life Insurance?
In some cases, people may have life insurance through an estate plan because it can help to speed up the process when transferring wealth to beneficiaries. Check if your parents have a life insurance policy. If they do, make sure you know what the policy is, which company it’s with and how you can make a claim.
Other Financial Questions to Ask Your Parents
It’s easy to overlook certain financial aspects when having this discussion with your parents. Common missed talking points include any outstanding debts, active bills or recurring payments they make – like magazine subscriptions or streaming services. Bring these questions up during your end-of-life talk so your parents can better plan for minimizing any debt and nonessential recurring payments.
Health & Wellness Questions
After covering your parents’ financials, you should next focus on questions regarding their health and wellness. Specifically, you will want to discuss:
Long-term and hospice care options
Medical power of attorney
Do Your Parents Have a Long-Term Care Plan?
The National Institute on Aging defines long-term care as a variety of services designed to meet a person’s health or personal care needs during a short or long period of time. Most long-term care is administered at home, but it is also provided in other settings such as nursing homes and adult day care facilities. Hospice, or “terminal” care, aims to ease a person’s suffering and pain in their remaining days, weeks and months.
The costs associated with both long-term and hospice care are expensive and, according to ConsumerAffairs, about 70% of people require long-term care at some point in their lives. It’s important to understand what plans your parents have in place if they would need either type of care. This will encourage your family to plan more proactively for either or both options. Fortunately, long-term care insurance options do exist to help reduce the expense.
Do Your Parents Have a Medical Power of Attorney?
A medical power of attorney allows you to designate someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you become incapable of making those decisions yourself. When discussing your parents’ health and wellness, determine if they currently have or need to appoint a medical power of attorney.
Do Your Parents Have a Do-Not-Resuscitate Order?
Another difficult, yet important question to discuss with your parents is if they have a do-not-resuscitate order, or DNR order, in place. A DNR order is a medical order written by a doctor that instructs healthcare providers to refrain from performing life-saving efforts like CPR if a patient’s breathing stops or if their heart stops beating. Knowing this information ahead of time can mentally prepare you and your family if one or both of your parents have a DNR order.
Funeral Planning Questions
By this point in the conversation, you will have already covered a lot of ground with your parents. Like the first two topics, the third topic – funeral planning – is meant to help you and your parents discuss how they prefer to carry out their end-of-life wishes. The idea of preplanning your parents’ funerals may seem daunting, but preparing ahead of time can help to relieve both the financial and emotional burden when they do pass. In addition, you know your parents will have the service they envisioned because they planned it ahead of time.
To start making their funeral arrangements in advance, you will need to ask them a few key questions:
How do you want to be remembered?
What kind of ceremony would you like?
Who would you like to attend and participate in your service?
What would you like done with your remains?
Have you already purchased cemetery property?
While so much more goes into funeral planning, these initial questions will give you and your parents an idea of what kind of service they would like and how they want others to remember them. After establishing this foundation, it’s recommended that you and your parents work directly with their trusted local funeral provider to learn more about putting their advance funeral plans in place.
How to Wrap Up the End-of-Life Talk
Your end-of-life discussion with your parents doesn’t have to end on a somber note. While it’s a tough conversation to have, you will be far more prepared when faced with your parents’ loss and you will have peace of mind knowing you can uphold their end-of-life wishes.
After running through the financial, health and wellness and funeral planning questions, end your discussion on a high note. Thank your parents for their time and willingness to discuss such difficult, personal topics and offer to take them to dinner or have a family night. This is a perfect moment to have some quality family time and show your appreciation.
At The Love Always Project, we believe that by accepting, embracing, and planning for death, we can ease the pain of friends and family while providing a final chance for connection. Access additional resources to help you and your loved ones prepare. Learn more about our mission and join the movement.