Little Mama had some surgery last week and being the dutiful (and only) daughter, I was right by her side to see her through it. It was also the first time she’s had anything major happened since before my  dad passed which means I was the one “in charge”.  When my dad was alive he was a classic type-a person. There was never a time when he wasn’t in charge of every situation and he was always the one that was with questions you need to ask your parentsmy mom for doctor visits, surgeries – anything that was more involved than a routine checkup or dental cleaning.  

When my dad found out that he had cancer, his type-A kicked into high gear and he had notebooks upon notebooks of records and notes. Every doctors visit was recorded in detail with any follow-up that was needed. Not knowing whether or not he would beat the odds and the cancer, he made sure that all plans were in place in case he didn’t. And when he passed 20 months later, I was extremely grateful that he had been so detailed. Since my dad passed, I’ve had several friends go thru the same thing and I can tell you from experience – the only thing worse than grieving the loss of a parent is grieving the loss and then having a huge mess to deal with. 

While your parents are young and (hopefully) healthy, it’s a great idea to talk to them about what they want to happen if they become ill or pass suddenly. It’s not exactly a fun conversation to have but believe me, it’s time well spent.

Here are some questions you want to ask:

  • Do they have a living will and/or advanced directives? If they do, make sure you get VERY clear instructions before you’re in the middle of a crisis. do they absolutely want nothing to do with life support or do they want to be on it for a reasonable amount of time? When my dad was sick, he stopped breathing while he was in the hospital and they had to intubate him. Mom wasn’t sure if that’s what he wanted because he had a DNR (do not resuscitate) so
  • Do they have a power of attorney and if so, who is it? Just because you may be the oldest sibling doesn’t mean it’s you. And if they don’t have one, they need one. This gives (you) the ability to act on their behalf should they become incapacitated or pass. If there is not one in place, ALL of your parents assets will be frozen for an indefinite time. This becomes most challenging if one spouse (usually the wife) is left behind.
  • How do they feel about assisted care should they need it? Do they have long-term care insurance? If they don’t and are still reasonably young (60 and under) they can actually get a policy in place for a reasonable rate.
  • What are their wishes when they pass? Do they want to be buried or cremated? Small event or big one? Super religious or celebration of life?
  • Have they already made funeral arrangements?  My parents bought their burial plots 20+ years ago because they wanted to be in a particular memorial garden with my grand-relatives. Ironically, this is when they found out that *I* had no interest in being buried.
  • Where is all of their paperwork? Think of things such as wills, insurance papers, pensions (if they have one), stocks, etc. Help them build a notebook of who they bank with, their financial planner, insurance rep, attorney and so on. Account numbers, online access (this won’t be one most of our parents think of
  • Do they have beneficiaries on all of their accounts? If so, have they revisited that recently? Too many of us ‘check this off’ our to-do list and never revisit it. What if a beneficiary is no longer in the family because of divorce? What if there have been 8 grandkids added since the last time they checked.
  • Is there real estate that will need to be dealt with? You probably want to consider adding a transfer-on-death clause into deeds and other investments. By recognizing the death formally, heirs avoid probate, but only pay taxes on the appreciation since they inherited it.
  • Are there any “special” circumstances you need to be aware of? Such as do they support a family member and if so, should that continue? Are there kids from a former or new marriage? Is there a possibility that someone may contest the will? There’s no way you can plan for all of the “special” ones but throwing some of these out there could spark something.
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People tend to shy away from these kind of chats because they think it means death is near. While that may be the case in some situations, it’s more about being organized and getting paperwork together when everyone is in a good state of mind and health.