No one is immune to the inevitable reality that we shall all perish one day. It’s certain that all of us will die; if we’re fortunate, it will be in our old age, as we drift off to sleep.
Sadly, many of us pass away without leaving a will or other instructions to loved ones who can speak for us when we can’t, which can impose additional burdens and emotional stress on grieving loved ones.
Only 42% of Americans have a will, according to a 2017 poll conducted by Caring.com. However, failing to make preparations in advance can place an undue burden on loved ones who must deal with not just the deceased person’s estate but also their deteriorating health and mental state in the months or years leading up to the transition.
Many people postpone having conversations about estate and advance care planning with their loved ones because of the discomfort associated with contemplating their own parents’ aging and eventual death. But as the baby boomer generation ages, many adult children are finding themselves in precarious financial situations as they struggle to cope with their aging parents’ health care needs and funeral arrangements or find themselves in desperate situations with incapacitated parents who have left behind no advance health care directives.
Siblings who differ on what their parents’ desires may have been may be irreparably damaged by the scramble to obtain paperwork, make plans, and pay for care while still juggling bereavement, job, and family life.
Understanding your elderly parents’ preferences and the fundamentals of their estate and advance care plans will help alleviate some of the stress, grief, and family disagreements that are inevitable following a parent’s death, but not all of it.
End-of-Life Decisions to Make With Your Parents
Your parents’ estate and advance care planning decisions will have significant implications for you and your siblings.
What have they done so far in terms of estate planning?
If your parents have children, do they have a will? In a trust? Have you set up any accounts to pay or transfer automatically upon your death, or to which specific people you care about, using a beneficiary designation? Surviving spouse access on joint checking?
To fully grasp what will happen to your parents’ assets once they pass away, you need to be aware of the estate planning measures they have taken. Whether or not you are the estate’s designated executor, knowing this information can help you prepare for any potential conflicts that may occur among family members.
As the person in control of your parents’ estate after their death, the executor is someone you should be familiar with.
Advance Directives That Your Parents Should Have
Planning for one’s final days entails not just one’s estate but also one’s future medical care. The term “advance care planning” refers to the process of preparing for the chance that your parents would become unable to make decisions for themselves due to illness or old age.
You should discuss your parents’ desires for when they become disabled while they are still in good health, as you will not be able to obtain this information from them once they have lost the ability to speak for themselves. It could be too late if you put off having this talk.
However, there is more to contingency planning than simply understanding your parents’ wishes. Having “advance directives” in place implies that your parents’ wishes will be carried out in their absence.
Without a living will or health care proxy, physicians may refuse to discuss your parents’ condition with you, may force them to undergo unnecessary procedures, and may leave them in a financial bind.
According to Walter R. Pierce, an estate planning attorney and author of “Expect the Unexpected: Facing Mortality Issues with Dignity and Confidence,” these are the fundamental legal documents that your parents should put in place to avoid this.
- A Living Will
If you are terminally sick or become permanently unconscious, a living will can be used to express your desires for the use of life-sustaining therapy. Medical professionals are then allowed to carry out your wishes for the type of end-of-life care you would like to receive.
This only applies to procedures that would artificially extend your life. A person’s living will might be exceedingly detailed. They can specify whether or not you want mechanical ventilation, tube feeding, blood transfusions, and/or certain drugs.
- A Durable Power of Attorney
An “attorney-in-fact” is the person you name in a power of attorney (POA) to act on your behalf. A power of attorney (POA) can be general, giving the attorney-in-fact all the powers you would have if you were present, or it can be special, granting the attorney-in-fact only the powers necessary to carry out a specific task, such as authorizing a spouse to purchase a home and put your name on the deed.
Durable powers of attorney (POAs) are valid during periods of mental or physical disability. When your parents are no longer able to make choices for themselves, a durable power of attorney is a must-have document.
Because establishing guardianship through the court system may be time-consuming and complicated, having a power of attorney in place is essential for making decisions and paying payments on behalf of an incapable parent. Do not wait until an elderly parent becomes incompetent before having them name an agent to make decisions on their behalf in the future.
- A Health Care Durable Power of Attorney
If you become unable to make medical choices for yourself, a durable power of attorney for health care can be used to delegate such authority to another person.
- A Provision for Anatomical Gifts
Most states now inquire about donor registration when you apply for or renew your driver’s license, and some even mandate living wills to contain language concerning anatomical donations, such as organ donation.
When you sign up to be a donor, you’re essentially giving permission in advance for your body’s remaining organs, tissues, and eyes to be harvested and used. Furthermore, several jurisdictions permit you to specify the purpose of your anatomical gifts, such as transplantation, therapy, research, teaching, or the improvement of medical knowledge.
- Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order (DNR)
A do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order specifies how medical personnel should respond to the unlikely event that a patient’s heart or breathing stops beating unexpectedly. Chest compressions, electric cardiac shock, breathing tubes, and specialized medicines are all possibilities.
In the event that you require resuscitation, you won’t need to take any special action; the attending physician will almost certainly take every precaution to ensure that you continue to breathe and your heart continues to beat. However, you may add a DNR clause in your will to prevent this from happening if you so want.
Where Can I Find These Documents?
If you can’t easily get the relevant paperwork in a pinch, all the preparation in the world won’t help.
Eighty percent of parents have wills, but just 50 percent have told their children about them, according to a 2018 UBS analysis on the importance of discussing inheritance. That encompasses both their physical location and their very existence.
This can be a serious issue if the adult children are to take on fiduciary responsibilities like executor or power of attorney. 92% of parents surveyed in a 2015 Fidelity research said they expected one of their children to serve as executor, yet 27% of those named executor were unaware of the honor.
The function of the executor in administering their parents’ estate is significant. They will be responsible for sorting through their parents’ financial records, paying off any debts, and distributing any remaining assets in accordance with their parents’ desires. It will be difficult for the executor to complete their duty if they can’t discover the will, bank account and social media account details, and other documents essential to handle the estate.
Your parents can help you out by creating a “life file” that contains:
- All of their financial account information, including bank and investment account numbers, institutions, and passwords
- Details on their legal affairs, such as their will, power of attorney documents, and trust documents.
- Any and all
life insurance, pension, and Social Security policy details
- Documentation for every property, including cars and houses
- Pre-existing conditions and other health data
- Documents proving identity and age, such as social security cards and birth certificates
- Details about your memberships, regular payments, and credit card balances
Include everything that might be necessary to handle either your parents’ estate or any financial and health care choices they’d be unable to make for themselves if they become disabled.
And don’t forget about digital accounts, including usernames and passwords, that could be necessary to shut down anything online. I’ve heard many stories of people going away and leaving no means for survivors to deactivate things like Facebook profiles.
Because this life file will include everything about your parents’ lives, make sure to preserve it in a very safe place, and discuss its location with the family members who need to know about it.
Your Parents Should Make Advance Care Plans
The average lifespan of humans has increased. But while life expectancy has grown, not everything about that life has improved. A longer life expectancy may raise the requirement for long-term care services such as those provided by assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
A person reaching 65 in 2019 has a 70% likelihood of requiring long-term care in their remaining years, as reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The expenses associated with this type of care, whether it’s delivered at home or in a facility, may be very high.
According to the 2018 Genworth Cost of Care Survey, the average monthly expense for a nursing home resident is over $8,000. On average, a monthly fee of $4,000 is associated with assisted living facilities.
Many people may be prompted to pursue at-home care as a result of these expenses, despite the fact that it may not be less expensive. Genworth estimated that the monthly cost of having a home health assistant provide 44 hours of care per week would be $4,000.
Full-time care for an elderly parent may require you to cut your work hours or perhaps abandon your career, so taking on the responsibility yourself may not result in financial savings. In addition, 68% of carers, according to CNBC, provide financial help to their elderly parents by covering costs such as medication, food, transportation, and other essentials.
Having a family gathering to decide who will take care of your parents and how the associated finances will be handled is essential. You must inquire:
- How Can We Best Meet Their Needs in Healthcare? Is one of your parents totally against the idea of spending their golden years in a nursing home or assisted living facility? How do they feel about getting older in their own homes? Knowing your parents’ hopes and dreams is important, even though you may not be able to grant all of them due to your own family’s circumstances.
- Do They Have Coverage for Long-Term Care Costs? Long-term care expenses, such as those incurred by those requiring assisted living, nursing facility care, or home care, are not covered by Medicare, even though the program is open to all citizens over the age of 65. Long-term care insurance helps pay for this for individuals who can afford it. However, the cost may add up, especially if you’re already an adult when you apply, and not everyone is eligible.
- Just Which Medical Costs Does Their Health Insurance Pay For? Your parents may be solely covered by Medicare, may have health insurance via their old employer that they can keep even after retirement, or may have a combination of the two. It’s important to remember that not every strategy is the same. If you are in a situation where you must make medical decisions for your parents or give financial assistance in paying for their treatment or drugs, it is in your best interest to become well-versed with their coverage and benefits.
- Do They Have Enough Money Saved for Retirement Health Care? To meet health care costs in retirement, a couple turning 65 in 2018 would need to have saved almost $280,000, according to Fidelity’s 2018 Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate. Be mindful that this estimate rises annually if your parents are still young.
- If not, how will expenses be paid for? Most adult children wind up footing the bill for their elderly parents’ medical care and medications, so if they haven’t set aside enough money, you may find yourself in a similar predicament. Take the time to get down with your siblings and lay out how you’ll split the fees associated with this situation.
Understanding how different types of care are paid for may be really beneficial. For instance, Medicaid will pay for a nursing home stay even while Medicare will not. Most people in nursing homes have Medicaid pay for their care.
However, Medicaid won’t begin to pay for your elderly parent’s care until they fall below certain poverty levels, and in the meanwhile, it will consume all of their retirement savings.
What Are Your Parents’ Funeral Preferences?
My mother died unexpectedly, and I never got the chance to ask her about her final wishes. We didn’t know if she wanted to be buried, cremated, have her ashes scattered, or have a special plot reserved for her. This meant that we were responsible for making these choices on our own.
Funerals are for the living, but if your elderly parents don’t leave any instructions about their wishes, you may have to deal with additional sadness and worry about whether you made the correct selections. Get this talk started before it’s too late.
Inquire as to whether or whether your parents have pre-purchased a funeral service or burial ground, purchased funeral insurance, or made any other financial preparations for their own funeral.
How to Discuss Estate and Advance Care Planning with Your Parents
Conversations about end-of-life preparation might be uncomfortable, but they are crucial. Independent Age, a website dedicated to the well-being of the elderly, conducted a survey in 2016 that found that while over 80% of respondents agreed that talking about death and dying was necessary, only 37% had actually done so.
Lack of knowledge, concern about how family members would respond, avoiding unpleasant possibilities, and a sense that the timing isn’t right are some of the main reasons cited in the survey as explanations for putting off having the talk.
However, the repercussions of not having that talk might be devastating. Adult children may feel burdened by the obligation of making decisions on their parents’ behalf, especially when they are unsure of their parents’ preferences, and these decisions may differ from what their parents would have decided.
There may also be monetary consequences for failing to prepare. Some of these include the adult offspring having to foot the bill for expensive medical treatment, caregiving responsibilities falling on their shoulders, burial expenses (the national average is over $7,000), and inheritance taxes that are more than required.
It’s undeniable that “the discussion” about death and dying needs to happen, but how do you broach such a delicate subject? Catherine Hodder, an attorney and author of “Estate Planning for the Sandwich Generation: How to Help Your Parents and Protect Your Kids,” and Ellen Goodman, founder of The Conversation Project, an initiative to encourage families to discuss their wishes for the end of life, offer the following advice.
This is not likely to be a one-and-done discussion with your parents. The topic should be broached at the appropriate moment, and perhaps it should be introduced gradually.
Tell your other relatives the truth.
Avoid coming to be seen as domineering or secretive by including siblings in the discussion. It will also make sure that no one in the family is misunderstood. Keep in mind that you aren’t directly asking about your inheritance, but rather seeking to get insight into your parents’ values and priorities so that you can act responsibly when the time comes.
Your parents’ desires might shift during the course of this dialogue. Keep track of your hopes and dreams so you may look back on them later. And keep in mind that your parents’ wishes on the distribution of their assets, regardless of what they may tell you, will be null and void unless they are documented in a will.
Now is not the time to settle scores or make amends for wrongs of the past. Keep in mind that the discussion’s goal is to lessen the material and psychological burdens associated with making difficult end-of-life choices.
Remember that your parents may find this topic challenging just as much as you do. Few people enjoy broaching the subject of death and dying. Consider how you would feel if you were the focus of all attention. Worry about what could happen next and fear of passing away? Show some empathy and kindness.
Your responsibility is to listen to your parents rather than tell them how they should feel or act. A range of emotions, including grief and remorse, may be triggered by the discussion. You should listen to your parents’ feelings without passing judgment.
Consult an Attorney
A lawyer that concentrates on estate planning may do more than just draft legal paperwork for you; they can also act as a mediator and offer insight into potential points of contention that you had overlooked.
Think about how you’ll start the conversation.
Saying, “Let’s speak about end-of-life planning,” as an icebreaker might be a daunting proposition. Start the dialogue about what your parents would desire by sharing a personal story about your family. Remember how nobody knew what to do during Grandma’s funeral since she never told us?
You may also try asking for your parents’ input to make your queries sound less authoritative. As in, “Mom, I need your aid. I don’t want to be in a situation where I have to make decisions for you and I have no idea what you would have wanted.
Focus on Values
According to Goodman, it may be next to impossible to plan for every conceivable death-related event. Instead, you should endeavor to understand your parents’ beliefs and goals so that you can make good judgments in the future.
When Your Parents Are Healthy, Have the Conversation
Don’t put off asking your parents what they want until they can’t speak for themselves. If you put off making important choices until later, you may find yourself in a bind. Discuss it now instead of waiting until you need the information.
Keep in mind that it’s not always easy to strike up a discussion. “The fear that prevents individuals is crossing that threshold,” Goodman says. In other words, once you get past the initial shock, these discussions are neither frightening nor discouraging. If you ask them after they’ve done it, they’ll tell you it was “the warmest and most intimate talk they’ve ever had with their loved ones.”
If you find this whole chat to be awkward, just keep in mind that you are not alone in that feeling. This is why so few people have actually had this talk despite its widespread recognition as vital. If you’re at a loss on what to say or how to begin a conversation, Goodman’s website has you covered with conversation starter kits.
Talking to your parents about how they want to handle their own end-of-life is a delicate topic, but it’s one that needs to be broached nonetheless. At the very least, it can help loved ones cope with the unexpected death of a family member or close friend without losing their minds.
According to the 2016 Fidelity Investments Family & Finance Study, 93 percent of adult children reported feeling substantially more at ease after having discussions about end-of-life planning with their parents. Equally impressive, 95% of parents said they felt less anxious after having these talks.
Chris McDermott, senior vice president of Private Wealth Management at Fidelity, adds that “no matter how much wealth a family has accumulated, discussions about estate planning are essential to ensure the wishes of parents are carried out,” and that this is true regardless of the family’s financial status. Further, he says, “understanding your parents’ goals and expectations — and having an agreed-upon strategy, including the role each family member plays — helps secure more favorable financial and emotional outcomes for all.”
Adult children often find it difficult to think about their parents’ aging and eventual death because of the taboo nature of the subject matter. When a parent dies, it may cause a person to go through a long and difficult period of mourning. When one or both of your parents become physically or mentally incapacitated, or pass away, it’s already a traumatic event.
If you don’t know their desires, don’t have the appropriate legal paperwork in place, and don’t know where to locate them, the situation becomes much more stressful.