According to the United States Census Bureau, senior citizens (adults over the age of 65) make up 14.5% of the country’s population—that’s about 46.2 million people—and 83% of those people have children and grandchildren.
With such high numbers of aging parents, it’s a good idea for their children to make some time to have difficult conversations regarding things like estate planning and last wishes.
Read through this post to get an idea of three discussions you should have with your parents to ensure their assets are protected and their end-of-life wishes are understood.
Dealing with Your Parents’ Estates
Although it’s likely that your elderly parents will have looked into estate planning already, you should check with them to make sure they have some documentation in place. Many Americans don’t have a Last Will or a Living Trust to handle the division of their assets after they pass away, and that’s likely not a situation you want your parents to be in.
When someone dies without a Will, the process of passing on their assets can become a long, overdrawn (and sometimes complicated) operation, and in some cases, it can leave the distribution of their assets at the discretion of a court-appointed administrator.
Having a Last Will allows your parents to name an executor they know and trust to carry out their last wishes so they can have more control over how their estate is divided.
Discussing Your Parents’ Potential Incapacity
A loss of agency refers to when a person loses their ability to make decisions for themselves. It’s not easy to think about the possibility of our parents losing their independence or their capacity, but it’s something that you should be prepared for all the same.
If your parents become incapacitated or can no longer make decisions for themselves, they’ll need to have someone step in to manage their affairs for them.
A Power of Attorney document comes into play here, which allows your parents to name an attorney-in-fact to make decisions related to their:
- Finances (such as paying bills, cashing checks, transferring funds, etc.)
- Legal affairs (such as communicating with their lawyer, filing documents with a court, etc.)
- Real estate (such as selling or renting residential or commercial properties listed in their names)
- Business dealings (such as managing their business, making employment decisions, attending meetings in their stead, and more)
Your parents might also benefit from creating a Living Will (also known as a Medical Power of Attorney or a Health Care Directive) that outlines their health care preferences should they become incapacitated.
A Living Will would allow your parents’ named agent(s) to authorize things like life support (CPR, assisted breathing, artificially administered food and water, etc.) and comfort care (the use of medications to create the most comfortable environment possible for the patient). They could also state whether or not they’d like to be resuscitated or revived in the case of organ failure.
Talking About Memorial Wishes and Funeral Planning
Talking about death is difficult for most people at any stage of life. However, it’s a good idea to discuss how your parents would like to be memorialized, and it’s best not to put off this particular conversation for too long because you never know what could happen in the meantime.
If you’re unsure how to make it through this potentially uncomfortable conversation, you might want to use an End-of-Life Plan to help structure it.
An End-of-Life Plan is an estate planning tool your parents can use to outline their wishes for their memorials.
The plan allows them to specify:
- Someone to carry out their wishes
- If they’d like a death notice or obituary to be written and published
- How they’d like their body and remains to be dealt with (e.g. cremation, burial, etc.)
- Where they’d like to be laid to rest (such as in a cemetery or spreading their ashes in a specific place)
- Whether they’d like formal services like a funeral, wake, or celebration of life held in their name
Many people include their funeral arrangements as part of their Last Will and Testament, but it’s better to have a separate document because a Will is often found and read after a person’s funeral.
You should also make sure that if your parents create any estate planning documents, they either give you copies or tell you where to find them.
Covering Tough Topics
No one wants to think about the possibility or the result of their aging parents’ last days. Most topics related to mortality and end-of-life planning are not considered polite dinner conversation, and they’re not things many people are thrilled to discuss.
However, having the talks now will make things a little easier when your parents eventually pass away, and they can offer some peace of mind for your parents because their last wishes will be heard and followed.