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How to talk to aging parents about end-of-life affairs

The question of what happens to your parents affairs when they pass away is not an easy one to ask. Not many people are comfortable talking about death and dying. However, adults with aging parents may regret it if they never have “the talk.”

Do your parents have their affairs in order? What will happen if a sudden accident or illness occurs? If their affairs are not settled, then grieving family members will be left putting the pieces together. Encourage your parents to create a complete estate plan. This can be an awkward subject. You do not want to come across as greedy or nosey, so how do you appropriately approach the topic?

Getting the conversation started

Having a face-to-face conversation is a great way to get started. Sit down with your parents and be prepared with a set of questions. They might not want you to know every detail of their finances. Many people hold the notion that finances are a personal topic, not to be talked about. That is not necessarily an issue, as long as you know where to find important documents in case of death or incapacity. Imagine trying to rummage through an attic or a pile of boxes full of documents to find one piece of paper. They should give you instructions for finding documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney or healthcare directives.

If your parents are private people then these topics will be difficult to discuss. A caregiving expert at AARP suggests using “I” statements to prevent the conversation from steering into a power play. She suggests saying things such as, “I’m worried about doing the right thing when you pass.”

Questions to ask

If you parents do not want to indulge the details of their finances, then you may encounter surprises when they are gone. Do they have a list of every account they owe money to? If you parents become incapacitated then how will their bills be paid? Someone will need to handle unpaid rent, credit cards, insurance, loans and any other outstanding bills. Ask them if they have powers of attorney established.

Will you know what kind of medical treatment they want in case of incapacity? It is important to know if they have a health care directive. You may have discussed their wishes for resuscitation, but that cannot be proven without a legal document.

There are a number of additional questions that your parents should consider in an estate plan. It helps to add a professional into the conversation. Estate planning attorneys are comfortable with this topic and they can be a neutral voice in the discussion. Sitting down together with your parents’ estate planning lawyer will get everyone on the same page. Together you can create a plan that will make matters easier when they pass on.

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