Happily retired, my parents were focused on travel, hobbies and grandchildren. Death and incapacity were unattractive topics of discussion; but I knew we had to address them, or wait until a far worse time.
It took about a year of convincing, but they began to see the need after this conversation:
Me: “I don’t know what your wishes are when you die. I want to do whatever you want.”
Parent: “It’s all in the will. You’re our executor, by the way.”
Me: “Where’s the will?”
Parent: “In the safe deposit box.”
Me: “Where’s the safe deposit box?”
Parent (exasperated): “At the bank, of course! And our attorney knows all this.”
Me: “Um…which bank? What attorney?”
Over several meetings, we opened up; and they named the process “Life Wishes.” Here are some key points of discussion for your “Big Talk.”
Locate the keys
I’m not just talking about physical keys to a safe deposit box (and rights to access it), but passwords, too. If your loved ones use computers or accounting software, be sure you can get in.
Inventory major assets and liabilities
Who holds the mortgage? Is there a life insurance policy? Stocks? Who will bear funeral costs? Are there other financial details you’ll need to know? Probe gently, without greed. Ask in love, and respect boundaries.
Make a list of “who gets what”
Decide who gets the silverware and that old painting of…well, whoever that is. Have them make a list. My parents’ list is in their safe deposit box.
Discuss power of attorney and living wills
What are their wishes for tube feeding, DNR, other medical decisions? How can you prepare for a senile parent, and have a legal leg (document) to stand on? If a will exists, know the executor. If these documents do not exist (an estimated 50 percent of Americans die without a will), rectify that.
Discuss long-term care
I asked my parents to research insurance coverage and costs. Whether or not they decided to purchase wasn’t my call, but at least they got to make an informed decision.
Discuss the nitty gritty
Do they wish to be cremated? Would they like to purchase a plot (or two)? Do they want a ceremony? Who pays for this? Note: I discovered that you could pick headstone wording in advance—even the font!
Roll with it
Your loved ones are going to have unique ideas. Example: “Whatever you do, don’t put this in a computer.” Keeping track of a physical file or scribble-filled napkin may be inconvenient, but you need to be flexible. It’s a difficult topic, and you don’t want to lose momentum.
By planning for the inevitable, we can make the transitions a little less bumpy.