My mother died at 61, when I was 31. Seeing her gravestone in a field of others hit me with a stark, yet obvious fact: everyone, including parents of all the world will die.
I promise you I’m not trying to depress you. I want to prepare you, because this loss may come sooner than expected. And when parents die, it’s often up to their children to manage not only the grief but also the financial tasks.
Scheduling these tasks now could help you later, when you may be having some of your toughest days.
“Surely we should have some idea of what we’re up against,” says Melanie Cullen, author of “Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To,” based in the San Francisco Bay Area. . She adds: “On the other hand, our parents need to know that we are interested, that we care about them, that we are there to help them.
Here’s why, how and what to talk to your parents about.
WHY DO I NEED TO DISCUSS THIS MORBID SUBJECT?
Without documented plans for your parents’ end-of-life finances, you could find yourself scrambling for money.
Say you didn’t have access to your parents’ financial accounts in the event of incapacity or death. What if your parents were too sick to manage their finances? You would need to pay their bills, but you couldn’t use their money to do so. Then you couldn’t use their money for their funeral, which could cost thousands of dollars.
Many caregivers end up “dipping into their own money,” says AARP family care expert Amanda Singleton. You can’t save or invest money that covers your parents’ expenses, she adds. And if you run out of money, you can get into debt.
Beyond this potential financial hit, your parents’ plans and wishes are less likely to come true if you don’t know what they are.
For example, during the months when my mother was dying, we never discussed her funeral. So when I planned it, I was engulfed in both grief and guesswork.
My family spent a huge amount of money on an open casket service, partly because we didn’t know what to do and had a hard time concentrating on the decision. I suspect my thrifty, camera-shy mother would have preferred a simple (and cheaper) cremation.
HOW DOES THE CONVERSATION FRAME?
Approach the subject with sensitivity and respect. Personal finance is an uncomfortable topic for many. Now your parents have to talk about both money and death with their child.
Your parents have probably attended more funerals than you and may have dealt with the death of their own parents. Consider tapping into those experiences to start your conversation, suggests Singleton, who is also an estate planning attorney in St. Petersburg, Florida. Ask them how they handled the end-of-life care of their loved ones.
Did Grandma have an up-to-date will and made her financial information easy to find for your parents? Maybe they can follow his example. Or if your parents were dealing with financial issues, remembering that experience might inspire them to get organized.
Another option: lead with a topical or personal prompt. That’s what Mark Schrader, a certified financial planner based in Charlotte, North Carolina, did with his mother. When his CFP courses covered certain topics related to planning, he talked about what he was learning and asked him questions about his intentions.
If you’ve learned about end-of-life planning on your own—say, in an article—or are making your own arrangements, let your parents know and ask for their perspective.
“Make it a planning and preparation conversation,” says Schrader, who is also a financial planning strategist at TIAA, a retirement planning organization. “It’s not so much about numbers or ‘how much do you have in those accounts?’ but “what accounts do you have, and how can I help you if for some reason you can’t be there?”
WHAT DO WE NEED TO COVER?
Ask if your parents have power of attorney for finances. This legal document names a person who can make financial decisions on their behalf. Also find out if they have similar documents for medical care, such as an advanced care directive, power of attorney for health care, or power of attorney for health care. A living will can be helpful, as this document outlines what they might want for end-of-life care.
Find out whether or not your parents have an up-to-date estate plan. This may include a living will or trust that specifies how they want their assets distributed. Assets would include their home, vehicle, stocks and money in various accounts.
If your parents die without an estate plan, state law determines who gets their assets — and the distribution may not be what they wanted.
If your parents (or you, for that matter) don’t have an estate plan, consider seeking out an estate planning attorney or low-cost will services.
Consult a professional for personalized advice. But if you want to get organized and focused first, check out AARP’s self-care guides, which include resources and checklists. Or consider trying a death planning app, such as Lantern, Cake, Empathy, or Everplans.
WHEN DO I BRING THIS?
Discuss this topic now, because loved ones can die sooner than you imagine.
And your parents’ lives and plans are going to change, so Cullen suggests “going into it as a lifelong conversation.”
This column was provided to The Associated Press by personal finance website NerdWallet. Laura McMullen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @lauraemcmullen.
NerdWallet: Estate Planning: A 7-Step Checklist of the Basics https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-estate-planning-a-7-step-checklist-of-the-basics
AARP: How to Stop Delaying Getting a Wills and Estate Plan https://www.aarp.org/retirement/planning-for-retirement/info-2020/how-to-write-wills-estate -plans.html
The Associated Press: Liz Weston: Facing death? There’s an app for that https://apnews.com/article/business-health-a5283431f3a25e5e258adfc04563db31