My parents are getting older. Dad will be 83 in a few months. Mom will be 72. Dad suffered a fall a couple of months ago and, although he has recovered, a full recovery was in doubt for quite a while. He is also close to being deaf and can hear only with the help of a hearing aid. Even then, he does not hear much unless the speaker is looking directly at him.
Fortunately, my parents are both generally strong and mentally alert. I think they have a few good years left in them. At the same time, their home is rather large for just the two of them and they live very far out of the way in a rural area of Florida. They certainly do not live close to any urgent care facilities. Even though they are happy where they are living, it does give me pause each time I visit them which, I know, is not nearly often enough.
My parents have talked about moving to a smaller home at some point but each year, that point is pushed farther off. With the economy and the housing market in such a sorry state, that may be just as well. At the same time, their future does weigh on my mind. My Dad has always made it clear that he has more than enough to provide for my Mom after he passes away, but money is not everything that needs to be considered.
The other day, my mother called to ask me if I wanted a garlic roaster. That seemed like an odd inquiry so I asked her why she was offering up a random kitchen item. She explained that she was going through her cupboards and getting ready to make a donation to Goodwill because she knows that at some point she will have to downsize and she does not want to have to deal with getting rid of everything in a hurry later on.
I thought that was a good first step for my parents. While I do not want to emphasize to them that they are getting old — not older, but old — I do want them to pay attention to proper planning. I used the Goodwill discussion as an opportunity to ask my mother if she would like me to have her stamp collection appraised. That way she could sell the stamps and use the money for something she and Dad might enjoy. She told me that she would rather leave the stamps to my son and I respected that. She is thinking about her legacy and how she will be remembered and that is every bit as important as seeing her enjoy the value of the things that she has collected over the years.
There are a lot of conversations that I need to have with my parents when the time is right, probably sooner rather than later. Here are some you might want to consider if you have an older parent.
Everyone should have a will. Everyone should consult with a lawyer who specializes in trusts and estates in order to have the will prepared. Everyone should review their will at least every five years or whenever a major life event occurs. If your parents have not been doing this, they should do so soon! One of the most important decisions they will make is the identification of which child or other person will be executor of the will. Make sure the executor will not act in any self-interested ways.
A will can tell grieving survivors a lot, but children should really talk to their parents to find out what the parents want to see happen after they have passed on. If Mom and Dad really want certain items to go to specific people, they should really consider making the gifts while they are still alive and can control the dispersal of their things.
Do your parents want to be kept alive on life support even if there is no hope? Each should have a living will to indicate their wishes.
Do your parents have a house that is too big for them at this point? If one passes away will the other be able to handle living in the home by himself or herself? It may be easier for them to downsize while both are still alive than to wait until one passes away or has to be placed in a nursing care facility.
If your parents live far from their children, do they have friends who can be supportive if one of them passes away? If a surviving parent is going to be left alone, who will be there to offer support? If there is no one, the parents might want to consider moving closer to a family support network.
If you have been in an argument with one or both of your parents, or your siblings, make amends now. You do not want to attend a funeral of a loved one and have to confront both the loss and the guilt of not having made amends.
You should know where your parents keep their important documents. When a parent passes away, the other parent should know where everything can be found. When a second parent passes away, the children should know where to find the will, and the documents that they will need to keep the parents’ home functioning until it is sold or otherwise passes to an heir.
As difficult as this may be to discuss, know how your parents would like their bodies to be handled after passing away. Where should they be interred? What kind of service and ceremony would they want? Should be advised of their passing? This is a horrible conversation but one that needs to happen.
Have you ever had to deal with the passing of a parent? What questions do you wish you had asked before they passed away? What conversations did you have with them?
(Photo courtesy of Marcel Oosterwijk)