No one likes to talk about death or finances, let alone raise those subjects with their parents. But the responsible thing is to do it anyway.
It may feel difficult for you to start challenging conversations with your parents, and they may even resist it. No one is infallible or immortal, though, and having uncomfortable discussions can make a big impact on your life and theirs down the line.
However, geriatric medicine expert Dr. Alicia Arbaje says, take things slow. Don’t try to sit your parents down for an hours-long conversation one day. That can be overwhelming and maybe even counterproductive. Instead, begin conversations naturally as they may come up.
“You might talk about a neighbor who’s moved to a retirement community or mention a news story about a living will,” suggests Arbeje, director of Transitional Care Research at Johns Hopkins. “You might say, ‘Mrs. Jones really likes being around other people.’ Or ‘I just read an article about end-of-life care. It sounds like a good idea to tell people what you want.'”
Do some research and keep the following discussion points in mind as you plan out these important conversations with your parents.
Young or old, there may come a time in life when you’re incapacitated or for some other reason are unable to make your own medical decisions. It’ll be stressful if your parents end up in such a situation. If they can’t communicate their preferences, you and your family may feel stuck on what decisions to make regarding their medical care. To ensure your parents’ wishes are respected, talk to them before this is a problem.
Making medical decisions on behalf of someone else requires more than a conversation, though. Your parent will need to give someone medical power of attorney (POA) to make medical decisions on their behalf — something that cannot be obtained after your parent is incapacitated.
The POA should understand your parents’ wants, which they can communicate through a living will. A living will allows someone to detail their medical desires should they become incapacitated in the future, taking out the guesswork for anyone else.
Retirement raises new tax issues, which your parents may not be prepared for. The IRS enforces required minimum distributions, or RMDs, from certain retirement accounts every year for those who are turning 73 years or older. (If your 72nd birthday was in 2022 or earlier, RMDs started at 72.)
Anyone who misses the Dec. 31 deadline each year faces a 25% tax penalty. Depending on your parents’ finances, that could be thousands of dollars down the drain.
RMDs are no longer required from Roth accounts for tax years beyond 2023.
Scammers and abusers will often target seniors due to their vulnerability. Elders may be lonely, suffering from a cognitive impairment like dementia or less aware of newer fraudulent methods.
Seniors are also more likely to have assets than their younger counterparts, making them even more of an ideal target for fraudsters. There are many types of financial fraud to look out for: medical drug scams, Social Security scams, telemarketing and more. There’s also elder financial abuse. In cases like these, victims are most often targeted by loved ones or someone they trust.
Talk to your parents about having a point of contact they can go to with questions if they’re unsure of someone’s intentions. Maybe that person is you, but it doesn’t have to be.
Seniors should be critical of who they grant conservatorship to, as whoever is in that role can manipulate a senior’s finances to their own benefit — and the warning signs of this sort of financial abuse aren’t always obvious. Conservatorships can be important for seniors who need help, but the role can be abused if put in the wrong hands.
Planning for death
Properly honoring a loved one after death can come with tough choices. You want to do things the way they’d want. Ask your parents if they’d prefer a burial or cremation.
Is there anywhere they’d want to be buried, or a place where they’d like their ashes to be spread or kept? Any rites or rituals they would like included in their funeral? Do they even want a funeral?
Depending on the circumstances of a parent’s death, you may be approached about organ donation. Is that something your parent would want?
It can feel uncomfortable to ask about your parents’ preferences, but it’s better to do so sooner rather than later. Take out the guesswork of following your parents’ wishes. You don’t want to have that stress on top of the grief you’ll already be experiencing.
Caring.com, a resource site for caregivers, found in its 2024 Will and Estate Planning study that 1 in 4 participants don’t plan on ever creating a will. More than 40% say they’ll wait until a health crisis to write one.
But death and medical emergencies don’t always come with an advance warning.
When a person dies, their estate goes into probate — a complex process where the will is authenticated before the executor of the will can take care of the dead individual’s assets and debts. If someone dies without a will, the probate process is further complicated. This can cost you and your family time and money.
Your parent should also name the executor of the will. This person will be responsible for overseeing your parents’ assets according to their written wishes. It’s also important for your parents to store their wills somewhere safe, like a bank deposit box. The executor of the will should know how to access the will when it’s time.
Many participants in Caring.com’s survey indicated they don’t have a will because they don’t have enough assets. But regardless of how wealthy your parent is, no will means a messier probate. Sit down with them to let them know an up-to-date will allows their family to take care of things during a time of grieving with more ease.