Where did mom keep the will? Is there a will?
Discussing financial issues and end of life decisions is generally charged with emotion. This information may very well open the door to important conversations to have with aging parents.
My parents both passed away suddenly and our family never experienced the “sit down and talk about end of life issues” talk. Mom lived many years after dad passed away and rather than a formal discussion she “threw out” information regarding an upcoming appointment to write her will, or mentioned that a certain document was kept in the safe and where the keys were. We knew my brother was listed on the checking account, that she wanted a bag-piper at her funeral and how we should divide her collectables. We were lucky; mom had been the executor of her uncle’s estate and knew about putting things in order. Not every family is so fortunate. Many families avoid having this emotionally charged discussion. By not knowing what has been put in place, families are faced making many decisions at an uncomfortably fast pace. Planning ahead can lead to peace of mind for parents and grown children.
The most important piece of this process is communication and specifically, communication with all family members. Once a member of the family feels left out of decision making conversations, trouble starts. We live in an era of accessing each other through conference calls, email and text messages. Decisions need not be made without all family members. Siblings need to be patient and respectful of others reactions and feelings. During these conversations, tendency is to slip into the same roles we had when growing up together. Keep this in mind when the oldest starts to seemingly boss everyone around or the youngest whines that no one tells her anything. Focus on the end result, honoring your parent(s).
When is the best time for a meeting? It might be easier to list when not to hold a meeting. Stay away from holiday visits, family reunions or at the end of a hospital bed. Set a specific place and time for this important conversation and don’t forget to include your parent(s). Once the meeting is set, address the following points:
- Where are all the important papers kept? Is there a safe, shoebox, drawer or a safe deposit box at the bank?
- Is there a will? Where is a copy kept?
- Have steps been taken for someone to make decisions if your parents cannot? Is there a living will?
- Does your parent have a lawyer and a financial advisor?
- Where are insurance policies kept?
- What about a financial advisor and is contact information readily at hand?
- Are there files on a home computer?
- Social Security numbers
All these documents may already be in order and readily accessible. But what about the books, coin collection or jewelry? Are there instructions on how these items are to be divided? Did dad put names on the bottom of certain items? An excellent resource for non-titled property is a program through the University of Minnesota Extension called “Who Gets Grandmas Yellow Pie Plate.” The workbook from this program is available for purchase and can walk you through the transfer of personal items. Ordering is done through www.extension.umn.edu/family. Michigan State University Extension has used this curriculum in the past and may have a workbook in your local county office.
Hopefully your family can sit down together and begin the task of finding out what your parents want to have done when they pass. For many, it’s time to start a conversation with your own children. Pre-planning will help alleviate some of the stress families experience when a loved one passes away.