5 Questions to Ask Your Aging Parents About Their End-of-Life Wishes

End-of-life-wordcloudHow to Talk to Your Aging Parents About End-of-Life Wishes

Few conversations are tougher than talking to a parent about their end-of-life wishes. Yet, putting this important discussion off can have many negative effects, not the least of which is a loved one dying in a way they wouldn’t choose.

Talking about end-of-life wishes is needed to ensure that your parents’ preferences are honored, and so your part of the decision-making process is based on a clear understanding of those wishes. While it can be a difficult topic to broach, there are ways to approach it that can bring the dialogue more comfortably out into the open.

5 questions you can ask include:

  • 1. Do you have a will?
    When a person dies without a will, their estate is divided in probate court by a judge. Verbal statements won’t count in court, and leaving it up to a judge can take months and cost thousands of dollars. You can try raising the issue with your parent by saying, “If something happened to you, I want to know that your wishes are honored. Do you have a will?”
  • 2. Have you thought about long-term care insurance?
    Long-term care either in the home, in an assisted living community or nursing home can be costly – and most of those costs aren’t covered by Medicare. The median annual price tag for assisted living in the U.S. is $43,500, while a year in a private nursing homes is about $82,00 a year on average. If they haven’t already, your parents may want to consider investing in this insurance, as it make a big dent in out-of-pocket costs for long-term care.
  • 3. Do you have a power of attorney?
    A power of attorney is a person who has been designated to make legal and financial decisions in the place of someone who is no longer able to do so for him or herself. Similar to a will, if no power of attorney is designated in writing, then it will be up to a judge to make the final decision. When that happens, a spouse may not be able to access funds to pay for long-term care, or sell a home that’s owned jointly.
  • 4. What are your housing preferences?
    Most people prefer to stay in their current home for as long as possible, but it’s important to ask your parents where they would like to live if that was no longer an option. Perhaps they would prefer to move in with one of their children, want a part-time caregiver to help with the tasks of daily living, or are interested in a senior living community. Whatever your parent’s preferences, you’ll be glad you asked when they’re no longer able to live on their own.
  • 5. Do you have an authorized user for your bank and investment accounts?
    If your parent becomes unable to handle their own finances, a trusted loved one may need to access funds to cover the costs of medical care, a nursing home, or funeral arrangements. The easiest way to avoid probate court for these matters is to select a trusted person as co-owner of the investments and accounts. This is often the same person who is the power of attorney, and allows them to deposit and withdraw funds from the account.

These are just a few of the important questions to ask your parents about end-of-life preferences, but they are issues that most families face.

If you’re unsure of how to start such a tough conversation, you might try leading into it by saying things like, “I need your help with something,” or, “You’ve taken care of me all of your life, now I want to return the favor,” or by asking, “I need to think about the future. Will you help me?”

You likely won’t get all of the answers you’re looking for after one discussion, so it’s important to be patient and remember that your parents’ end-of-life wishes merit an ongoing discussion.