By Hilary Thompson
As parents age, it’s helpful to start thinking about the assistance they might need with daily life tasks as well as preparing for end of life matters. While no one wants to think about their parents dying, it can actually be a very supportive experience for everyone in the family and help make their deaths easier on you down the line. Here are six things to consider as you help your parents get their affairs in order.
Discuss the care they need now
As people age, certain activities become less accessible for them. For instance, driving becomes a greater risk. Activities in the home that carry the risk of a fall might need to be phased out. Keep an open conversation with your parents about what they’re still comfortable doing and what you have concerns about so you can make sure they get the support they need.
Maybe they need to make new plans about how to get to doctors’ appointments or do minor home repairs. Perhaps they need some new social activities since isolation becomes more common as people age. Whatever it is, setting up these supports proactively will help keep small issues from becoming bigger later.
Decide about late-life living arrangements
At some point, your parents probably won’t be able to live on their own anymore. When that happens, will they live with you, a sibling, or another relative? Will they have live-in care? Will they join a retirement community or assisted living home? Start looking into options before you need them, especially because many communities or homes have waitlists.
Many older adults are exploring new ways to live with additional support as they age. There are elder cohousing communities popping up around the country. Talk with your parents about what level of care they’ll want or need and make the plan before it’s time to implement it.
Plan for funeral options
You may be worried about funeral costs for your elderly parent. If they don’t have much left in their savings, coming up with a substantial amount of money (funerals and burials can cost upwards of $20,000) is a valid concern. There are insurance plans made just for final expenses, and you can get the best burial insurance for seniors over 80 in a few different places. Many children are not aware that you can easily obtain burial insurance for your parents. Many life insurance providers will offer policies without medical exams. Qualifying for policies like these are extremely easy.
The other piece of this is to discuss with them what type of memorial or service they’d like to have. This can be tricky to bring up if your parents don’t do it themselves. If you’re worried about it, ease into the conversation by reflecting on the services of other family members, or even just talking about favorite family memories you have. You can also talk about your thoughts about your own funeral. Then simply ask them if they’ve thought about what they want. If they have, they’ll likely appreciate the opportunity to talk about it with you. If they haven’t, some gentle encouragement can get them started. Doing this now will make it much easier for you later, when they’re gone, to make decisions under stress.
Tidy up their stuff
Chances are, your parents have plenty of stuff in the home they no longer need, things left over from raising kids or merely the accumulation that happens over the years. Rather than leaving them to do this alone or having to do it on your own when they’re gone, schedule regular times over a few months to go through their home (don’t forget the basement and the attic!) and decide what to keep and what to pass on. Having you to cart things away or distribute them to other family members will be a huge help.
Getting rid of stuff is an emotional process for most people, so go into it understanding that it’s not just about the logistical matters and acknowledge the reasons they have for keeping all that stuff. Follow these tips to help parents downsize.
Wills and other legal paperwork
At the very least, everyone should leave a will, but some more thorough planning is a good idea. For instance, even the simple act of gathering documents like birth certificates and contact information for their insurance, medical team, and attorney is a good start. Estate planning will prepare you to efficiently manage property, vehicles, and the like once they’re gone.
There’s more than one type of will. A last will and testament is a statement about what they want to happen to any property when they’re gone. If they’ll be leaving financial assets behind, a trust can be an excellent way to protect them and make sure they are distributed as desired.
A living will or advance directive is a document that outlines what kind of medical care they want to receive when they may be in a compromised state of mind or otherwise unable to decide on the spot. This will name someone who can make the decisions for them as well as wishes about various levels of medical intervention. Along with this, establishing power of attorney is helpful. This legal act names someone who will make medical and/or financial decisions for them.
Spend quality time with them
As your parents approach the end of life, make sure that your interactions with them don’t center around planning. This is still a great time to bond and form memories. Many people in this stage of life enjoy looking back on their lives, what they’ve accomplished, the relationships they’ve had. Engage your parents by asking questions so they can share these reflections with you. If you’ve had contentious relationships, this is a good time to do some healing around those, both for your parents and for yourself.
These conversations and tasks are hard to do for many people, so take your time and pace yourself. Gentle encouragement, small steps, and regular breaks will make the process easier for everyone. And the more comfortable you are with the topics, the more comfortable your parents can be, so learning on your own will help.
Hilary is a freelance journalist and mother of two who loves to write about everything from senior health to business, tech and parenting. Coffee is her friend. You can follow her on Twitter @TypewriterHil.