End of life planning
November 29, 2013 6:07 PM   Subscribe

My brother and I are sitting down with my parents tomorrow to discuss specifics of what they've put in place for end of life planning. What should we ask?

After my grandmother died a few months ago, no one knew anything about her affairs (insurance policies, bank accounts, the status of her mortgage and other bills), despite her death being no surprise to anyone. We were digging in random stacks of mail just to find contact information for her insurance agent. My brother and I (in our early 30's) resolved to not be in that same position with our parents and will be sitting down with them tomorrow to work on learning details about what we'll need to deal with when they die, presumably very far in the future. We figured having a discussion now while they are healthy would be a little easier instead of trying to hash things out when they're not.

What should we be asking for? What information will be necessary? My mother and uncles did the detail work for my grandmother's estate, so I didn't have any direct involvement in what needed to be done to resolve everything. As far as I can tell, my parents have done legitimate financial planning, have wills and life insurance. Should we ask for lists of accounts? Insurance policy numbers? Copies of the will? I'm going in blind, and would like to at least know what to ask for, even if this involves a few more family meetings.
posted by chiababe to Work & Money (23 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Make sure they have a plan to pay for their funerals. My father died last year and neither he nor my mother had planned anything about it, so I had to pay for it all, a thing I could ill afford.

Funerals are a cash up front business, so it's no good expecting the estate to pay for it - someone will need the cash at the time. There are payment plans for funerals, but they all require having started paying in advance.
posted by winna at 6:14 PM on November 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Whether your parents are expecting this conversation is going to make a huge difference. I'm going to assume that this is planned and that your parents are in on it, because if it isn't, there could be a whole host of issues that I'm not even going to start on.

That said: do they have a will? If they do, the rest is largely details. If they don't. . . get one drawn up. Have an attorney do it (should only cost a few hundred bucks) but get that done, stat.

From there, the next most important thing is living wills/health care directives. If they want someone other than the two of them to be the one with the final authority to make health care decisions on their behalf, they'll need to get a power of attorney made out designating the appropriate person.

Thinking about health care and end-of-life issues could be sticky, but they need to work that out. It's not much good to designate someone to make decisions if no one knows what decisions you want made. Make sure they know what they want to happen and that they communicate that to everyone, ideally backed up with a legally-sufficient writing.

As far as the actual logistics of the thing. . . it'd probably be easiest to just hire a lawyer. They'll know what they need to make the estate administration go smoothly, and paying them to do it would probably be easier for everyone in the long run. Think about it: when your parents do actually die, do you really want to be the ones to have to futz with bank accounts and insurance policies? Or do you just want to call your lawyer, tell them to deal with it, and then sign the checks? It'll cost some money, sure, but if your parents are in the situation where they've got life insurance policies, they can afford it.
posted by valkyryn at 6:18 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

They don't need to give you all those things (account numbers, wills, etc). What they can do is put all of it in a fireproof/waterproof safe (or bank box, or with an attorney), and hang the key in an area known to you and your brother.

You and your brother can do the same, just in case.
posted by Houstonian at 6:18 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: My parents have agreed to the discussion. We are absolutely not just going to spring it on them as a surprise.
posted by chiababe at 6:28 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Get Your Shit Together is a great website with a checklist for end-of-life preparation.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:36 PM on November 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

My parents (mother) is On This and has been for years. Like Houstonian said, she put everything in a fireproof safe (it's not even locked, it's just there being fireproof) in a specific place in the house. She also has informed me where all the guns are, so that if I prefer I can just call the Sheriff to come get them if I don't want to handle them. (Texas, y'all.)

Not only is all the hard paperwork in there, but there's also notarized copies of car registrations, the deed to the house, their drivers licenses, bank account numbers, the padlock code and paperwork for their storage unit, and one dwindling list of their relatives with last known phone numbers and email addresses. THAT is the stuff that will be so hard to track down - my dad knows where his estranged sister lives, but I have zero contact with her or her children and might need it then. My mom's last living first cousin is someone I could find, but I don't know who his kids/grands/greatgrands are if he goes first.

There is also a piece of paper with the logins and passwords to the cable/electric/water/internet/cell/library accounts. Just to make things easier. My fathers parents passed a long time ago, but my mother's parents both went in the last decade, and there were so many weird phone logins and tokens and coupons and crap. Mom has a copy of every utility bill in the box, and she swaps out for new every February (my birthday, lovely).

My grandparents, who died in the 2000s, bought their pre-need funerals in the 80s. We just called a number and told them a contract ID as the time approached, and then called a specific number when they actually died. Probably they got a great deal, buying 20 years in advance, but the helpful part was that all the information got filled out. We knew what plots they owned in a cemetery 300 miles away, we knew that my grandfather wanted a Freemason funeral plus they already had the paperwork for his military honors. It could not have been easier, administration-wise, when they died. But he was a WWII vet and civil servant and she never worked a day in her life, so they were very organized people.

Get the fireproof box, and have them start gathering everything in it. It's pretty easy once you get going.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:43 PM on November 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

Something which might not be on the lists. Have them (or do it with them) take a picture of everything which has real, lasting sentimental value to them and then have them write down the history.

My mother saved lots of stuff from her mother in boxes the history of which is now lost - it's hard to save/discard stuff when you are not sure the little figurine is either a cherished family keepsake which goes back 100s of years or something which someone just shoved in a box because they didn't want to throw it away...you will find that keeping everything is not an option - wouldn't you rather keep the intersection of not just what was important to you but was also important to them...
posted by NoDef at 6:46 PM on November 29, 2013 [11 favorites]

List any medications they take and the dose, and any allergies/do-not's, and keep that list on the fridge, so if there is an emergency they or you can take that info to the hospital. Also be clear about organ donation wishes.

For funeral stuff - burial or cremation? If cremation, scattering or putting somewhere; where? If burial, where? What do they care about - casket type? gravestone? what they wear? For a service - religious or not? Do they have any specifics in mind, like music, or poems, etc? Any specific wants for an obit (eg put one in local paper from their old hometown, don't use that photo from 1985,..)?

Contact info for their lawyer and accountant, if applicable. Also useful to have their doctor's contact info.

Contact info for people who should be notified when the time comes (eg, who might want to come to a funeral) - family, their friends, business contacts, places they volunteer, whatever.

Their passwords for various online accounts, pin's for the phone, combinations for any locks, and whatnot - if they can write all of this down in a notebook hidden in a place you know, that would be very helpful.

Lower-priority, but possible, if you have a leisurely conversation - Walk though the bills they pay every year - are the bills on auto-pay (important to know, because if someone dies you'd cancel their credit card, and you'd want to know if there are any payments attached to that card), is there a standard lawn guy they use at set intervals, etc.

If you were going to sell the house today, are there any hidden secret things you'd need to be sure to get? Like, have you hidden money behind a floorboard or anything?

Agree with NoDef to get them to list the Really Important family items with at least a jotted line of history.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:54 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, good point. My mother is pretty horribly paranoid, and she has stashed jewelry and some cash in places. She's better now, because she comes by the paranoia honestly and we had quite the insane scavenger hunt in her parents' house - they had those fake furniture polish can-safes, stuff duct-taped to the backs of paintings and the underside of drawers...it was rough. She and I have a couple of different codes so that I know I don't have to open all the boxed frozen spinach in the freezer (TRUE STORY) to check it before it gets thrown out.

Our next phase, which needs to happen soon, is that she's going to buy a pack of those colored neon garage sale dots, and one color is going to be important. That color will go on the bottom of expensive heirlooms, the "real" silver and leaded crystal, the non-paste jewelry. My mom has great taste so you would not know whether pink means real and the other 3 colors mean crap. She has already marked a lot of items with Sharpie in shorthand, but I don't read shorthand so if you do that sort of thing you need a translation key stashed in the fireproof safe.

And if they haven't identified people in their photo albums, try to get as much of that done as you can. Post-its will work to start with.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:56 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

In addition to the actual end of life planning, someone above mentioned living wills. This is a good idea, and even before they create one they should give your brother and you a general sense of what their wishes are. Once someone is in a hospital environment, unless someone directs otherwise, everything will be done to keep that person alive. So if there parents have wishes to the contrary, they should tell both of you.
posted by justkevin at 6:58 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

wills. review them, make sure they still make sense.
health care proxies / POAs.
durable powers of attorney.
a list of assets.
any plans for long term care. (medicaid, insurance, family member, whatever.)

all these things need to be somewhere that you can find when they're needed.
posted by jpe at 7:02 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lots of good advice already. In addition to making sure they have up to date wills with an executor designated, they should consider setting up durable power of attorney, medical power of attorney, and living wills, and making it clear what their end of life wishes are in that regard.

Also find out if they have long term care insurance or have a plan for if one or both become incapacitated and need care. Our cousins are currently in a very sticky situation with her father and stepmother because both have medical issues and dementia and can't live on their own, and there is not enough money for their care, so the husband is currently living with the parents in their house and caring for them full time, while the wife is back home several states away as she has to keep her job since she is the primary breadwinner.
posted by gudrun at 7:16 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

This NY Times post has a checklist at the end.
posted by invisible ink at 7:34 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

If they are hiding bags of coins or other things somewhere for safekeeping, like in the walls or ceiling of their home or a safe deposit box or in the backyard, make sure they at least leave you a treasure map.
posted by thorny at 7:57 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check to see what's required by way of health care directives, living wills, and powers of attorney in your jurisdiction. I'm in Canada and what's allowable and legally recognized differs from province to province, and I would imagine the same is true in the USA. For example, a living will is not recognized in my province but directives for medical care are. Where I live medical directives have to be very specific; for example you can't just request "no heroic measures" but must list the specific medical procedures you will or won't allow.

I certainly wouldn't want to do this without some legal and medical advice about what ducks you need to have in place before you can line them up. I'm in a large city and there is a senior citizens' advocacy and advice group here which offers much of this information for free, and then helps you prepare to meet a lawyer/physician if necessary so that you don't waste time/money. Perhaps your community has something similar.

My mother did all this while she was healthy and it saved us a huge amount of heartache, time, and money. Another thing she did was to make her chequing account joint with me. My name was not on her cheques, and the statements were mailed to her and not me, so she retained her privacy, but the day she died her accounts were not frozen because I was still on the account, and could pay her outstanding and end-of-life bills immediately. I'm sure your parents don't want to do that now, but you might want to discuss the possibility and the circumstances in which you might do this.

The organization my mother put into planning was her last, among her greatest, most helpful, and appreciated gifts to me.
posted by angiep at 8:58 PM on November 29, 2013

Lyn Never: Don't leave the firesafe unlocked, it won't provide any protection in a fire if it flops open. I tied the key to the handle on ours with a piece of wire.

With mom, my sister and I took mom to an attorney who specializes in elder care issues. She did a standard will, health directives, living will and power of attorney for $200. My sister got a copy of this paperwork, I got one and mom got one. Mom's is in the firesafe, mine's in my locker at work.

While you're at it, take care of your own paperwork as well. The black camel can kneel at your door anytime.
posted by Marky at 10:57 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Stop by the funeral home that your parents are likely to use. They may have a booklet of forms on which to record the data you should have. Don't forget safe deposit box keys, or computer passwords. Be sure you know if they have purchased burial plots, or plan to use a veterans' cemetery.
posted by Cranberry at 11:45 PM on November 29, 2013

Nthing the funeral discussion. Do they even want one? If so, what does it look like for them?

Also, progressive dead people like to donate their bodies to science. If your parents are of this ilk, check the web site of your nearest university hospital and provide them with some information to ponder.

Oh and organ donation: Discuss!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 12:52 AM on November 30, 2013

Make sure they write down their passwords... we couldn't close my grandfather's mobile internet or phone accounts! And make plans for any social media or email accounts they have.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:26 AM on November 30, 2013

The idea of accounts being locked after death is an important one. I don't know all the particular details, but I have heard awful stories of people who had their will in the safe deposit box, and all the family members knew it, but nobody could get it because the safe deposit box was out-of-bounds until the estate had been settled. Which is a lot harder to accomplish without the will. Bank accounts will also be frozen immediately, so if you're meant to to pay for funeral expenses using one of their accounts, make sure you guys set it up with the bank such that you'll be allowed to do so.

For medical planning, make sure you look into what legal documents are used in your state. Some use advance directives, some use medical power-of-attorney, etc.

And make sure that whoever is listed to make medical decisions if the person isn't able to communicate understands the person's wishes and the reasoning behind them. No matter how specific a list you create with your parents (no resuscitation, yes antibiotics, yes fluids, no intubation, etc.), the end has a way of throwing curveballs such that you might not have their particular situation on your preconsidered list. If you have a sense of how mom or dad came to their decisions about the major yes/no answers, you'll have a better sense of what they would want in other circumstances too.
posted by vytae at 7:35 AM on November 30, 2013

My mother set up a revocable trust several years before she died. It specified that its purpose was to avoid probate and included a will which specified a line of succession for the appointed executor. Her assets went into the trust (titles to property, bank accounts, etc., were changed to name the trust, with the caveat that she, personally could use the assets as she saw fit for the remainder of her life) It simplified a lot of things after her death.
posted by path at 10:25 AM on November 30, 2013

A book: What if...: Give the Gift of Preparedness to Your Loved Ones for them to fill out and give to you.
posted by lalochezia at 12:55 PM on November 30, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all! Every one of these answers was helpful. My dad already has a nice binder with a copy of the will, POA, living will, etc along with contact information for the lawyer that helped prepare it. There are some details about financial accounts and such that we need to get in one accessible place, but we at least got the ball rolling. It was a productive conversation and I loved being able to tell my Southern baptist dad that I'd be sending him a link to getyourshittogether.com.
posted by chiababe at 1:57 PM on November 30, 2013

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