By: Jim Miller, The Savvy Senior
Most adult children don’t know much about their elderly parents’ end-of-life plans, but they need to. Getting up to speed on their finances, legal documents and funeral decisions is important because some day you might have to help them handle their financial affairs or care, or execute their estate and funeral plan after they die. Without this information, your job becomes much more difficult. Here are some tips that can help you become better informed.
Start by having a thoughtful, direct conversation with your parents. If you’re uncomfortable talking to them about this topic, use this article as a prompter. If you have siblings, it’s a good idea to get them involved too so your parents will know everyone is concerned.
When you have your talk, you’ll need to find out where your parents keep key documents and how they want certain things handled when they die or if they become incapacitated. Here are three areas to focus on.
Because fewer than half of Americans have prepared a will, it’s very important to find out if your parents have an updated will or trust and where it’s located.
Also, find out if they have a power of attorney document that names someone to handle their financial matters if they become incapacitated, as well as an advance directive, which includes a living will and a medical power of attorney that spells out their wishes regarding their end-of-life medical treatment.
If they don’t have these documents prepared, now’s the time to make them.
Find out where your parents keep their important financial information including their bank and investment records, insurance policies, retirement and/or pension benefits, tax returns and bills, along with any property deeds, titles, loans or lease agreements.
In addition, get the names and contact information of their lawyer, accountant, broker, tax preparer and insurance agents so you can call them to help you sort things out if needed.
Knowing your parents’ funeral plans or preferences in advance can significantly reduce your stress of making these arrangements at an emotional time after their death. Plus it ensures their final farewell will be exactly what they want.
Whether you’re helping your parents pre-plan their funerals or are gathering information so you can do it for them later, your parents will need to make a number of decisions such as; whether they want to be buried or cremated; whether they prefer a formal, religious funeral or a simple memorial service; and what music they want to be played at their service?
For a more detailed list of funeral and memorial planning questions, download the Checklist. This will help your parents determine what they want, and how they want to be remembered.
About Jim Miller Jim Miller is the creator of Savvy Senior (savvysenior.org), a syndicated information column for boomers and seniors that is published in more than 400 newspapers and magazines nationwide.
Jim is also a contributor to NBC’s “Today” show and KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, author of The Savvy Senior: The Ultimate Guide to Health, Family and Finances for Senior Citizens (Hyperion, 2004), creator of the Senior Newswire service (seniornewswire.org), and voices a one-minute radio tip of the week that is broadcast in more than 1,000 senior centers and assisted living facilities via Golden Age Entertainment.
Jim has been featured in numerous high-profile publications, including Time magazine, USA Today and The New York Times, and has made multiple appearances on CNBC, CNN, Retirement Living Television and national public television
Mark Allen, Executive Director and CEO
International Order of the Golden Rule
When I was in elementary school, I discovered that one of my classmates was the child of a funeral home owner. I pitied this attractive, popular girl for having a parent that my 8-year old brain imagined to be a beady-eyed, sallow-skinned man who lurked around a cobwebbed funeral home on dark and stormy nights. One day she invited me to a birthday party at her home. I accepted despite dreading the thought of meeting her creepy father.
To my surprise, on the day of her party, a man resembling Will Ferrell, not Bela Lugosi, greeted me at the door. He was funny, charming and warm. This was a funeral director? I couldn’t believe that all those Hollywood movies got it so wrong.
That early experience paid off a few years later when I had the opportunity to work for a trade association for independent funeral homes. I’ve now had the pleasure of meeting thousands of funeral directors. Rarely do I meet one who isn’t friendly, compassionate and caring, yet many adults still describe funeral directors as…well, scary. I believe this perception is a reflection of our attitudes toward death rather than a judgment of people who work in funeral homes. After all, several national polls consistently rank funeral directors in the top 10 of most trusted professionals. I’ve learned that they come in all sizes, shapes, colors and personalities. I also know that caring for families during the worst days of their lives is a calling, a 24/7 lifestyle, and evidence of their deeply-held desire to help others, even when that means sacrificing holidays, birthdays and anniversaries with their own families.
Today many people are unable to articulate why funerals are valuable. No one has explained to them that rites and ceremonies have tremendous power to help families cope with loss, regardless of how traditional or unusual those ceremonies are. Given this lack of information, it’s natural to choose the easiest path. For many, that means skipping any type of funeral ceremony. For others, it means throwing a party that has little connection to the person whose life is being honored and all but ignores the healing value of expressing grief among friends and loved ones. After all, who wants to be a downer at a party?
Acknowledging grief through gatherings that are meaningful to both the deceased and survivors is an essential step toward recovery. Have the Talk of a Lifetime was created to help families and friends start talking about what is most meaningful to them and how they’d like people to reflect on their lives. Not only does Have the Talk offer resources to start these conversations, but it also provides access to a network of funeral and memorialization professionals who are committed to using their expertise to help families create one-of-a-kind ceremonies. With proper guidance and planning, loved ones often find comfort in these ceremonies long after they’ve ended.
While the subject of death will always be at least a little scary for most of us, getting to know a funeral director is not at all scary. In fact, you’ll most likely find knowing them to be comforting and reassuring. Take a moment to find a Talk of a Lifetime expert in your area.
By Sarah Loghry, for the Pre-need Insurers Group of the Life Insurers Council
As I’ve gotten older, I have realized that there are a lot of things about my extended family that I don’t know. Being the oldest child of my grandparents’ youngest daughter and the fifth of seven grandkids leaves a lot of room for little family facts to slip by. Just this weekend, I finally learned how I was related to someone I have heard about my entire life. Before then, I never fully understood why we planted flowers at their gravesite each Memorial Day.
As these little bits of information come out about people in my life, I’ve realized that I don’t know many details about my mom and dad’s lives before I was born. I’ve heard a few college stories here and there and stories with messages in them that pertain to my current stage of life, but I didn’t feel like I knew who they were.
Luckily, with a little convincing and the promise of taking her out to lunch, my mom agreed to play the Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards game from the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC).
Through their consumer awareness campaign, FAMIC provides resources to funeral professionals and community members from all over the country, to sit down with their families and talk. With a tagline like, “Life. There’s a lot to talk about,” it’s no wonder their resources are bringing families together from all walks of life.
The first question my mom and I had the chance to answer was, “What event(s) in our nation’s history had an impact on you and how?” My mom’s immediate answer surprised me. She said that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, impacted her the most. She discussed how she found out about the attacks and how the aftermath affected our family when we traveled to Disney World three months later.
Since I was in elementary school when it happened, I didn’t truly understand the event until I was much older. Even so, we had never talked about why that moment in American history had impacted both of us so much. In my young age, I had no idea that there was a reason Disney World was so empty or why my dad, who works in safety and security, was on high alert during the entire vacation.
My mom is a strong lady. Not much can rattle her or my dad. However, one thing that she said during the video will stick with me: “That day, I just needed everyone to be close.”
My parents and I have taken on a few other questions from the deck as well. I feel as though I’m learning more about who they are as people, instead of just as parents. Since I started at Homesteaders, I have been much more open to discussing end-of-life wishes with my family, and these cards are just an extension of learning about how my parents want to be remembered when they’re gone.
By: Donald Calhoun, CM
Monument Builders of North America
Walking through the heavy snow, my breathing was heavy and my mouth dry. The trees were draped with a glistening thick layer of snow, hanging like tantalizing frosting on a Christmas cupcake. The woods were densely populated with tall white pines, maple and several mighty oak trees. I was following a single set of footprints. I wondered who they belonged too? I had the intention of this being a peaceful, sacred walk. I wanted to find a greater sense of self. My best friend strongly encourages me to try this deeper meditation crap. To be honest, I sucked at it. My life often seemed like a kaleidoscope of chaotic forces of energy. Daily, I faced a constant bombardment of drama, trauma and sheer volumes of information. I often felt like my life was akin to being in a blizzard, and I was always navigating in whiteout conditions. The crazy reality was that for the most part, I enjoyed a fast-paced, crazy lifestyle. I had rarely been a dude to sit on the beach, meditate or even pray. My form of spirituality and serenity was akin to the halftime show at the Super Bowl. Who knows, I wanted to surprise myself and find peace, tranquility and understanding on this walk.
About a mile into the woods, the path had split. The footprints lead to the right where there were more rolling hills and thick brush. To the left there was an unexpected, hidden and yet inviting little path. It was inviting because of a little cross on top of a chapel peaked through the window of the forest, and it was visible off in the distance. I questioned if I should have taken the path less traveled or follow the footprints?
The writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson jumped into my conscious mind, and I decided I had to go with the path less traveled. I had always loved the unexpected and the adventures of discovery. My journey had led me through a few sloughs and even some relatively steep hills. After about 2 miles, a little stone chapel revealed its historic stone beauty. The chapel must have been easily over a century old. I walked quietly up to the front of the chapel and slowly peaked inside. I said: “Hello God? Are you in here?”
A rush of warmth had hit my face. The sun peaked through the clouds and danced its radiance upon my face. I felt that I was no longer alone. I had walked into a sacred space of souls. I felt the love of my mother in my heart. I heard my father saying: “My My Mercy Mercy”. I felt the emotion of love as a dear friend played the piano. I remember thinking it was odd that a Lutheran played the song: “Mary, have you heard”. Then there was the horrible smell of my Grandmother’s raisin cookies, that I loathed. I heard my brother say: “Why be good, when you can be great”.
Do you believe in Heaven? Can you imagine the souls of centuries surrounding, hugging and embracing you? Our subconscious minds allow us to dream. Faith tells us it is possible. We have it with our imagination and belief system to experience the greatest reunion ever experienced. We can have immense and intense feelings of love, joy and connection that fill our hearts. Our soul can become radiant and bursting with connection to our spiritual friends and family.
Grief is a necessary and painful part of our earthly journey. Let’s face it, it really sucks to lose someone we love. When someone we love dies we will never get to manifest their physical being again. We won’t be able hug, touch, smell, feel, laugh, cry, or hold them again. But guess what, at least for me, they can fully remain alive in our hearts, spirit and soul. For example, my mother died in 1979, however, I fully believe she is with me in an emotional, intellectual and spiritual way. I can still honor and celebrate her memory when I incorporate her spirit into my life, act in harmony with her belief system, manifest her teachings and lessons into my life. I consider it an act of honor, privilege, and conscious choice.
We may not fully understand Heaven. Faith is the belief in something that is not immediately provable. However, I can’t imagine a life without faith. We have to have faith in each other and in God. Without faith it would be like a meaningless walk in the woods.
Let’s all take a moment to remember those who have impacted our life’s journey. Remember to Have the Talk of a Life Time with those you love and care about. Thank you for joining me on our walk. It was so wonderful to share this time together.
By the way, who was the most influential person in your life? Mine was my mommy!