My mom died at age 61, when I was 31. Seeing her headstone in a field of others smacked me with a brutal, if obvious fact: Everyone, including everyone’s parents, will die.
I promise I’m not trying to depress you. I want to prepare you, as this loss can happen sooner than you’d expect. And when parents die, it’s often up to their children to manage not just grief but also financial tasks.
Planning for those to-do’s now could help later, when you experience what may be some of your hardest days.
“We surely ought to have some idea of what we’re facing,” says Melanie Cullen, San Francisco Bay Area-based author of “Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To.” She adds: “On the other side of it, our parents need to know we’re interested, we care, we’re there to help.”
Here’s why, how and what to talk about with your parents.
Why must I discuss this morbid topic?
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Without documented plans for your parents’ end-of-life finances, you may wind up scraping for cash.
Say you weren’t given access to your parents’ financial accounts in the case of incapacitation or death. What would happen if your parents were too sick to manage their finances? You would need to pay their bills but couldn’t tap their money to do so. Then you couldn’t use their money for their funeral, which could cost thousands of dollars.
Many caregivers wind up “digging into their own money,” says AARP family caregiving expert Amanda Singleton. You can’t save or invest money that’s covering your parents’ expenses, she adds. And if you’re short on cash, you may take on debt.
Beyond this potential financial hit, your parents’ plans and wishes are less likely to be fulfilled if you don’t know what they are.
For example, in the months when my mom was dying, we never discussed her funeral. So when I planned it, I was engulfed in both grief and guesswork.
My family spent an enormous sum of money on an open-casket service, in part because we didn’t know what to do and struggled to focus on the decision. I suspect that my thrifty, camera-shy mom would have preferred a simple (and less expensive) cremation.
How do I frame the conversation?
Broach the subject with sensitivity and respect. Personal finance is an uncomfortable topic for many. Now your parents …….