Helping Parents at the End of Their Lives

Caring for aging parents is an incredibly challenging and emotional task, especially as they near the end of their lives. As an adult child, there are several ways you can help your parents through this next chapter gracefully by guiding them through both financial and emotional decisions. 

Financial Considerations

There are many different financial considerations that come into play at the end of someone’s life. Walking your parents through each of the decisions that have to be made can be emotionally challenging for everyone involved, but it’s critical if you want to help them build the legacy they’ve always dreamed of. 

A good place to start is their estate plan. Understanding your parent’s estate plan means asking them about their:

  1. Will or trust.
  2. Power of attorney (durable and health care).
  3. Beneficiaries.
  4. Special requests they want carried out that may not be in their will (like giving heirlooms to certain family members, etc.).
  5. Letter of intent.
  6. Guardianship (if applicable).

Making sure all of these pieces are in place is critical as your parents reach the end of their lives. If these decisions are challenging for them due to physical or emotional reasons, you might want to reach out to a financial planner and an estate planning attorney to help ensure that everything has been buttoned up and is set up to honor your parents’ wishes.

Beyond their estate plan, you should consider helping your parents think through their own financial care toward the end of their life. Some expenses, like the medical cost of care and assisted living, are often bigger than some people realize -   it’s wise to plan for worst-case-scenarios ahead of time to avoid surprise or confusion in an already challenging situation. 

In these cases, walking through a “what if” list can help you to determine how your parents would want certain situations handled, how they (or you and your siblings) would help to fund their care in an emergency, and more.

A “What If” List

Looking beyond the financial considerations that you and your parents need to take into account, there are also many emotional decisions that need to be made. This is where having a “what if” list can be useful. A “what if” list can cover a long list of scenarios, and help you to organize your parents’ ideal outcome, or what decisions they’d want to be made on their behalf. 

While these questions may also be covered in a medical directive or a will, the list can be an easier way to start the conversation. Aa few questions you may want to ask are:

  1. What if you’re unable to make medical decisions for yourself? Who would you want to speak on your behalf?
  2. What if you’re able to keep living after an accident or medical emergency, but your quality of life will be severely altered?
  3. What if [mom or dad] passes away? Where will you live? What will you want life to look like?
  4. What if you’re no longer able to live on your own?
  5. What if you end up dealing with dementia or Alzheimer's? What decisions do you want to be made about your care?
  6. What if you can’t live alone, but don’t want to move closer to your kids?

The “what if” list can be as long or as short as you’d like, and it can cover any range of topics that are relevant to you and your parents. Remember - it isn’t as definitive as a will, POA, or medical directive. Instead, view this list as a way for you to better understand your parents’’ desires as you near the end of their lives.

Parenting Your Parents

The truth is that aging parents will often struggle to accept the end of their lives, this is a universal reality. Even if there has been an obvious health decline, and even if their quality of life is deteriorating, end-of-life planning is uncomfortable for most people. Unfortunately, this often puts adult children in an uncomfortable situation of parenting an aging parent. 

While there isn’t a handbook for this and no hard-and-fast rules will apply to every situation, there are two important things to remember when guiding conversations:

  1. Be kind. Nearing end of life is a challenging time for any aging parent. There are so many emotions that your mom or dad are dealing with right now, from embarrassment to possible regret to anxiety about the unknown. When communicating with them about end-of-life needs, prioritize kindness first (even when conversations are frustrating or unhelpful). 
  2. Try to help them maintain their dignity. No parent imagines a scenario when their kids will have to parent them. Even if your aging parent is being difficult about accepting help through an assisted living facility, or isn’t willing to adjust their lifestyle to accommodate their own physical and emotional needs, try to take a step back and approach them with respect. There are many moments that happen toward the end of someone’s life that removes small pieces of their dignity - like having their ability to drive or live on their own taken away. By empowering them in small decisions and being open to their feedback or ideas, you’re helping to restore some of what they’ve lost, which will positively benefit your relationship during this challenging time.

Although these conversations with parents who are near end of life are never easy, having them early and returning to them as necessary can help to save you and other family members a lot of pain and stress in the long run. If you need help walking parents through the financial (and non-financial) stresses of reaching the end of their lives, reach out. Together with a financial planner, CPA, and an estate planning attorney, you can help to empower your parents to make the best possible decisions for themselves and for their future legacy.

Wood Smith Advisors, a woman-owned Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), is a fee-only financial services firm that partners with its clients to simplify their financial lives. We focus on women, entrepreneurs, and individuals with complex financial situations, providing objective and competent advice, education and services to help them develop and build their businesses and reach their financial goals. We can be reached by clicking here.

"Finance Made Simple" blog posts are intended for educational purposes and not for specific advice. Each person’s situation is different. Consult your financial advisor for advice relating to topics discussed.

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