Embracing the Inevitable: Preparing for the Death of Your Parents

DISCLAIMER: The following post outlines the writer’s personal experience with this topic. It is not intended to act as legal advice. As always, please consult your legal team with any questions about how to prepare legal items.

In a recent conversation with my mother, she casually mentioned that she currently doesn’t have a will. I was taken aback by this revelation, and as I had worked in wills and estate law in my home country, I couldn’t help but feel concerned and uneasy about the situation! Often, our society tends to ignore the unavoidable reality of death and the certainty that we will eventually pass away.

Neglecting the reality of death as a natural part of life and failing to plan for it will inevitably create a chaotic situation for families when a loved one is no longer with us. Countless stories abound of families falling apart due to the absence of clear guidance from the deceased. Siblings may engage in disputes over what they believe is rightfully theirs, legal complications can arise, and the process of sorting through the departed’s belongings can be emotionally taxing. As we grow older, it becomes essential to recognize that preparing for our own passing is not just responsible, but also an immense act of love.

Although discussing death may be uncomfortable, it is undeniably necessary. No one wishes to contemplate their parents’ eventual departure, but it is an unavoidable aspect of life’s cycle. Therefore, as parents, our responsibility extends not only to preparing our children for our absence but also to assisting our aging parents in ensuring a smooth transition when they leave this world. 

The following steps can help guide and initiate the delicate process of preparing for the death of your parents:

1. Start by having a conversation.

Talk to your parents and see if they have prepared any end-of-life preparations. Hopefully they already have a will and/or trust in place. If they do, ask them where you can locate these important documents. If they don’t, plan to help them navigate getting started.

2. Help them navigate.

Do the research for your parents based on the state they hold residence in. Each state may have a different process and requirements when it comes to establishing a will and/or trust. Help them find a local attorney who can answer any questions and help initiate the process.

3. Go through their belongings together.

One way to help our parents while they are still living is by offering to go through all their belongings together. Help them create piles for items to keep, donate, throw away, and give away.

If there are certain items they want specific family and/or friends to receive, encourage them to gift these items while they are living. If this is not possible, request that they are specific in their will about who will receive what item. This will help ensure their input is heard even after they are gone.

4. Ask questions.

It is always best to ask them any questions while they are living. Do they want to be buried or cremated? Do they desire a funeral service or a fun party honoring their life? If they don’t know the answers to these questions, encourage them to start thinking about these things. 

5. Honor their wishes.

The purpose of helping our parents prepare for the end of their lives is to ultimately make sure their wishes are honored when they no longer have a voice. Losing a parent is a life-altering experience and by having everything taken care of prior to their departure, loved ones are gifted the opportunity to properly grieve. 

By having a well-thought-out plan in place, we eliminate uncertainties and “what-ifs” from the equation. While initially uncomfortable, discussing end-of-life plans with our parents can be transformative. Preparing for the death of our parents should ideally alleviate some of the stress when the time comes, allowing us to focus on celebrating their life and grieving without unnecessary burdens.

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