Talking about end of life planning is a challenge, at best. The
biggest mistake you can make is to take your aging parents at their word
when they say: “Don’t worry, we have everything planned.”
Everything…? What does that mean?
will have a different meaning at different points in their life…
according to their age, according to their abilities, according to their
They may say “they have everything planned.” Fine. You still need to talk to your parents. You need to know everything.
If you know what to talk about, what to ask, where to look, more than likely you will find gaps in their plans. Starting now, you have time to help them fill in those gaps.
There are many thing you will need to know about their plans. A
general list is below to give you the wide range of end of life planning
topics. You'll find other pages to delve more into the details. Print
this page and then circle each item if you do NOT know all the specifics
of your parents' plans.
What end of life plans do you need to talk to your aging parents about?
Thousands of animals end up in shelters each year with a note that their owner died. Do your parents have a plan for their pets? What needs to happen to make it a workable plan?
Your mom has been taking care of your aunt for years. What's the plan if your mom is no longer able to care for her? Is there a neighbor that your mom regularly provides meals for? Who else is on the list? All of this should be accounted for in end of life planning.
What are your parents' plans for your special needs siblings? Where will they live? What are their finances like? Who will have guardianship and power of attorney for them? Who is medically responsible? Government services are under siege in this economy, and services for people with special needs are frequently cut. Talking to your parents now about their plans is even more important.
Do you really know the stories of how your grandparents met? How did they come to live in this town? Where is that recipe book that Grandma wrote by hand? Who are all those people in the pictures? Make sure you and your parents have a plan for passing on the family legacy.
At some point your parents may be incapable of making decisions for themselves. It may be a temporary situation as the result of an accident. It may be toward the end of their life. With strict medical privacy laws in place, what do they need to do now so that someone can speak for them if they can't speak for themselves?
Unfortunately the end will come. You'll want to know ahead of time if your folks have anything in mind... a favorite song, a poem, a reading, a story. Do they have a place of worship or church or clergy person that they would like to be involved?
Particularly if you live in a different state or country, you'll need to carefully think through what it will take to honor your parents' wishes. Do they have a plan for letting everyone know now?
You know they have a will. But where is it? Same with the bank records, the medical records, insurance policies, the deed to the house, the title to the car, the stock certificates, all the bills... You won't want to be frantically digging through piles when you need them.
"Consider the Conversation"
There is a wonderful new documentary helping us all to talk about end of life plans. The film illustrates the gap between what people want at the end of life and the current truth about how we die in America. It also gives strategies for ordinary folks to create a new reality for themselves. Learn more about how to take charge of "the end of my life".
End of Life Decisions
Making end of life decisions can't be easy. You'll need a framework of understanding to be able to talk to your aging parents and to get your own perspectives out of the way.
End of Life Issues
Stephen Kiernan, author of Last Rights: Rescuing the End of Life from the Medical System is interviewed in an upcoming PBS documentary urging people not to resist looking at the "don't know". Watch this clip from Consider the Conversation. What do we do when we know?