End-of-life planning is a sensitive topic to broach with mom and dad, and it can be challenging to know when and how to initiate the conversation. Experts recommend using the 40-70 Rule as a guideline. If you are approximately forty years old and your parent is about seventy, now is the time to start discussing these issues. End-of-life planning is necessary and, once you’ve opened the lines of communication, will likely bring a sense of relief to all involved. As well-known author Alan Lakein said, “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”
The hardest part is getting started, and we’re here to help. Below are several essential items to consider:
- A last will and testament will ensure that your loved one’s wishes are carried out and should, at the very least, include: beneficiaries, an executor, allocation of personal and business assets, as well as and directions on how to handle outstanding expenses. Whether your loved one decides to consult an attorney or use an online site like LegalZoom, you will need to have the document signed by witnesses that can attest to its validity. The number of required witnesses varies from state-to-state.
- In the event that your loved ones become incapable of making decisions for themselves, an advance healthcare directive will document wishes regarding medical care and treatment options. These typically include directions regarding resuscitation, breathing machines, feeding tubes, organ and tissue donation, and end-of-life treatment. The advance healthcare directive should consist of what they do and do not want and be as specific as possible.
- As an added safeguard, a power of attorney authorizes an appointed person to act on behalf of someone regarding legal, personal, and business matters. Choose a very trusted person for this role in case your loved ones can not speak for themselves or are not present when decisions are being made. First, become familiar with the four main types of power of attorney: general, limited, springing, and durable.
- Discuss whether your loved ones are comfortable adding you or another family member as an authorized user on their bank and credit card accounts. As an authorized user, you will be able to withdraw and deposit funds as well as write checks on their behalf. Alternatively, you can be added as a joint account holder, in which case you can keep an eye on things and assist with bill paying. Keep in mind, though, that as a joint account holder, you will be on the hook for any repayment of debt.
We’ve only just scratched the surface here. It may be helpful to use a planning guide or checklist like this one to stay organized.
If you and your family members are feeling overwhelmed, we recommend consulting a lawyer who specializes in end-of-life planning. Talk with friends, family members, and co-workers that have gone through this process and search the American Bar Association’s website to begin compiling a list of recommended lawyers in your area. Set up consultations with several to discuss your concerns and needs. Bring mom and dad along to ensure that everyone is involved in the decision-making process and can weigh in on choosing the right lawyer. Finally, request and check references from your top choices and confirm they are in good standing with your state’s bar association. Seeking out help from an expert should provide you and your family with neutral guidance as well as peace of mind for the future.