Losing a mate, be they a spouse, partner, or lifelong sidekick, is one of the most difficult times of any of our lives. When you have been together for decades, the sudden lack can easily turn the strongest of us into emotional wrecks.
When one of your parents passes away, you can be an invaluable help to the survivor. There are a lot of decisions to be made, questions to be answered, and tasks both mundane and complex that they could genuinely use your help with (whether they will admit it or not).
In most cases, your parent will end up being the executor of their mate’s estate; if that is the case, there could potentially be a lot to do. You can offer to help with tasks such as sorting through belongings, searching for a will, communicating with insurance and funeral services, and alerting relatives. Search online for pages describing the duties of an estate executor, and be patient and calm in guiding your parent through the steps one at a time.
“Who Will Take Care of Me?”
It is more than just a plaintive question; even if your parent is not actually dependent on outside assistance for daily tasks, they have been accustomed to splitting the housework, the budgeting duties, and everything else for a very long time. You do not have to physically be there filling that role, to be helpful.
One thing you can do from afar is call your parent’s friends and neighbors and ask them if they can help in some small way; bringing over a meal, driving them to the grocery store, or mowing the lawn are all enormously helpful. If your parent is going to need more assistance, or will need assistance for more than a couple of weeks, it is likely to fall on your shoulders to find a caregiver that can provide the appropriate level of services. If physical or mental limitations prevent them from functioning on their own, it may be wise to offer them a place in your home or to hire a live-in caregiver.
The Hardest Conversation
There is no “right” or even “good” time to have a realistic conversation about the long-term future of your surviving parent; but as you near the end of the ‘dealing with the estate’ process, there will come a time when your parent is naturally already thinking about the subject. Keep an eye out, because if you can catch them in the moment, you can use that opportunity to broach the subject of end-of-life finances and medical care.
If they are not already in place, this is the time to talk to your parent about all of the paperwork that needs to be prepared; such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney and similar arrangements. Talk about the kind of medical care they do or do not want, under what conditions they want end of life care, and so on. Talk about their assets, liabilities, and about declaring well in advance who will be the executors, trustees, and other people-in-charge of the estate, the trusts, and any other vehicles they intend to leave behind.
If they have any plans in place, review them in detail to make sure they still make sense with their mate now deceased. In particular, look at the plans they have for their own final events; burial, cremation, or something entirely different. What is paid for in advance and what would need to be dealt with later are also good areas to cover.
Finally, you are going to want to make sure someone in your family (whether or not it’s you specifically) has access to your parents’ most sensitive information. These may include passwords and account numbers for banking accounts, retirement plan information, and the location and number of any safety deposit boxes, buried treasure, or other valuables.
These are not always easy issues to confront as the child in the relationship, but they can be significantly more difficult for your parent to cope with, especially alone. This is also an opportunity for you to dramatically improve your relationship with your parent if it has been a little stressed or distant; step up to the plate with an idea of what they need and how to give it to them, and be their advocate in the best possible way.