How to Prepare for a Parent’s End-Of-Life Care
Preparing for the death of a parent is never easy. Grieving can be an intense process with many ups and downs. If your parent is entering end-of-life care, there’s no way to bypass the loss you may feel. However, you can keep yourself and other family members from experiencing additional stress by preparing for their final moments and the days beyond. Planning for a parent’s death also helps you ensure their needs and wishes are met. You and your parent can have greater peace of mind and focus on cherishing the moments you have together.
This post explores how adult children can better prepare for the loss of a parent, covering everything from financial actions to funeral planning. If you need assistance at any point, we understand, and we’re here for you.
Medical and Health Care Considerations
First and foremost, you’ll want to prepare for your parent’s health care needs and learn ways to help them feel as comfortable as possible. You may also need to keep family members informed about your parent’s medical condition. To help you organize your thoughts, consider the following steps:
1. Gather a List of Important Contacts
Compile a list of important contacts related to your parent’s end-of-life care. If your parent is receiving in-home hospice care, there should be a nurse you can contact at any hour of the day for assistance. Gather contact information for other members of your parent’s care, including:
- Hospice doctor
- Primary care doctor
- Home health aides
- Social worker
Ensure you also know who to call when your loved one passes on. If your parent passes away at home under hospice care, you can contact the on-call nurse. If they die at home or in the hospital without hospice care, you can call their doctor and arrange for them to pronounce their death officially.
Know that it’s OK to spend some time in the room with your parent after they pass away. When you’re ready, you can contact your funeral home and arrange to have the body picked up.
2. Understand How You Can and Can’t Help
It’s hard watching a parent’s illness affect them, and it’s understandable if you feel helpless at times. Although some things are beyond your control, there are ways you can help ensure your loved one is comfortable. Keep in mind that professionals are available to offer their guidance and support. Here are tips for working with your parent’s health care team:
- Ask health care staff what you can do to help keep your loved one comfortable.
- Ask your parent’s doctor for any changes to look out for, so you know what to expect.
- Create a list of other questions you wish to ask the doctor.
- Take notes when you meet doctors or other members of the health care team.
- Find out who to contact with any follow-up questions you may have.
- Keep a file of your parent’s medications and test results.
- Document new or upsetting symptoms your parent experiences or any side effects, noting when and where they occur.
- Know who to contact in an emergency.
If your parent is in hospice, their health care team will teach you techniques to keep them comfortable. They will also provide instructions regarding your parent’s nutrition and medication needs.
3. Keep Family Informed
Keeping every family member up to date on your parent’s condition can be a lot to handle. However, you can keep your family informed without having to call everyone individually. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Compile a list and communicate by sending a single email to everyone on the list.
- Start a blog or website to share news, thoughts, feelings and wishes.
- Create a private Facebook page to keep family members in the loop.
If you find yourself struggling to manage communication tasks, ask a family member to take over for you. You may also wish to meet with siblings and discuss dividing responsibilities as soon as you can.
4. Take Care of Yourself
Remember to take care of your own health during this difficult time. Get enough sleep, eat well and ensure you have time to yourself. If you need assistance completing chores or daily tasks, don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help.
Financial and Legal Actions
When someone passes away, there are many financial and legal details to take care of. The amount of paperwork you’ll handle can seem overwhelming, but you won’t cope with this alone. Friends, family and professionals like lawyers and accountants can advise you, offer support and manage some of the tasks.
It can be helpful to go through your parent’s paperwork as soon as possible so you can gather and organize critical documents. Here are steps to help you prepare financially and legally for a parent’s death:
1. Look for or Create Their End-Of-Life Plan
End-of-life planning, also called advance care planning, involves your parent’s preferences related to their end-of-life care. These preferences are included in legal documents, called advance directives, which go into effect if your parent cannot speak for themselves.
Ask your parent if they already have an end-of-life plan and where you can find its paperwork. If they do not have a plan, work with them to create one. According to the National Institute on Aging, advance directives are important because they help people get the end-of-life care they want.
Your parent’s end-of-life plan should include the following information:
- Living will: A living will is a document that tells doctors how to treat your parent if they are dying or unconscious and cannot make decisions. For example, your parent may want to prepare a do-not-resuscitate order, which means they don’t want medical staff to use cardiopulmonary resuscitation if their heart stops beating.
- Durable power of attorney for health care: A durable power of attorney for health care is a document naming a health care proxy or a person who will make medical decisions for your parent when they aren’t able to. This may be a friend, family member, lawyer or someone else your parent trusts to handle medical decisions.
- Special instructions: Your parent’s plan should include any other special instructions related to end-of-life care, such as organ donation wishes or medical orders not covered in their living will.
After your parent defines their end-of-life-care wishes, they will need to complete legal forms. A lawyer can help with this process, or you can find advance directive forms here. The New York State Office of the Attorney General provides a detailed booklet to help you and your parent with end-of-life planning.
2. Find Your Parent’s Last Will and Testament
A last will and testament, also simply called a will, is a legal document outlining your parent’s wishes regarding their assets and estate and how they will be distributed. Your parent’s will may also include arrangements for pets and adult dependents as well as funeral and burial arrangements. Ask your parent where they keep the original will and if they have copies.
If your parent does not have a will or needs to make changes, help them take these steps as soon as possible.
3. Locate Your Parent’s Living Trust
Ask your parent if they have a living trust. A living trust is a document instructing a person, called a trustee, to manage your parent’s money and property while they are still alive. Using the instructions in the trust, the person can pay bills for your parent or make decisions about their property or finances. Living trusts aren’t always necessary, but it’s still important to know if your parent has one.
4. Get a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
A durable power of attorney for finances is a document naming a person to make financial and legal decisions for your parent when they are no longer able to. Ask your parent where they keep this document, and if they don’t have one, consider helping them fill out the necessary forms. Consulting with an attorney can help you take the correct steps.
5. Gather Other Important Documents
Your parent likely has many other documents you’ll want to locate, gather and store in a fireproof box. Keeping any identifying information in a secure place can help prevent identity theft. You will also need your parent’s Social Security number for their death certificate. Here’s a checklist of other documents and pieces of information you may want to have ready:
- Social Security number
- Driver’s license
- Birth certificate
- Marriage license
- Divorce decree
- Military records
- Insurance policies
- Mortgage or rental documents
- Utility bills
- Vehicle titles and registrations
- Safety deposit box location
- Username and passwords for online accounts
- Passwords to access computers and cellphones
- Property deeds
- Bank accounts
- Pension or retirement plan
- Attorney, financial advisor and accountant contact information
- Contact information of friends and colleagues
6. Make an Inventory of Assets
If your parent needs assistance creating a will or would like to update their will, you can help create an inventory of their assets. Look inside and outside your parent’s home and start the list with physical assets, such as your parent’s house, cars and items like:
- Lawn equipment
- Power tools
You’ll also want to add your parent’s non-physical assets to the list, including retirement plans, investment accounts, bank accounts and life insurance policies. Keep your list with other important documents.
7. Create a List of Debts
Make a list of things your parent owes. The executor of your parent’s will can take care of paying loans, bills and other debts while your parent’s estate is being settled. Debts may include:
- Car loans
- Personal loans
- Property taxes
- Income taxes
- Utility bills
- Credit card bills
- Cellphone bills
- Storage fees
- Condominium fees
Like the asset list, keep the list of debts with other necessary paperwork. Both lists can help streamline the probate process after your parent passes on. Probate is the court process of authenticating a person’s will. It involves determining the value of assets, paying debts and distributing the estate to the beneficiaries.
8. Review Retirement Accounts and Insurance Policies
If your parent has retirement accounts or life insurance policies, ask if they need to review the beneficiaries. Even if your parent includes beneficiaries for these accounts in their will, they’ll still need to update their current selections listed in their retirement and insurance accounts. Your parent can update their accounts and policies by contacting each company’s customer service team.
Watching a loved one cope with illness and anticipating their death can take a toll on you emotionally. Although it will naturally take time to process the grief you’re feeling, there are ways to prepare emotionally for your parent’s final moments. The following tips can help you make the most of the time you have left together and bring comfort to both of you:
1. Say Goodbye to Your Loved One
Don’t wait to say goodbye to your loved one. Now’s the time to tell your parent everything you need to say, which may include:
- You’re sorry: Is there something you want to apologize for that happened recently or in the past? Tell your parent you’re sorry and give them an opportunity to say they forgive you.
- You forgive them: Tell your parent you forgive them for anything they’ve expressed sadness or guilt about.
- You appreciate them: Thank your parent for being there and let them know how much they mean to you.
- It’s OK to let go: Give your parent permission to let go when they’re ready. Assure them you’ll be all right.
- You love them: Lastly, remember to tell your parent you love them. Express your love any chance you get.
2. Record Their Life
Work with your parent to document things about their life that you wish to remember and will bring them joy to share. This may include stories, jokes, recipes, sayings and anything else that helps paint a picture of your parent’s personality and life. To help jog their memory, you might look at old photos together, talk about their favorite hobbies or ask them to share stories about the jewelry they own. Consider recording these details in a book or video, or simply listen and enjoy spending time together.
3. Find Support
As you prepare for the loss of a parent, you may experience anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is grief that someone experiences before a person dies. It involves similar emotions as conventional grief but can feel more like an emotional roller coaster. You might feel sad, fearful, angry, anxious or lonely, and these feelings may come and go.
Keep in mind that everyone experiences grief in their own way and some do not go through anticipatory grief. Regardless, you don’t have to cope with difficult emotions alone, and it’s important to express your pain. Consider sharing your feelings with a caring friend, joining a support group or meeting with a counselor. Although there is no easy fix for grief, talking about your experience with others can help you feel less alone.
Reassuring your parent that you’ll take care of practical tasks can comfort them at the end of their life. Here are a few steps you may need to take:
1. Identify a Home for Their Pet
Your parent may have made arrangements for their pet in their will. If they haven’t chosen a caregiver for their pet, make arrangements for them. First, ask your parent if there’s someone they have in mind to be their pet’s permanent caregiver, such as a trusted friend or family member who can provide a good home for the pet. If your parent does not know someone to adopt their pet, tap into your social network, asking friends, co-workers, neighbors or local veterinarians for help. Identifying a home for your parent’s pet can bring them immense comfort, and you’ll have one less thing to worry about.
2. Prepare to Cancel Bills and Subscriptions
Ensure you have a list of your parent’s monthly bills, subscriptions and accounts, so you know what you’ll need to cancel or redirect eventually. This may include:
- Credit cards
- Mortgage or rent
- Driver’s license
- Email accounts
- Subscription services
- Cellphone bill
You may also wish to delete your parent’s social media accounts or turn them into memorials.
3. Plan to Cancel Upcoming Appointments
Find out if your parent has any upcoming appointments, such as doctor, dentist or hairdresser appointments. Make a list including names and phone numbers so you can easily cancel these appointments if needed.
4. Know Who to Notify
It helps to know who else you’ll need to call to notify them of your loved one’s death. For example, you may need to notify the following agencies or people after your parent passes away:
- Social Security Administration
- Department of Veterans Affairs
- Internal Revenue Service
- Your parent’s post office
- Your parent’s employer
It’s best to ask your parent for the names and numbers of all the people they want you to contact.
Funeral and Burial Planning
Planning a funeral for your parent requires dozens of decisions, from choosing a final resting place to selecting pallbearers. Your parent may already have their funeral plans outlined in their will or a separate document. If so, review their plan with them and ensure it’s up to date with their current wishes. If your parent hasn’t made funeral plans yet, work with them to create arrangements that will honor their wishes. Take the following steps:
1. Talk to Your Parent About Their Wishes
Talking with your parent about their funeral can be difficult, but it’s a conversation worth having. When you know what your parent wants, you won’t be left to make hard decisions on your own. Plus, you’ll give your parent peace of mind knowing their wishes will be met.
First, find out how your parent wants their remains to be handled. Have they purchased a lot and wish for a ground burial? Or do they want to be cremated? Where do they want their ashes to be kept? If your parent is having a hard time remembering or discussing their wishes, be patient and help them however you can.
Next, ask your parent if they want a traditional funeral or prefer a direct burial or cremation followed by a memorial service — or no service at all. If your parent wishes to have a traditional funeral, find out their preferences regarding the following aspects:
- Viewing: Does your parent wish to have a viewing at the funeral home, place of worship or somewhere else? Do they want an open casket or no viewing?
- Personal: Are there any specific pieces of jewelry or clothing your parent would like to have on during the viewing?
- Ceremony: If your parent would like a ceremony, where shall it take place? Who will speak during the ceremony?
- Headstone: If your parent will have a marker or headstone, ask them what type they’d like and if there’s anything they wish to be inscribed.
- Pallbearers: Does your parent have suggestions for choosing pallbearers?
- Music: If your parent wants music to be part of their funeral, ask for specifics. Do they want prerecorded songs or live music? Are there any specific songs they want to be played?
- Readings: Does your parent want someone to read any poems, book passages or religious texts?
- Flowers: Does your parent have favorite flowers they want at their funeral? Would they like a casket spray, standing spray or both? Would they prefer not to have flowers and have donations given to a particular organization or charity instead?
Lastly, ask your parent if there are any other special wishes they have that you haven’t covered, including details about their obituary.
2. Consider Preplanning the Funeral
After you know what your parent wants, you might consider preplanning their funeral arrangements. During the preplanning process, you can meet with a funeral director at your chosen funeral home and discuss your parent’s wishes and pricing options that match your budget. The funeral director can offer their professional advice if you have any questions or concerns about funeral preplanning.
Preplanning a funeral is free, but your parent may wish to pay for their funeral in advance. If this is the case, speak with the funeral director about prepayment options. You may also visit the New York State Department of Health to know your rights before prepaying.
Learn More From Joseph A. Lucchese
At Joseph A. Lucchese Funeral Home in Bronx, New York, we understand that planning a funeral for your parent can be a lot to handle during an already difficult time. Our compassionate and professional team is available to assist you, whether you have questions about funeral services or would like to make arrangements. Please feel free to contact us any time for more information.