When a parent passes away, you might regret not asking him or her certain questions before it is too late. However, finding that starting point to hold a heart-to-heart conversation can bring up uncomfortable emotions. Talking about the past — and the future — with your parents will provide you with peace of mind so that if their health deteriorates and you can no longer have these conversations, you can still rest assured that you have tackled these important issues. The following list provides you with a place to begin so that you can document precious memories from your parents and plan for end-of-life events.
1. Can you tell me about these old family photos?
Your parents will shed some light on important photos and tell you who everyone is. Remember to ask about where the photos were taken as well. For example, if your parents came from Europe, they might have immigrated from a country that no longer exists. Ask if any family members changed their names or for other interesting background on the photos.
2. Will you tell me your best and worst memories?
Ask your parents about their favorite memories. In addition to hearing wonderful stories about their past, you will learn what they value and prioritize. If they are open to sharing, you can find out their worst memories as well. Addressing losses, even at a mature age, can bring healing from their pain. Discussing these events can provide unique insight into who they are as individuals and offer important clues to your family history.
3. Will you share information about any family skeletons?
While a family skeleton — an unplanned pregnancy, a divorce or previously taboo subjects — might have been a huge issue when it happened half a century ago, your parents might willingly address these topics now that the stigma has lifted. See if they are willing to talk about these matters. You might even find out about family members you have never known.
4. Do you have any regrets or have you left anything unsaid?
During this time of their life, your parents might feel especially sentimental or feel the need to confess something. Common phrases that they need to hear and say include: I love you, thank you, I forgive you and please forgive me. Use these four key sentences as stepping stones to holding possibly difficult conversations.
5. Can you record a note with your favorite poem, best piece of spiritual advice, or a treasured reading from a book?
Your mom or dad can do a special reading for you of a favorite literary piece, no matter the type. The recording will serve two purposes: to keep his or her voice alive for posterity’s sake and to remember the values that he or she held dear.
6. What is your favorite song?
You might ask your parent what his or her favorite song is so that you can play it or even have it sung by a family member or dear friend at the memorial service after he or she passes. Listening to this song will help you hold special memories of your parent close to your heart whenever you hear it.
7. Can you tell me about your team, including your legal and financial professionals?
Obtain a list of names and contact information for their accountant, financial planner, and lawyer. You should also have physician information in case of an emergency.
8. Can you tell me about your will or estate plan?
Your parents should have these documents in place. You need to know the date of the will, where they keep the original and the name of the executor of their estate. Ask about their plans for advance directives, powers of attorney, insurance policies, financial accounts, the status of beneficiaries, tax information, organ donation, and safe deposit boxes. If the will was drafted more than five years ago, they likely need to update it.
9. Under what circumstances would you consider a move?
If your mom or dad has stairs in the home or can no longer handle the maintenance on a huge residence, they might be forced to move. If the home doesn’t have these obstacles, you might be able to help them adapt it for their needs. You can also address in-home care and find out if they have thought about assisted living.
10. What would you like for final arrangements?
Fifty years ago, only about 4 percent of the nation’s population opted for cremation. Now, about 50 percent of people want to be cremated. However, geography plays a huge role in the rise of cremation — in states with more transient and liberal populations, such as Maine, Nevada, Hawaii and Oregon, cremation is flourishing. Ask your parent about his or her final wishes and find out what they prefer. Do they want a traditional funeral or cremation, such as that provided by the Neptune Society, with a simple service? Cremation may be the best option if money is tight, since it costs about half what an average funeral does.