Thursday, July 02, 2009

Time for the Talk?

By "the talk," I don't mean the one parents have with their kids about the birds and the bees. I mean the talk kids should have with their parents, but often don't because of the difficult, sensitive subject matter. The talk about their parents' finances and assets.

It's hard to choose the right time for this important conversation. Most people don't want to ponder their demise. Some might get defensive, thinking the kids just want to know if they're going to inherit anything. But if you don't have that talk, you, the heirs, will pay the price later. For example, you won't know what sort of funeral they'd prefer, or if they've already purchased a plot or a cremation contract. Myriad other issues need to be covered, such as: Do they have wills, and if so, where are they? What about a power of attorney? Do they have any investments, Social Security payments? Are there medical bills to be paid?

This happened to me and my siblings when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He never brought up the subject, and I just couldn't. How can you ask a dying man undergoing chemo what stuff he has and where it is? Ask for his PIN or the password for his bank account?

We had his will, but hardly any other information, records or files. It's challenging and time consuming enough to close any estate and, say, transfer a 401K to the heirs. While you're dealing with the loss of your parent, condolences and funeral arrangements, you're also supposed to be getting copies of the death certificate and other paperwork in order.

Here are just a few examples of the frustrating problems I faced:

--I didn't know his email password. Despite giving as much info as I could to the provider, I was never able to get in.
--Past due bills started arriving for things we didn't know he owed. Like the insurance policy on his condo.
--I found a key that looked like it might be for a safe deposit box. It took many phone calls to track down the bank and determine that branch didn't exist any more.

Consider having the talk with your parents. Resources for further information:

Death Education
respect my wishes
what now?


Gina Black said...

This is such great advice. When my Mom died I found a bundle of papers paper clipped together in the back of her file cabinet. They included a will (handwritten on a steno sheet and fortunately completely valid) and a number of articles from the LA Times on tribal (or unique) funerals. The will part was easy but the newspaper clippings didn't really convey her wishes except that she was interested in an eccentric farewell to an eccentric life.

The hard part is trying to do the right thing while you're in the middle of dealing with a huge loss. Knowing your parents wishes makes that much easier.

Morgan Mandel said...

Great advice, Ruth.
We didn't have that problem when my parents passed away from long illnesses. I was one of the executors of the will and had a copy. We knew where the insurance and bank papers were. Neither had ever used a computer. Still, I'm sure many people out there are lost when loved ones die and don't know what to do.

I'm creeping into the older generation category, so I need to get my preferences known.

It's a hard thing to face.

Morgan Mandel