Tough Conversations: Advice for Preparing for the Death of a Parent

Author: Sarah Nash
Property & Casualty Account Manager
CU Insurance Solutions | Equinox 

I know that this is a very tough subject to discuss, but I wanted to share the important things I learned from my personal experience of losing a parent.  The following are many important questions to ask along with some informative discoveries I made regarding all of the medical, insurance, financial and personal matters that arise. One piece of advice I offer to you is to do your best to prepare for the death of a parent. It’s going to happen. We can’t avoid it. We all tend to think that we have plenty of time. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes a sudden illness can cause death to happen quickly, and I’d be willing to bet that at least half of us are unprepared for this event.  Talk to them now while you’re both able. Not one part of the conversation is fun or easy. No one likes to think about their own death and departure. I think the older you get the harder it is for some to discuss their ultimate wants and wishes at the end of life.


Medical Decisions

What do your parents want to happen if they were to fall ill and could not make their own medical decisions?

  • Make sure your parents have a healthcare directive.
  • Make sure your siblings all have a copy.
  • Make sure any Aunts and Uncles have a copy.
  • Make sure your parents’ doctors’ have copies.
  • Make sure a close friend of yours has a copy in case something happens to you. It’s not a bad idea to have a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) medical bracelet/necklace for them to wear if that choice happens to be theirs.
  • Do they want to donate any viable organs?


Will Preparation

It’s helpful if your parents have a will drawn up. In the event of your parents’ death, if there are assets to be divided and they have nothing in writing, the state in which you reside will decide all of that for them. It’s a long, arduous process that most family members do not come out of with any warm, fuzzy feelings. There are many prepaid legal services that can assist with this task. A lot of parents have an attorney they’ve used for various reasons throughout their lives. That attorney may be able to help or at least refer them to an attorney who specializes in drawing up a will. If your parents aren’t keen on writing a will, at least get together with them and include all siblings, grandkids, and anyone else who may be left an item. A roll of masking tape and marker can be used on the backs/undersides/interior of items to state who gets what when the time comes.

If you are listed as an executor of a will, you have specific duties to uphold.  When your loved one passes, you must notify each person named in the will.  You must prove to the court that you’ve done your due diligence in searching for and sending copies of the will to those people.  It’s suggested to obtain an attorney to represent yourself to make sure you execute each step correctly from the very beginning.  If you aren’t an attorney yourself, chances are very good that you will not know how to do it all to the letter of the law.

If your parents have any money in a credit union account, they can list you as “Payable on Death” on the account.  This will give you access to money to hire an attorney or any other immediate expenses that arise in your duties as an executor.


Financial & Insurance Aspects

Things to ask about:

  • Life Insurance
  • Computer Passwords
  • Bank Accounts and Passwords
  • Email Accounts
  • Who is their attorney (hopefully you’ll know this information due to drawing up a will)
  • Outstanding loans and any other sort of asset or debt that will have to be dealt with. Knowing this info will save you a lot of time and aggravation.
  • Ask things about their home that you may not know.
    • Where’s the septic tank buried?
    • Who delivers the oil/propane/etc.?
    • Where’s the combination to the safe in the basement?
    • Who cleans the furnace, chimney, etc.?
    • Who is their insurance agent?
    • Does that insurance agent write the home and auto coverage?
    • Does that same agent also write the life insurance coverage?
    • Ask the same about any recreational vehicles such as campers, motorcycles, boats, etc.

I realize many parents won’t want to divulge all this info while they are healthy and of sound mind. Come up with a solution. Maybe a safe deposit box with all the above info written down? It could be as simple as a locked strongbox in a designated area that you know to go to when the time comes.




There’s a five-year lookback period for the purpose of assets and MaineCare.  If your parent requires long term care (about $9,000 per month for a nursing home), their assets will need to be $2,000 or less, not including their home.  If they were to try and put assets into a child’s name, they would have to survive for five years after that transfer or else the state will come after that child for the “gifted” money that they received.  If their assets are over $2,000, they will be required to spend it down to $2,000.  This does not mean it can be spent on trips, trinkets, and fun stuff.  This means their assets will be paid to the nursing home to pay for their care until they get down to the $2,000 maximum limit and then MaineCare would take over.


End of Life Wishes

Questions to ask:

  • Do they want to be buried?
  • Do they want an open or closed casket?
  • Do they have a preference on what funeral home deals with their funeral/memorial?
  • In what cemetery do they want to be buried?
  • Do they already own a plot in that cemetery?
  • Do they want to be cremated?
  • What should you do with the ashes after cremation?
  • Are the ashes kept in an urn with a loved one?
  • Which loved one?
  • Do we split up the ashes between all children, grandchildren, etc.?
  • Are we supposed to bury the ashes?
  • Are the ashes to be spread?
  • Where will the ashes be spread?
  • Do they want a wake before the funeral?
  • Do they want a celebration of life?
  • Where would they like this to be held?
  • Is there anyone they absolutely do not want attending any of the above funeral arrangements?


My Story

Why am I telling you this? My Mom had a massive stroke on November 11th, 2018. She never regained consciousness and passed away on December 4th, 2018 when the decision was made to “pull the plug”. The one and only thing I knew for sure was that she did not want to live without quality of life.

Thankfully as we’d previously lost family members to cancer, she did make that one fact known to me. She had no health insurance. She had no healthcare directive. She had no will.  I literally had an extreme crash course in what to do when your parent falls ill without anything in writing. In terms of how uncomfortable it may be to talk about all this ahead of time, the alternative that I dealt with was 1,000 times more uncomfortable. The worst part is that you now hold the guilt of every single decision made along the way. You don’t know for sure if any of those decisions would be acceptable to your parents. That downright sucks. Don’t let it be put on you. Know what they want and execute those decisions with confidence because YOU KNOW what their wishes are. In my case, being an only child, there wasn’t a lot of fighting amongst family members. If you have siblings, prepare to argue, disagree about treatments, and downright fight with each other. It happens. Sickness and death can bring the absolute worst out in those who are normally the nicest person you’ve ever known. Think about how much easier it would all be if it was all spelled out. There’s nothing to argue about when you know someone’s wishes ahead of time.

Talk now. Plan now. Have these excruciatingly difficult talks now because it will make things so much easier when the unfathomable happens.