10 questions to ask your parents before it’s too late
There are some questions that are really hard to ask, but knowing the answers can greatly relieve the pressure in times of emergency or end of life.
We’ve put together 10 questions to ask before it becomes necessary. How you ask them is up to you – but probably not as bluntly as we’ve listed them here, and probably not all at once!
1. Who have you chosen to have power of attorney?
Setting up Power of Attorney means that if there’s a crisis and your parent is no longer able to make decisions for themselves there are people appointed who can take action reasonably fast. That might be to take over financial affairs, move a parent into care for a short time and make important decisions.
There’s a common misconception that if you set up Power of Attorney you immediately lose control of your life. That’s not true. Thinking ahead simply makes life easier for everyone. If your parent doesn’t set up a PoA in advance, you may find yourself seeking permission from the Court of Protection to handle their affairs, and that can take a long time.
It’s also worth finding out who has been nominated for Power of Attorney or as executors to ensure they can work together. We know of one family where the siblings are at war and two estates have been entrusted to solicitors for the foreseeable future as they battle it out in the courts.
2. Have you thought about a care home?
While few people actively plan to go into care, some parents may have thoughts on whether they’d like to stay close to their friends or move nearer to their children if and when they do make the move.
If they want to stay local, they may even have picked out a home that looks good to them. If a crisis arises and you need to find care for them fast, knowing what sort of choice they would make for themselves can be immensely helpful.
It won’t always work out because there may not be a free room at the right time or the funds to match, but it’s helpful to have some guidelines. If your parents are willing, you could even take a tour of local facilities and ask questions well in advance to make the decision easier later. Have a look at our tips for choosing a care home.
3. Where is your will?
Followed possibly by “You have made a will, haven’t you?” Again a misconception is that if you don’t have a will it’s fine because everything will go to next of kin. That might be true, but probate will take a good deal longer.
You might also need to have a look at the will if you’re selling the house on behalf of a parent through Power of Attorney. Your parent may have made special bequests to individuals so you’ll need to know what to keep when house clearing. It might actually be a good idea for your parent to keep up a list of items that they’ve promised to people and let you know where they keep that too.
We’ve known several families where people have expected gifts from the parent only to find that another sibling has – unwittingly perhaps – already removed said item to their own home. Altogether it can save a lot of argument and resentment within the family.
4. What sort of funeral service appeals to you?
Again, another argument saver. Should it be religious and if so, what? If not, what? Cremation or burial – maybe green? Perhaps your parent has a fund put aside to pay for the cost of the funeral. If not, the cost will probably come out of the estate. If you’re worried about what to do and in what order when your parent passes away we have a step by step guide.
Talking about dying with your parent especially when it comes to funeral arrangements can be a difficult subject to broach. If you’re finding it hard to begin the conversation read our tips for approaching such a sensitive issue.
5. What medical intervention would you want if you can’t make decisions at the time?
An advanced directive, also known as a living will or advance decision, explains what an individual would like to happen to them in the event that they lose the capacity to make informed decisions about their care.
This could include resuscitation, blood transfusions or other life-saving treatments. There may be circumstances where a doctor won’t follow the directive – if its instructions are unclear for example or it they don’t know of its existence.
Directives can be registered online and can be part of the portfolio of the person holding Power of Attorney. Find out more about Advance Directives at Patient.co.uk.
6. Are you an organ donor?
There’s no age limit for becoming an organ donor. It’s physical condition rather than age that will help doctors decide on whether to accept donations. Your parent may carry a card and/or be registered on the organ donor database. Find out more at www.organdonation.nhs.uk.
7. Where do you keep all your financial paperwork?
Whether you have Power of Attorney or you’re the executor of a will, there’s an awful lot of paperwork to do, just when you probably don’t feel like doing it. If your parent can give you a list of all their accounts and other references and point you to where it’s filed, that will save a huge amount of time. That means:
- Bank and savings accounts
- Tax office address and reference numbers
- Anything else...
8. Where are the contact details for your utilities providers?
Who needs to be notified if your parent goes into hospital or care, or you sell the house? It’s not just gas and electricity anymore. You also need to think about landline and mobile phone contracts, cable or satellite TV and broadband if it’s relevant. Even the milk delivery if there is one. And don’t forget that people change their providers regularly, so check this regularly for the latest status.
9. Who do you want to manage all your computer files and internet activities?
The Law Society advises that everyone should leave a digital legacy. Most of us now have a life online and as children we need to know what to do with that life when our parents are gone.
This applies to online accounts, email, social media, music, films and even computer game characters. Which accounts should be closed? Is there important or sentimental material such as family photos that need to be preserved?
Clear instructions will make it easier for executors to carry out wishes and ensure they aren’t accidentally committing fraud.
10. Tell me more about your life
Not a pragmatic question at all, but many of us regret not knowing more about our parents’ lives when it’s too late to ask. We tend to take it for granted when we’re growing up. Yet their generation has lived through so much – the war, rationing, “the white heat of technology”, “you never had it so good” and what really happened in the swinging 60s.
Don’t leave it too late to start conversations. If you parent prefers to keep a record of their life’s escapades there are journals on the market where they can answer questions and write down their memories for something more permanent than a conversation.
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