“Sally, I don’t even know where the checkbook is,’” is what Sally Kaplan recalls her mother saying after her father’s heart attack.
Nearly 12 million Americans bury a parent each year. And, according to a 2017 survey, more than 50% of American adults don’t have a will, and only 53% of adults in the U.S. have a healthcare power of attorney.
That’s why the Marlene Meyerson JCC in Manhattan created an innovative, advance care planning initiative called What Matters: Caring Conversations About End of Life, aimed at helping the Jewish community understand the importance of planning for the inevitable.
Planning ahead aligns with one of the primary tenets of Judaism, according to Kaplan: “When you walk this path, you are honoring life by setting up a system and being responsible for others.”
It is important to begin these conversations while your parents are in good health so that you can ensure that your parent’s wishes are known and respected. Having a clear understanding of your parent’s wishes can also help prevent feelings of guilt, regret, or uncertainty if you are required to make healthcare decisions on their behalf.
Here are six things you should encourage your parents to consider as part of their end of life care planning.
Everyone likes to think that their family won’t fight over the things their parents leave behind — such as investments, heirlooms, and real estate — but reality sometimes differs. You can help avoid this possibility through a will. A will, which includes financial as well as personal assets, ensures your parents’ possessions are distributed the way they want. Encourage your parents to talk with their financial advisor or attorney before writing a will — then update it at least once a year (or if there are major life changes, such as the death of an heir). They can also use an online program like LegalZoom to create the document.
2. Living Revocable Trust
This legal entity covers your parents while they’re alive. It provides a financial structure if they become mentally incapacitated, typically by assigning another family member the task of paying bills and handling monetary issues if your parents become unable. The trust also documents what should happen with assets after death.
To create a living trust, your parents should include the names of all people and organizations who may be beneficiaries; who is responsible for managing the trust; how your parents want the assets to be distributed; and the value and description of assets.
The advantage of having a living trust? Trust assets don’t need to go through probate and can be distributed quickly. Trusts may also have cost-saving benefits when it comes to attorney fees, taxes, and creditors. Your parents should talk with their lawyer to see if a trust makes sense.
3. Advance Healthcare Directive
This document makes your parents’ wishes for end-of-life care known. It guides family and medical professionals on the preferred treatment approach should your parents become injured, incapacitated, or in a vegetative state. Topics should include: when to use resuscitation methods (CPR, defibrillation, and certain medications); ventilator use; and artificial nutrition and hydration (tube feeding and IV use).
4. Power of Attorney / Healthcare Proxy
These important documents allow you or other family members to make decisions for your parents, should the need arise. The power of attorney appoints someone to make financial decisions, while a healthcare proxy designates a person to make medical ones. One person can assume both roles, or they can be split.
5. Important Information
Sit down with your parents and go over their insurance, burial instructions, cemetery plot locations, bank and brokerage accounts, safety deposit box information, and location of important keys. Computer, phone, and online account passwords must be shared, as well as the names and numbers of their doctors, attorneys, and so on. Creating a single document with this information will avoid the scramble to find it after a parent’s passing. Another option: Go paperless with a site like Everplans, a one-stop portal that provides an extensive checklist, as well as cloud storage for documentation and information.
6. Ethical Will
A written legacy of a person’s values and beliefs that can be passed down to future generations, an ethical will is a place for your parents to describe their morals, personal stories, expectations, and blessings for their families.
“Ethical wills are a treasure trove of ideas, hopes, and dreams,” says Rabbi Abigail Treu, director of the Center for Jewish Living at the JCC. The memorial site LifePosts, in partnership with the Jewish Ethical Wills Project, provides an online space to write an ethical will. Encouraging your parents to recount their stories and deeply held beliefs in this way.
Planning for one’s own death or speaking with a loved one about their end of life wishes isn’t easy. Fortunately, there is a wealth of resources online to help you get started.