Last Questions

Morgen Henderson

TAKING CARE OF AGING loved ones is almost always difficult. You’re worried about them and want them to be comfortable and happy. But they’re also concerned about you and what you’ll have to deal with after their death—settling their estate, funeral costs and the hassles involved.

As my grandmother approached the end of her life, we asked questions that I was initially afraid to ask. But it was the right thing to do: Answering those questions relieved stress for both my grandmother and my entire family. Here are five of the questions we tackled:

1. Do you have life insurance? We found out my grandmother had life insurance, but we didn’t know what kind or who the beneficiaries were. We discovered my uncle was the sole beneficiary and hence would receive everything. We updated the list of beneficiaries, so all of my grandmother’s children were included.

2. What sort of funeral would you like? It sounds a little dark to ask someone who’s still alive about their funeral plans, but it can be helpful. We talked with my grandmother about what she expected at her funeral. We discussed how each person in the family would be involved, if she would like to be buried or cremated, and ways to pay for a funeral. We found out where she wanted to be buried and got an idea of how much her funeral might cost, so we’d know if her life insurance would cover the expense. To my surprise, my grandmother said she felt relieved about these plans, since she knew we wouldn’t be left to figure it out on our own.

3. Do you have a will? If you have any assets—which most people do—you should create a will. Assets include more than just cash, cars and real estate. It also includes other possessions that are considered valuable, like jewelry, and paintings.

To avoid family fights and make sure possessions were divided fairly when my grandmother died, we got legal help and prepared a will. We went over things that each person in the family wanted. When there were items that multiple people wanted, my grandmother did a great job of mediating, so each person was happy with the items they would receive. We also found out about a few assets my grandmother had that no one knew about and that weren’t documented as assets. We added those to the will, so they wouldn’t be lost later on.

4. What debts do you have? I’d normally be afraid to ask someone if they had any financial debts to repay. It’s a personal question, but it’s good to know about when you’re dealing with aging relatives. When they die, you don’t want to be surprised by the need to deal with tens of thousands of dollars in debt you didn’t know about. We found out what my grandmother still owed on her house, cars and credit cards.

5. Have you loaned anyone money? We also found out that my grandmother loaned significant sums to a few people— mostly family members—and the loans weren’t recorded in any legal documents, but rather in a notebook. We may have eventually found the notebook and seen that people owed her money, but there’s also a good chance the notebook would have been thrown out. We properly documented the loans, so anyone who owed money would have it deducted from their share of the inheritance.

Morgen Henderson is a writer from the beautiful mountains of Utah. She covers a variety of topics, ranging from travel and lifestyle to tech and personal finance. When she’s not typing away at her computer, you can find her baking desserts and traveling the globe. Follow Morgen on Twitter @Mo_Hendi.

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