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End of Life Decisions, Lessons for the Sandwich Generation

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As we wrap up the first half of our discussion on decisions facing people in the sandwich generation, we want to carefully step into the important, but often uncomfortable, subject of death. Your parents are probably more anxious about this than you are, which means there is a lot of room for misunderstandings to arise. Still, it is important to remember that as challenging as this topic is to address, it’s better to deal with important end of life decisions now, rather than waiting until there’s a health crisis.

It is also important to remind your parents that by letting you know about their estate plans, they are helping make you a better steward of their legacy. Ideally parents organize these conversations with their children and their wealth advisor. If that hasn’t happened in your family, setting up the conversation is a wise thing to do.

Here are a few of the most relevant financial and health decisions to talk through with your parents:

Wills and Trusts

Your parents may have already written a will, or they may need your help to find an attorney. If some time has passed since they originally drafted their will, they should revisit it and consider how setting up a trust may be beneficial. The differences between a will and a trust are important. It’s possible that your parents may need both to arrange for their assets adequately.

A Will

This document doesn’t go into effect until after a person passes away. It lays out who has been chosen to carry out their wishes, and who will receive their property. It covers all property that is only in the deceased’s name, and will pass through a probate, meaning a court will see to the administration of the will and make sure all property is distributed according to the wishes of the deceased. In addition, a will is part of the public record, and can be used to make funeral arrangements.

A Trust

Unlike a will, this document goes into effect right away and can start distributing property before a person has died (as well as after). A trust involves a “trustee” who holds legal title to property on behalf of a beneficiary.

Trusts are generally more complicated than a will, but people tend to use them because of the additional features they offer. A trust permits a person to specify the exact way their assets will be distributed to their beneficiaries, both before and after death. Trusts also are not required to become public record, which provides greater privacy for the family than a will.

Healthcare Choices

When the health of a parent or loved one is in decline, you don’t want to spend your final moments with them wondering if they would approve of the treatment they are receiving. You can avoid these concerns by helping your parents make their healthcare decisions well before they need to be enacted.
Items you’ll want to consider include:

  • Do they want a DNR? – A “Do Not Resuscitate” order is a legally binding physician’s order that doctors must obey. It states that if your parent’s heart or breathing fail, doctors should not try to restart either. A DNR can only be made by the patient or, if they are unable, by their chosen healthcare proxy. It is very possible that you may have to act as the agent.
  • Would they want doctors to try experimental treatments, regardless of side effects?
  • Would they want a feeding tube?

Be sure you are aware of your parents’ healthcare wishes early on, and assume any necessary future responsibilities ahead of time. You don’t want there to be any ambiguity in the hospital room, where every moment counts.

Executor of The Will

As responsibilities go, executor of the will is an important one, and one that you may well find yourself fulfilling. The executor is charged with the duty of ensuring the will of your parents is followed. It also means taking care of any necessary taxes or bills. It would be a smart idea to keep this in mind when meeting with your parents to discuss their budget. You may not have access to your parents’ will until after they pass, but you can have a good idea of what kind of bills they’ll need to pay in the event that the responsibility falls on you to manage their accounts.

Turning Our Attention

In drawing this first half of our series on the sandwich generation to a close, we want you to keep in mind that by helping your parents address them one at a time, you are helping them achieve their wishes, both in life and afterward.

If you and your family want help talking through these difficult topics, our team is here to help.

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Next time, we’ll turn our attention toward the other side of the generational sandwich – your adult children.


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