With the second wave of COVID-19 either looming or upon us, you might be feeling the added stress that comes from wondering if you and your loved ones are prepared for an abrupt health crisis.
I sure am. My elderly parents, although active and independent, both have pre-existing conditions. They also live in a different state than either of their daughters. My sister and I recently worried about our parents’ health as they returned to their activities involving larger circles of people with their state reopening and us not being close in order to take care of them. Just hearing a few horrifying and heartbreaking stories of COVID-19 patients going unconscious without much warning, dying in a cold hospital without a family member present, was enough to jolt us into considering that this scenario was a real possibility.
We had never seriously addressed this…and we knew we were unprepared.
At this point, my sister and I took a deep breath and looked into what we could do from a distance. Did we even know if our parents wanted a respirator? This seemed like a basic COVID-19 question. What other questions should we be asking? How do we approach this delicate subject of their end of life preferences? It is an uncomfortable topic, to say the least, that we choose to ignore or tiptoe around.
We decided to use this moment, this fear, to bravely reach out to our parents and openly engage in end-of-life conversations, conversations about their wishes: from health directives to funeral songs, from trusts and wills to burial instructions. Was it a bit awkward? Yes. Did they want to talk about it? Not really. Did we all agree it was an important to do? Hard to admit, but yes. Was the timing right? Well, it turned out that timing was excellent. Not much to do in the shutdown, new technology to connect us all, and a desire to ‘be’ with family (anyone really!) were all great reasons to make the timing work well. Through Zoom Meetings, we dove into our parents’ thoughts, detailed plans, and financial documents…and at times, humorously diverging opinions. By session four, we started affectionately calling our virtual meetings ‘Funeral Zooms.’
Our experience and process might resonate with you, and you may wonder where or how to start.
Here are some questions we found important to ask loved ones, even ourselves, preferably during good health:
- Do you have a Health Care Directive?*
- An Advance Health Care Directive is a document that ensures your end-of-life wishes will be carried out. It makes clear your desires for medical treatment and allows you to appoint someone to make decisions for you when you cannot make them for yourself.
- Do you have a Will or Trust?**
- A will is a legally enforceable document stating how you want your affairs handled and assets distributed after you die.
- A trust is another method of estate transfer—a fiduciary relationship in which you give another party authority to handle your assets for the benefit of a third party, your beneficiaries.
- Do you have a Final Letter of Instruction? (email firstname.lastname@example.org for a template)
- The purpose of this letter is to state one’s final wishes and to provide survivors with valuable information. Although legally binding documents exist, this letter will provide specific information not contained within those documents. The intent is to provide survivors with answers as to the who, what, where, how, and why, in order to finalize one’s estate and carry out one’s wishes.
- Do you have burial and funeral wishes?
- This is your chance to discuss everything from religious practices to music selection. Make sure to add these wishes to your Final Letter of Instruction.
Although these questions might come across as obvious and lead to the collection of vital information, I encourage loved ones to read through the documents together. Share copies. Come from curiosity and ask the difficult questions. Take notes and take your time.
Our family Zoom meetings have been far from morbid, rather they have been a surprising source of family connection and new understandings. My parents are healthy and expect to live 20 more years in retirement, but we are better prepared for the unexpected. From my family to yours, “Enjoy your Funeral Zooms!”
*Talk with your doctor or an attorney about creating an Advanced Health Care Directive.
**Contact an estate attorney to receive legal advice on trusts and wills.