Tax Season Is Prime Time To Discuss Final Wishes

Jalene Hahn |

We all deal with death differently, including coping with a parent's death. Adult children might have some unique considerations, especially with the last parent's death.

My mom died Dec. 21, 1998. My mother-in-law just died Dec. 26. My husband and I had very different experiences. My mom was only 66, and her death was unexpected . Mike's mom was 92 and, while her death was not a surprise, we still weren't fully prepared. Both funerals had timing constraints due to the holidays.

My mom had not planned or even discussed any arrangements, except that she would be buried next to my dad. I am sure her service was not the one she would have wanted, but we had few options and no real guidance. She died in Indiana, but her service was in Illinois and we were planning long-distance so I am sure we overpaid for everything.

My mother-in-law had planned her burial arrangements , but there were still decisions to make. We knew we would have a Mass, but hadn't actually planned it. What music? Readings? Who would be the cantor, servers, pallbearers? And who would bring up the gifts? Thankfully, my brother-in-law had written her obituary.

Many families find it difficult to talk about money and end-of-life issues. I know from experience, it is much harder to make smart choices in an emergency or crisis. Advanced planning will allow time to research and evaluate options before making major decisions.

The beginning of the year brings year-end statements and tax documents that can help open a dialogue. Let your parents know that you care, that their help has meant a great deal to you, and that you would like to help them. Let them know your concern or curiosity is not about their not being capable, but is about sharing information and support.

The goal is for parents to provide their kids with critical information , including the whereabouts of bank accounts, insurance policies and legal documents, and whether any final arrangements are in place.

Sometimes, the non-monetary items cause the most resentment. Deciding what to keep, recycle, donate or toss can be emotional. Family discussions in advance about how things will be divided can ease resentment. If there is a plan, does everyone involved know the details?

There is a program titled, "Who gets Grandma's yellow pie plate?" that can guide discussions and the process of splitting personal items . Leigh Anderson has a nice article on life titled, "How to deal with your parents' stuff when they die." She highlighted a service that provides " people who will hold your hand through every step of the process- professionals who specialize in ' bereavement clean outs'- the lengthy and stressful task of emptying a loved one's house after their death.'' I wish I would have had access to this service when we cleaned out my in-law's home. I think there are still things in the attic that need sorting.

As I worked with my husband and his family planning the funeral Mass, I took the time to plan my own. I hope it will not be needed for many years, and I am sure my wishes will change over time, but at least the plan will provide my family with some guidelines.

We purchased burial plots a few years ago. We have also started discussing the family heirlooms and the stories behind them. One discussion had been who would get the "big yellow bowl" that was a staple for holiday meal preparations. This argument was settled when we acquired a second bowl from my mother-in-law.

My eldest son has claimed my mother's 9x13 cake pan. It's my favorite pan and I hope he will have to wait years before I'm ready to relinquish it.