Financial Steps to Take When a Parent is Dying

Q: My father is dying from cancer, and I have a major disability. What do I need as safety net to take care of myself as aftercare for me and to take care of his expenses.

A: Thanks for reaching out to me, and I’m so sorry to hear about your father’s cancer, and your own disability.

I realize this must be an extremely trying time for your family — emotionally, physically, and also economically.

Unfortunately, as our parents age, more and more of us are grappling with the very same experiences and challenges you are facing. Because of this, I previously wrote an article called “5 Financial Steps to Take When a Parent or Loved One is Dying

Please read this article, as I think it will help you greatly.

In terms of specifically creating a financial safety net and getting your family’s affairs in order, I think you should do four major things.

1) Make sure your dad has an updated will … and that you have a will too. 

A last will and testament allows him (and you) to express his wishes and pass along any assets he has in whatever manner he chooses (no matter how much or how little he has).

2) Get a healthcare power of attorney put into effect immediately. 

This is an important step mainly for him, but I think it’s also a step you should take as well.

In a nutshell, a healthcare power of attorney is a document that specifies — among other things — who a person wants to be able to make medical decisions on his/her behalf. NOLO has a good article that explains more details about the uses and benefits of powers of attorney for healthcare.

3) Have a conversation with your father about his financial affairs

This step may be tricky, depending on how open you dad is willing to be about his finances, and depending on how sick he is; after all, with his cancer, he may feel totally wiped out and could be unable or unwilling to go into money matters. If possible, though, do try to ascertain a number of things … mainly so that if he does pass away and you are the executor of his estate (or you have to help an executor) you will know where to go to track down all important assets, paperwork and legal documents.

The gist of what you need to find out in your financial conversation(s) are where things currently stand? Does he have life insurance, an old will, assets in bank accounts, credit unions or other places? Also, who are his financial advisors, if any? Does he have an accountant/CPA, a banker, a stockbroker or a lawyer or an insurance agent? If so, who are they … and what companies are with in case you need to contact them?

Initially, I wouldn’t stress your Dad by asking about debts (like taxes owed, credit card bills, etc.). But the truth is that some creditors may come trying to get payments from him/his estate in the event your father does pass away. So I just want you to be aware of that.

  1. Finally, you should try to do some pre-burial planning. 

Ask your father what his wishes are: would he like a traditional burial or cremation? (BTW, here’s an article I wrote called “When a Relative Dies and You Can’t Afford the Funeral.”) Also, where would he like to have his final resting place after his death … in a specific cemetery, next to your mom, ashes spread somewhere??? You get the point.

The goal is to try to empower him to make choices, even as he is dying. Such a conversation will also give you and your siblings some peace of mind since you’ll know what your fathers wishes are and then you can honor/respect those wishes once he’s gone.

As a final tip, if you are the executor — and frankly, even if you aren’t — you need to know many, many things to do once your father dies. I’ve written about those steps too, in this article called “Death and Finances: 8 Things to Do After a Loved One Passes.

You can use some of these ideas to help get your own financial affairs in order as well.

I hope this information helps you, and again, my deepest sympathies and prayers go out to you during this time. Your father is very lucky to have a loving, responsible daughter like you.


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