Preparing for Death of a Parent Checklist: 18 Items

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Hopefully, your loved one has completed end-of-life planning. If so, thank your parent for taking care of those responsibilities. 

Because those end-of-life decisions are taken care of, you’re free to spend quality time with your mom or dad during his or her final days. If the funeral is planned and the estate is in order, hold his or her hand. Talk soothingly or sing to your mom or dad, even if he or she is not expected to gain consciousness. 

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You may find yourself experiencing a wide variety of emotions when sitting at your parent’s deathbed. You know that there will be many tasks to complete after your loved one dies but you may find yourself with a lot of extra time on your hands. Of course, your first responsibility is to your parent and family. But if you find yourself craving a job as you sit by your parent’s bedside, you may want to think about these 18 things as you prepare for the death.

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Health and Medical Items

You'll want to take inventory of their medical final wishes, contact other loved ones and family, and take care of yourself during this challenging time.

1. Learn who to contact when your loved one passes

If your loved one is in a medical or hospice facility, it’s easy to know who to contact to report the eventual passing of your loved one. If your parent is at home but hospice oversees his care, your hospice contact will give you the number of the person to call when your loved one dies. 

If your loved one is not under any direct medical care and you discover that he or she has passed at home, you have no other option than to call 911. Have your loved one’s Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order in hand when the paramedics arrive.

2. Learn what you can do to keep your loved one comfortable

Your contact will tell you what steps you can take to make sure your loved one is kept comfortable if he or she is in hospice. Hospice may supply you with cotton swabs to use to moisten the mouth and lips.

They may instruct you on how to move your loved one periodically to relieve pressure. If your parent is at home, hospice may guide you on how to take care of your loved one's toileting.

3. Continue with nutrition and treatment as directed by the doctor

If your loved one is dying at home of a specific illness, your parent's doctor will have given instructions on the medications to give to your family member. Follow the doctor's instructions.

4. Keep close friends and family members informed

Well-meaning friends and family may contact you often to check in on you and your parent. If you are the only person providing care, these constant messages may be appreciated but difficult to handle. 

You may consider assigning one person the task of giving updates. Consider using sites such as CaringBridge or a similar service, which will email subscribers when there is an update or change in status. 

ยป MORE: Are you helping someone through a loss? Make sure you're on the right track with this post-loss checklist.

 

Financial and Legal Matters

If your loved one is dying at home, you may be able to start gathering documentation that will be needed immediately after your loved one dies. If your loved one is in and out of consciousness, you may need to ask him the whereabouts of some of these items.

5. Find your loved one's Social Security number

You probably already know most of the vital information that is necessary to report on your parent's death certificate. Be prepared to supply your parent's full name, birth date, and address.

You may need to look for your parent's Social Security number. Look in your parent's personal papers for that information. Your parent may even carry his or her Social Security cards in a wallet, so check there if you can't find it anywhere else in the home. 

The Social Security card is not only necessary for the death certificate, but you will also need it after your loved one passes to protect the deceased from identity theft. You will need to contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) immediately after your loved one dies.

The SSA will contact the three major credit bureaus and they will put a flag on your loved one's Social Security number. This will keep criminals from trying to use your loved one's identity to open new accounts in his or her name. The SSA will also contact the Internal Revenue Service.

Consider using this time to make sure you know where this information is.

6. Find your parent's military paperwork

Look for military records if your loved one was a member of the military. It’s important to find the military service records, which could include discharge papers and the Veterans Affairs (VA) claim number.

These documents will be essential to have on hand if your loved one is going to be buried or interred in a military cemetery. These documents will also be necessary if military honors are going to be presented at a military funeral.

7. Think about how you will secure your loved one's belongings after his or her death

Just as you want to protect your parent from identity theft, you also want to protect the estate from burglary. Unfortunately, criminals look at obituaries to plan burglaries.

As you prepare for the death of your parent, consider what items you should secure. Think about how you will make the home look inhabited. 

8. Contact your employer

If you aren't already on leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you may consider filling out the paperwork ASAP.

Even if you feel as if your parent's death is imminent, no one knows when it will happen. Protect your job by making sure that you're protected by FMLA or other bereavement leave policies.

Funeral and Burial Wishes

Hopefully, your loved one already made their final wishes known. If not, you may ask your parent during moments of clarity to share his or her preferences with you.

10. Look for your loved one's end-of-life plan

Hopefully, your loved one knows whether he wants to be buried or cremated. If your mom planned to be buried, do you know what cemetery she planned to use for her final resting place? If your dad wanted to be cremated, do you know where he wanted the urn to be placed or where he wanted to have his ashes scattered? These are the types of questions the funeral home staff will ask you regarding your loved one's final plans. 

If your loved one is not conscious, you may need to search for clues that your parent had been in communication with a funeral home.

11. Plan the funeral service

Although it may feel odd, you can begin to plan the funeral of your loved one while sitting at his or her bedside. You can pick out the music, poetry, or verses to be read. You may even want to begin to write the obituary and the eulogy. You can think about who to choose for pallbearers and what flowers you will order.

It may be difficult making these decisions for your mom or dad. Your brain may feel cloudy, and even making the most straightforward decision may put you on edge. This is normal. Give yourself and others grace during this time. This is the time when families need to draw together instead of bicker over the types of flowers on mom's casket or which verse to read at dad's funeral. 

Legacy Considerations

As you sit by the side of your dying parent, consider the legacy they leave behind. Here are some things to think about when preparing for the eventual death of your mom or dad.

12. Pick a nonprofit that will receive the donations collected at the funeral

Ask your parent where they would like charitable donations to go. This charitable organization may be a church, synagogue, or temple. It may be a veterans' group or civic organization. Your parent may want charitable gifts to go toward finding a cure for a disease.

13. Check your loved one's belongings for a copy of a will or a trust

For some, the idea of a "legacy" means what they are able to bequeath money to those who they left behind. Ask your parent if he or she has a will or trust.

This may not be the time to discuss the contents of the document, but you may want to locate it.

14. Create a display for the funeral

Perhaps the greatest part of your loved one's legacy is the large circle of family or friends that will grieve the death of your loved one. Consider making a display of photos for your mom's or dad's funeral. This can be DIY-ed or put together with the help of a photo collage frame like this.

Sometimes the greatest legacy one can leave behind is a large family made up of good people who love one another. Celebrate this. 

You may consider sharing photos that you have gathered of your loved one if he or she is able to enjoy the pictures. 

Feels, Final Wishes, and Other Loose Ends

Each situation is different when someone dies. Prepare for the unexpected.

15. Cancel appointments

Look at your parent's calendar to see if any appointments need to be canceled. These may include appointments with the dentist or hairdresser. 

Cancel home delivery services and newspaper subscriptions.

16. Find a home for your loved one's pet

It should go without saying, but it may be necessary to rehome your loved one's pet. Hopefully, a close friend or family member will be willing to take over the responsibility of caring for the animal.

17. Begin going through your parent's belongings

Start the process of going through your parent's paperwork. You may want to keep a shredder handy to take care of the obvious pieces of paper that can be immediately destroyed. Otherwise, look for signs of debts and assets.

Look for life insurance policies and stock certificates. These will all need to be gathered and gone through by the executor of the estate.

18. Care for your family

Different people grieve differently. You may feel focused right after the death of your loved one, but may not be able to function a few weeks later. Maybe your sister will feel extraordinarily emotional and may lash out at those around her. Perhaps your teenage son will retreat from the family while grieving. 

Pay attention to how those around you are grieving as you watch your loved one die. Reach out to those who may be struggling more than others. 

Take a Deep Breath

You may feel overwhelmed by all the tasks that you need to complete when your parent dies. This may be especially true if you are an only child or only surviving member of the family. 

Take a deep breath. Remember to eat and care for yourself. It won't be easy, but others have gotten through this and accepted death, and so can you.


Sources

  1. "Survivors Benefits." Social Security Administration. www.ssa.gov/benefits/survivors/.

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