Whenever I mention I am in the process of working through my deceased parents' estate and selling their house, someone will say, "I need to get advice from you in the future about what to do about that." Let's just say this is that advice.
There are two aspects to handling your parents estate to consider. The first is easy. It is simple legal paperwork. Don't attach a lot of fear or unhappiness to it. Just as when you were born, your parents filed a birth certificate announcing your name and relationship to them; paperwork will be filed announcing your death and the choices you made regarding what happened to your property. You can also file paperwork pre-deciding choices you may have in how you choose to die. Every bit of work you do towards doing that paperwork while you are still healthy is a loving gift to your children.
My father had a stroke in July 2010. He lost none of his mobility, but a very large portion of his memory. The very last check that cleared his bank account from before his stroke was one to the lawyer who drew up his Will, Trust, Durable Power of Attorney and an Advanced Health Directive regarding what lengths he would like a hospital to go to keep him alive should he need a ventilator or other machines.
I was very very lucky. I hadn't been nagging him to do any of that. Like most of you, the notion of bringing it up to him, particularly the part about the Will and Trust, felt like counting his money as my own before he died. He was 77 years old when he had those documents drawn up. He did not live to be 80.
You will need all four of those documents. Look in bookstores and online to see if you can do them yourself, but you will probably need to contact a lawyer to have them done. I had that and a few other things done a year or so ago and it cost me around $1000.00. Keep the originals. Show them to whoever insists on seeing an original, but make a lot of copies and give only those out. If you have only the Will, instead of the Will and Trust, you will lose money and wait somewhere around a year for probate to close. This is true no matter how simple the estate may seem. Do yourself a favor and make sure you get both the Will and the Trust. I cannot stress this enough.
You will need the Power of Attorney in case your parent gets dementia or is somehow otherwise incapacitated and you have to handle their affairs. Even with the Power of Attorney, you will be amazed how many businesses will insist that you fill out "their" forms regarding Power of Attorney. I was actually listed on my father's bank accounts as a co-owner, which is also a good idea to help pay for the medical bills that will begin adding up. It makes an easy transition from your father signing the checks to you signing the checks. Consider your name also being added to the title to your parents' automobiles or mobile home, if they happen to live in one.
Remember to check all medical bills against any medicare or health insurance that should be picking up part of the tab. They will not do any of the legwork for you. Avoid feeling cheap or like your parent doesn't deserve whatever medicare or assistance he or she has coming. You have no idea how long the illness will last or whatever illnesses may be waiting behind the current one. The goal is to keep your parent funded during this trying period. You can't afford to overlook any discounts or assistance that may help.
A side comment about dementia. If your parent suffers from that and is still able to live at home with you or outside caregiver assistance, at a bare minimum, remove the car keys where he or she can't find them. If you can get the car out of sight and mind, you will be happier. Trust me, you are going to hear, "When will I get to drive again?" more times than your parent ever heard "are we there yet?" It is an uncomfortable position to be in, essentially being your parents' parent. Telling him, "I didn't say you can't drive, the doctor did. They revoked your driver's license." It just doesn't get the job done.
Try to summon up all of the patience you can muster. Inside his mind, he does probably know what he wants to say. He just can't pick the right words anymore. My father went through a period where nearly everything became the word "Sine-aid." Think how frustrating it must be to think television remote and only be able to mumble "Sine-aid." Whatever personality he or she had before the stroke? If it was a bit negative or angry, expect that times two. Don't expect to receive patience in return. He feels powerless and chances are, you are the poster child for everything he thinks is currently messed up and wrong.
It is a very good time to discover small little tasks or favors he can do for you. Feeling useful and needed is an excellent combatant to the depression and boredom he may be beginning to face. Seniors with a good attitude who have dementia due to a stroke can recover quite a bit of what was lost. Or at least that was what I found when I read about it. Giving them puzzles or video games like "Big Brain Academy" can help. Try not to be too disappointed if they have a bad attitude. My father immediately sneered at any gift that showed up at his house even slightly looking like it was "good for him."
I can't offer much advice about the other aspect to handling your parents' estate. Your siblings. That was another place where I was very lucky. It may be lonely to be an only child when you're a kid and there is no one to help suffer the burden of caring for your aging parent, but there is also no one to fight with about distribution of heirlooms or how much their house is worth.
I would suggest simply trying to treat each other with kindness and dignity. If one person has been burdened with much of the caregiving, he or she may feel a bit more entitled. You may think that the most valuable piece in the estate, let's say a diamond ring or necklace, should be sold to benefit everyone, but your sister may remember playing dress up like Mommy and wearing it when she was three. While everyone is stressed by their recent loss, your brother also may be struggling with the near break up of his marriage. Communicate and be as honest as possible with each other. Try to have empathy. Above all, be grateful for whatever good things do come your way as a result of the estate and DO NOT fall prey to the limiting belief that the quality of the rest of your life will be determined by what you do or do not receive.