Some conversations are just no fun and even quite hard to have. No spouse, for example, wants to spend lots of time talking about the end-of-life issues. But as sure as you and I are guaranteed an end to our lives on this earth, the timing and conditions of that end also often come unexpectedly. Even though it’s hard, it’s also quite necessary to talk about various aspects of life…and death…to help each other think through these situations.
It’s hard, but necessary to talk about the things of life and death, to think through them together.
Here are five necessary but hard conversations every couple should have regarding how to move forward in life together in the here and now, as well as in the event one of them passes away or becomes incapacitated.
It’s not uncommon for one spouse to usually manage most of the finances. Do both of you know the location of all the policies and paperwork involved in your various accounts, insurance policies, pensions, and retirement plans? Do you review your balances on a regular basis? Reviewing this now, and often, will help if the need arises to take some burdens off of your grieving spouse. Account numbers, safety deposit box information, agreement on what big priorities you want to be saving for, philanthropic priorities…even agreement on what you consider needs vs. wants are all things to consider. For example, I am likely to need a new car down the road, as my current one is 15 years old and has over 250,000 miles. But Susan and I also haven’t done a longer vacation as a couple in several years. So we have been discussing together what our priorities should be now, and later, accordingly.
Perhaps you homeschool or have your kids in a private school. If something happened to one of you, or if you had a financial reversal, would that remain a viable plan? You have to discuss these things ahead of time because of financial implications and also thinking ahead to any time or career or priorities adjustments you might need to make as a family. Another example: discuss what college choices would be viable when your kids are young. We needed to start thinking about college when our kids were little, even taking into account where we live. In some states, special accounts are available to build tax-free savings for future college expenses. If you live in Florida, we recommend you look into Florida prepaid accounts. Other states probably have similar programs.
3. Medical Care.
Couples should discuss with each other their wishes for care if life support is required in extreme medical conditions. Under what situations would you or your spouse want natural death or heroic measures to be attempted? Now is the time to consider it together, not when one spouse is in the E.R. with life in the balance. A Living Will and Designation of Healthcare Surrogate might be just the right tools for you to use to consider these questions together. You don’t want to have to figure it out in an emergency by guessing what your incapacitated spouse would want if they could say so.
4. Care for Parents.
Many of our friends are in what we call “the sandwich years” when they are still raising kids and yet now caring for older parents. Together you should consider questions like “Can we have our parent(s) in our home if needed?” Talking with your spouse and with any siblings is crucial, and may also create some much needed (and also hard) conversations with your parents as well.
5. End of Life Arrangements & Decisions.
Everyone wants to avoid it. This is one of the hardest conversations to have. But if something happened to you, your spouse would face hundreds of decisions, and many dozens of those decisions generate even more decisions. A productive conversation now will make those decisions easier. How? By developing together an understanding of the basics, and specifics, of what would work best for you. Even a basic understanding of each other’s wishes is more helpful to a surviving spouse than nothing at all. Topics to consider include: Where do you want to be buried? Cremation or burial? These are the sort of questions couples should explore, even if it’s a work in progress over time.
Perhaps you’ve thought of some other hard topics that would be wise to discuss with your spouse. Please, share your ideas and observations in the comments below.