I hear it from elder care attorneys and medical personnel frequently: the worst decisions made are decisions made in a crisis.  Doctors and Nurses have a term for it: it’s called the “hallway huddle”.  Hospital and Hospice professionals see families in the hallway of the emergency room or ICU trying to figure out what Mom or Dad might have wanted. “That’s a very tough time to think these things through,” says Jon Radulovic, Vice President of Communications for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO).

Think of the last time you made a major decision: it might have been buying a car or house, it might have been planning a family reunion or a trip to Europe.   How long did it take?  How many opinions were solicited and weighed?  What factors were taken into consideration?  Imagine having to make long term legal, financial and estate decisions in 48 hours.  Multiple the complexity by the number of siblings and the amount of money and personal belongings left.  Death brings out the best in good people and the worst in good people.

The wiser way to handle the decision is preemptively.   Have a family meeting, or at least a “quorum!” The sibling in California may not be able to physically be there, but they can attend by Skype or on speaker phone.  When meeting with your loved one, don’t feel like you have to cover every base in one meeting.  It would be ideal to have parental wishes up to date and in legal form.  However, at very least some basic questions should be asked and notes taken: Do you want to be buried or cremated? How do you feel about a “do not resuscitate” (DNR) order? What assets are there? Insurance policies?  How do you want them distributed?  Who gets grandma’s wedding ring?  Remember, most conflict in families after a death are from unclear directives or contesting the wishes because one party does not believe the directives are accurate.  This can be resolved when all parties are present and hear the desires of the loved one well before the decisions need to be carried out.

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  • Portions of this blog were excerpted from “16 Things Smart People Do for End of Life Planning” by Kimberly Hiss for Reader’s Digest