Does the thought of speaking about estate planning with your aging parents make you uncomfortable? Many people have been raised in families where discussing topics that involve money are taboo, and since will and estate planning can bring up lots of feelings about finances, health, and personal relationships, it can be intimidating to even think about approaching your parents to talk about their plans. However, if you can manage to start the conversation, you can help ensure that your parents have proper estate planning documents in place that will meet their needs and create a legal avenue that mandates their wishes will be respected.


Why is talking about estate planning important?

Your parents might be vibrant, energetic seniors who are engaged in meaningful work and relationships. You may not be able to imagine them in any other way and it might seem like now is the wrong time to bring up questions about estate planning. On the other hand, your parents may be slowing down and altering their lifestyle after a new medical diagnosis. Unfortunately, as our bodies and minds age, our needs can change – sometimes suddenly. While no one wants to think of their loved ones in a compromised mental or physical state, it’s a possibility we all face in growing older.

An important part of estate planning is having conversations that allow your parents to address their feelings about the immediate and long-term future. If your family has never openly discussed these topics, it can be hard to know where to begin. Yet, one of the best ways we can support them is by speaking with them, so they have the opportunity to share.

You may find that your parents have already prepared documents with an estate planner, and they have a legal and financial plan to support the life they envision. They may have a last will and testament, a trust or trusts, a financial power of attorney, a healthcare proxy, a living will, beneficiary designations, and a letter of last instruction. Or you may learn that they are part of the majority of Americans who have neglected estate planning and need your help.

It’s not uncommon to want to shy away from discussions about estate planning services. It can be an uncomfortable topic to address when planning for our own future, and when we aren’t sure how our parents may react, it can become stressful. Asking parents about the resources they have available to support their future, or if they have spoken with any estate planners, might be misconceived as prying into their finances for personal gain. However, with patience and mindfulness of the parent/child relationship, you can reassure them you are only trying to help them prepare for tomorrow as you ease into the following topics over the span of several conversations.


Questions to Ask to Start the Conversation About Estate Planning

A gentle approach that opens the door for your senior parents to discuss will and estate planning, without judgement, can be the key to beginning meaningful communication about this important topic. Try asking some of these questions:

  • What do you want to do or accomplish in your life right now? Are your parents looking forward to an adventurous retirement? Are they currently in retirement and want to continue to live near family? Relocate to a warmer climate? Do they have a financial structure in place to support their ideal plans?
  • How do you envision your future living arrangements? Do they have thoughts on where they’d like to live if their care needs change? Would they prefer to stay in their home or move to an active adult community? What are their feelings about living in an assisted living facility or receiving in-home care if it becomes necessary? What if they were living alone without a spouse? Would they want to live with a family member?
  • Do you feel that your health care needs are being met? Are your parents managing health challenges? Are they following up on all recommended doctor visits? Do they have appropriate levels of insurance coverage and understand what is covered under their plan? Do they know that estate planning allows them to dictate how they would like to have their medical care handled in the event that they become incapable of making decisions?
  • Are you handling your bill paying effectively? Unfortunately, some seniors start to have difficulty with numbers as they age and managing a checkbook can become too much to handle. A financial power of attorney is an estate planning document that allows a designee to step in and take care of the bill paying as well as other financial issues such as tax return filings and investment management.
  • If you have siblings, it can be helpful to ask your parents how much they know about these topics. No one wants to feel like people are talking about them behind their backs and it can be better to address this up front. Are your parents interested in extending this conversation to include other family members? Knowing how much they are comfortable sharing with you and with others helps create the boundaries of what topics are “on the table” and which are “off limits.”


Getting More Specific About Estate Planning

Once you have eased into the discussion, if your parents are receptive, you can get more specific about will and estate planning. By asking a few more questions, you can get a better idea of how much, or little, estate planning they have done.

  • Have you thought about advanced health care directives, healthcare proxies and HIPAA forms? As health care information is confidential, HIPAA forms give permission for medical professionals to share information. In younger years, a spouse might have been selected designee on a healthcare proxy. As parents age, it might become more appropriate to update their estate plan documents to include an adult child to legally speak on their behalf. If a parent becomes unable to speak for themselves, due to a medical condition such as Alzheimer’s, or as a result of an accident, having the authority to advocate for their wishes can make a huge difference in the course of treatment they may receive.
  • Are there any financial professionals you work with? Ask to be introduced to their financial advisor, tax preparer, estate planning attorney, etc. Offer to be involved, if they want you there, so that you stay informed. At a minimum, ask for their contact information in the event you ever need to reach them.
  • Have you spoken with a financial advisor who can help with estate planning documents? Your parents may or may not be aware of the resources available to help in creating and managing an estate plan. They may think they must use an estate planning company or a certified estate planner, however a financial advisor can be an ideal professional to work with, as they can take a more holistic approach. A financial advisor can review your parents’ specific resources and needs, and work with them to establish a comprehensive estate plan that is customized for them.
  • If you already have an estate plan, when was it last updated? Do your estate planning documents reflect your current wishes? Documents including wills, trusts, powers of attorney and healthcare proxies are all part of a comprehensive estate plan that should be reviewed periodically. If your parents already have these documents, they may want to share copies and discuss them with you so that you have a better understanding of their plans.
  • Do you know where your estate plan documents are? Your parents may have their original documents stored at home or in a safe deposit box at a bank but should consider using a secure online vault that will allow them easy access to digital versions of their documents as well. They then have the option to share access to some or all of their documents with you. This can be especially helpful in emergency situations. There are several easy-to-use options including ShareFile and Dropbox Basic.


Many people mistakenly believe that will and estate planning is not something they need to do because they feel overwhelmed by the process or simply throw their hands up in frustration because they don’t know where to begin. However, if you open up a dialogue with your senior parents and offer your support to help them through each step, you may find they may suddenly have many questions.

“How do I find estate planning near me?”

“Is this expensive? How much does it cost for an estate plan?”

“What information will my estate planner need me to provide?”

Regardless of how uncomfortable you may initially feel, and whether or not you can answer all of their questions, beginning the conversation is a vital first step. Speaking with your senior parents about estate planning and ensuring that they have proper plans in place is one of the most important things you can do for them as an adult child.  If you have any questions about how you can help your parents with their estate planning needs, please contact us.