Life Insurance
Insurance 101
Live Chat
Sign In
Apply Now
Wills & Estate Planning

How to Talk to Your Parents About Their End-of-Life Wishes

By Anna Davies Feb 15, 2018

“Pass the potatoes . . . and while you’re at it, where’s your will?”

Cringe-worthy conversation, right? But even though bringing up the topic of death with elderly relatives is something most of us would deeply like to avoid, it’s an important conversation to have.

Knowing if your family members have life insurance, a last will and testament, plans or funds for long-term care, as well as topics surrounding a living will (i.e. do they want a ‘do not resuscitate’ order if the worst were to happen?) are great ones to regularly bring up, so everyone is on the same page well before anything happens.

That said, because these topics aren’t easy to discuss, they’re often left unaddressed, leaving relatives confused, scrambling, and potentially arguing after your loved one is gone. Here are some of the best ways to seize the moment and talk with your parents about their estate.

Choose the Right Setting

This conversation should happen privately, when everyone can focus, not, for example, at a celebratory Mother’s Day lunch.

One good way to segway into the conversation is to mention your own plans. Saying something like, “I’ve been thinking a lot about the future, and I wanted you to know I’ve bought life insurance so I’m covered” is a good way to then ask them what their coverage may be.

Another way to bring up the topic is to mention reading an article (like this one) on the topic or mention a friend who had difficulty assessing their family member’s needs because the topic had never come up.

A book can also help clear the air. For example, in the new book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, author Margareta Magnusson discusses the Swedish custom of decluttering your home as if you were going to die. Touching on pop culture can add some levity to the conversation while also making it clear it’s something that’s important to discuss.

Let Them Lead the Conversation

This shouldn’t feel like an inquisition, so let them lead the conversation and tell you what they may have done or may not have covered yet.

Say that you hate these questions, but it’s something you worry about, and you want to make sure you know their wishes. It’s also important not to ask why they haven’t done anything, if that’s the case.

Just let them explain what they have done, and offer help where needed.

Know How and Where You Can Help

It pays to do your own homework and have your own financial ducks in a row before you have this conversation with your parents.

Not only are you then knowledgeable in terminology and language, but you can also offer your perspective (if it’s asked for) as well as any tools or advisors who’ve helped you along the way in your own journey in managing your affairs.

Talk Nuts and Bolts

Make it clear up front: You’re not worried or concerned about specific dollar amounts, you’re wondering more about the overall picture of how they’ve planned for end of life.

Ask if they have a specific place where they keep important documents, passwords, and if there is anything else the family should know.

For example, who is named executor of their will? Is a living will in place? What would happen if a parent experiences cognitive decline? It’s also a good time to talk about potential long term care—if your parents were no longer able to take care of themselves in their house, what would their plan be and how would it be paid for?

The National Institute on Aging recommends these five documents—making sure to discuss all of them can ensure all bases are covered.

  • Living will. What medical treatment do you want at end of life?

  • Power of attorney for healthcare. Also called a healthcare proxy or agent, this person has the power to make healthcare decisions if the person who is ill cannot do so.

  • Last will and testament. How will assets be divided after death?

  • Power of attorney for finances. If a person can no longer handle their finances, who can make these decisions while the person is still alive?

  • Living trust. If a person can no longer manage their estate, who can do so, holding property and funds for beneficiaries?

The power of attorney for healthcare, finances and living trust may be all the same person, if, for example, a couple is married. But it doesn’t have to be, and it’s especially important to revisit these documents if a death or divorce occurs. At that point, you would draw up new forms, naming a different proxy. (Second marriage or stepchildren? Here's what you should know about estate planning for blended families.)

How do you get power of attorney? It’s important that the person who will be power of attorney be named in a legally binding document, instead of understood through casual conversation.

A lawyer can help you draw up these documents, and an appointment with a lawyer can be helpful to walk you through all the forms and what-ifs you may need. That said, a lawyer isn’t essential.

Many states offer standardized forms allowing you to name a power of attorney, specify wishes in a living will or advance directive, or choose a healthcare proxy. These forms often need to be notarized to be made official.

To find these forms, search the Department of Health’s website for your state, download the appropriate forms, and get them signed and notarized. It’s also important to make a few copies, and make sure to let trusted family members know where the forms can be accessed, or send them the digital files, along with information of where they can find the originals.

Make It a Family Conversation

The conversation shouldn’t be a one-and-done conversation, it should evolve over time.

Making a point to check in as a family (including far-flung siblings) every six months or every year can ensure everyone’s on the same page, any updates on the status of notarized legal forms can be discussed, and anyone can feel free to voice uncomfortable questions.

Make Sure You’re Covered

If you don’t have life insurance and a will, or you haven't considered how you want your own end of life care to look, these conversations are a good way to start thinking about your own plans.

It’s never too early—or too late—to start planning, and making it a family project and mission to get organized and covered in the upcoming year can help make it seem less like a fatalistic chore and more of a project to help make your family closer.

Fabric exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.

Fabric by Gerber Life exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.

Information provided is general and educational in nature and is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, financial, legal, or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. We make no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use, and disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information.

Fabric by Gerber Life offers a mobile experience for people on-the-go who want an easy and fast way to purchase life insurance.


Subscribe to our newsletter


Written by

Anna Davies

Related Posts

Wills & Estate Planning

What Is a Trust Fund and How Does It Work?

Trust funds aren’t only for the very wealthy. Here's how they work, how to set one up and why you might want to consider having one.

By Cari Wira Dineen
Wills & Estate Planning

One Action That Makes Life Insurance and Estate Planning so Much Easier

Creating an “in case of death” doc can save loved ones time, frustration and maybe even money. Here’s how to do it right.

By Lynn Shattuck
Wills & Estate Planning

Last Will and Testament: Step-by-Step Guide for Writing a Will (With Sample Will)

Here's how to write a simple will. Check out what you should know about making your last will and testament, and how to make it legally binding.

By Kaycie Tyll

Fabric Picks

Life Insurance

What Happens to College Savings in a Recession

A recession can have a different impact on your college savings depending on your plan and timeline. The good news: you may have options to stay on track.

By Jessica Sillers
Life Insurance

How to Protect Your Emergency Savings in a Recession

Here’s how a recession impacts the economy and how you can keep your family’s finances as steady as possible in tough economic times.

By Jessica Sillers
Life Insurance

What Inflation Means for Life Insurance

Life insurance can help protect your family’s financial future, but inflation affects you now. Learn how inflation affects life insurance and how to get coverage on a tight budget.

By Jessica Sillers
Fabric by Gerber Life Logo

About Fabric

iOS

/

Android

Download Fabric’s iOS mobile app through the Apple App Store
Download Fabric’s android mobile app through the Google Play app store
Subscribe to our newsletter

© 2022 Gerber Life Agency, LLC

Term Life Insurance Policy Series ICC22 2205-4004 WSA and Accelerated Death Benefit Rider policy series ICC22 2205-2623 WSA (and state variations where applicable) issued by Western-Southern Life Assurance Company, Cincinnati, OH which operates in DC and all states except NY, and distributed by Gerber Life Agency, LLC using Fabric Technologies. Gerber Life Agency, LLC is an affiliate of Gerber Life Insurance Company (est. 1967). All are members of Western & Southern Financial Group (Western & Southern). Issuance of coverage for Term Life Insurance is subject to underwriting review and approval. Please see a copy of the policy for the full terms, conditions and exclusions. Product provisions, availability, definitions and benefits may vary by state. Payment of benefits under the life insurance policy is the obligation of, and is guaranteed by, the issuing company. Guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuer. Products are backed by the full financial strength of the issuing company.

All sample pricing is based on a 30-year old F in Excellent health for the coverage amount shown and a 10-year term policy, unless otherwise stated. Gerber Life Agency, LLC (GLA) is an insurance agency licensed to sell life insurance products. GLA will receive compensation from Western-Southern Life Assurance Company for such sales. The NAIC Company Code for Western-Southern Life Assurance Company is 92622.

Western-Southern Life Assurance Company's A+ Superior A.M. Best Rating: Superior ability to meet ongoing insurance obligations (second highest of 13 ratings; rating held since June 2009). Ratings are subject to change from time to time. The ratings shown here are correct as of 09/03/2022. For more information about a particular rating or rating agency, please visit the website of the relevant agency.

Plan like a parent. is a trademark of Fabric Technologies, Inc.

Gerber Life is a registered trademark. Used under license from Société des Produits Nestlé S.A. and Gerber Products Company.

In the State of California, Gerber Life Agency, LLC is known as and does business as Gerber Life Insurance Agency, LLC.