Family discussing estate planning.

How to talk to your parents about estate planning

If you’re struggling to talk with your parents about estate planning, you’re not alone. 

One third of older Americans have not discussed their aging or end-of-life plans with their family, according to a 2018 Wells Fargo study. The reasons vary from a desire for privacy to a lack of urgency, even among those in their 80s.

Children of aging parents report feeling uncomfortable talking with their parents about estate planning or finances. More than 1 in 4 children worry that bringing up their parents’ finances will give the impression that they’re asking for money.

Unfortunately, families that avoid having these conversations often find themselves tackling them at the most difficult times. 90% of children who have talked to their parents about estate planning say the discussion was triggered by a life-altering incident, reports an Ameriprise Financial study.

Most of us aren’t the best communicators or decision-makers in the middle of a crisis, so taking some steps beforehand to make sure you understand your parents’ expectations is a good idea.

While these conversations will probably never be anyone’s favorite activity, we do have some suggestions for reducing the discomfort.


Schedule a family meeting

Casually bringing up an emotionally charged topic at a random dinner or over the phone could result in a tense and defensive conversation as your parents try to play catch-up on the topic or figure out why you’re so interested in their finances.

A better tactic is to let them know ahead of time that you’d like to schedule a time to talk about their end-of-life planning. Acknowledge that the topic can be difficult and that you’re only interested in ensuring that their wishes are followed and that you’re adequately prepared to handle whatever comes your way.


Include your siblings

If it’s possible to include your siblings in a meeting, do so. You’ll avoid any perception that you’re trying to cut them out of discussions.

Do talk with your siblings beforehand about how to approach the meeting and make sure you’re all on the same page. The last thing you want is for your parents to feel like you’re ganging up on them. If you anticipate a sibling berating your parents for their lack of action or particular financial decisions, you might consider encouraging that person to sit the meeting out.


Consider your parents' perspective

In the 2018 Wells Fargo study discussed above, adult children were more likely to see their aging parents as needing support — with anything from mowing their lawn to managing their finances — than the aging parents themselves.

Be aware that your parents may not see themselves as needing help. In fact, they may resent the implication — even if your concerns are coming for a loving place. Remember, they changed your dirty diapers. A role reversal where they now need your help can be difficult to swallow.

Try to be sensitive to those feelings while letting them know that you’re not trying to take over their lives but that you want to make sure you’re able to support them in the ways that they need when the time does come.


Don't get hung up on the details

Sharing the details of your financial situation can feel vulnerable for anyone, and aging parents are no different. If your parents don’t want to get into specifics, don’t press the issue. Just ask them whether they’re talking with a professional about creating a will and a plan for safeguarding their assets.

You might wish to have more specific information, but pushing may not get you there. Ask your parents whether they can share the contact information for their attorney or financial planner and where their important documents are in case you need to locate them in an emergency.


Talk about your own estate planning

Approaching the conversation as a request for help sometimes works better since parents are often use to and comfortable with the concept of helping out their children. If you’ve engaged in your own estate planning, you know that a financial planner will ask about whether you anticipate receiving an inheritance or whether you’ll need to set aside money to help care for your aging parents.

Let your parents know that you’ve begun working on your estate plan and would benefit from a more thorough understanding of your future financial situation — especially if you’ll need to help with expenses in the future. 54% of aging Americans say they would want help from their kids if their kids are able to give it, but they don’t want to be a burden.

Even using all of these strategies, conversations about the end of life, family expectations, and finances are rarely simple. Keep in mind that the most important thing is make sure that your parents are taking steps to prepare and that they know they can talk to you about their plans if they need to. Sometimes the initial conversation is tense but opens the door to important discussions down the road.

Need to get an estate plan started for your parents or family members? Schedule a free consultation to speak with one of our expert team members about our Estate Planning services.