Talking to your parents about estate planning
Updated: Sep 27
Your parents’ estate plans can help assure that their assets are passed on to their family and that their wishes are followed. There are recommended ways to bring up estate planning issues with your parents.
Begin the conversation
Even though the money you will inherit from your parents may be on your mind, it should not be the basis of the conversation. Their assets may change over time and you may appear greedy and having a sense of entitlement if you focus on this.
Knowing your parent’s instructions so they may be followed is the important issue. Providing an article or book on estate planning can help start the conversation.
When to start
The holidays or any family event may be a good opportunity to begin so that everyone is involved, and no one feels excluded. It may be awkward to discuss this in the middle of a family dinner or celebration, but the discussion should occur when everyone is together.
Do not schedule this conversation. Let it begin naturally. You can discuss your own estate or financial planning and explain that you want to avoid confusion after you die or assure your family’s financial well-being. Or discuss someone’s planning failures. Your parents’ activities can be brought into this conversation.
This should not occur after a recent argument or after you suffered a serious financial set back or appeared irresponsible. Another bad time is following financial turmoil such as a sharp stock market drop.
Documents and accounts
Discuss whether your parents have a will, financial power of attorney, and a living will or health care directive designating someone to make health care and end-of-life care decisions. Learn where these documents are kept and assure that you can easily access them.
You also should ask about other important information so you can handle their finances if they die or become incapacitated. This includes account numbers and passwords, insurance policies and contact information for their accountant, lawyer, financial professionals, insurers and retirement plan or pension administrators.
If parents are unwilling to share this information, ask them to place it in a list or workbook which should be kept in a fireproof safe or lockbox in their home with their social security card, passport, and other documents. You should know its location and have access to this information.
Ask your parents if they have written funeral or burial arrangements. This helps assure that their wishes are followed concerning burial or cremation, whether there should be a funeral or wake, music selections, preferred clergy or speakers and other similar matters.
Attorneys can also provide options to carry out these plans, and assist with preparing the documents that they may need.