Discussing end-of-life planning with your aging parents is no easy task, especially if they’re reluctant to discuss finances and similarly challenging topics. Fortunately, there are several ways you can guide and support them through this process.
Updated February 1, 2023
How To Talk To Your Parents About End-Of-Life Planning
End-of-life planning requires you to discuss many heavy topics with your parents. And unfortunately, each tends to be as complex as they are sensitive. For this reason, many people procrastinate regarding end-of-life planning — perhaps including their parents.
Whether you’re a primary family caregiver or occasionally provide care for your parents, you will eventually be part of end-of-life planning. But planning isn’t easy, especially for something as sobering as your aging parent’s future.
Although this process is full of emotional and interpersonal challenges, it’s important to realize that end-of-life planning offers valuable benefits for everyone involved. With this in mind, the sooner you and your parents work through this process, the more time you’ll have to enjoy peace of mind. Moreover, starting early also gives you more time to have these conversations and identify clear goals.
With this in mind, the following guide can help you better understand the end-of-life planning process and show you the best ways to approach your parents about this topic.
End-Of-Life Planning Conversation Tips
First, you should acknowledge your parents’ feelings, including both positive and negative. Because, for your parents, end-of-life planning potentially means fewer freedoms as well as coming to terms with their eventual death. These are just a couple of problems that make this subject difficult to talk about, so be mindful of them throughout this process.
Often, adult children start to think about their parents’ end of life planning when they notice a decline in their parents’ health or extra support around the house. Chances are that you have a list of worries about your parents.
So be specific about your worries and note instances you’ve observed. Furthermore, be ready if your parents seem reluctant or outright oppose your fears. Regardless if you come from a place of concern, they may remain hesitant.
As an adult child caring for your elderly parents, it can feel like the tables have turned. This experience isn’t only saddening for you, but also your parents, who may feel infantilized by the scenario.
It’s important to keep your parents from feeling like this. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it may make them more receptive to your suggestions. So use a respectful tone and keep an open mind. And when they express fear of the future, find ways to help them feel empowered.
Of course, being respectful also means not pressuring them during the decision-making process. While there’s nothing wrong with offering guidance and suggestions, avoid creating resentment by being authoritative, not collaborative.
End-of-life planning is more constructive and efficient when you go into your first conversation fully prepared in the first place. Therefore, have a topic of focus, advance directives, and a plan ready beforehand. Doing so helps create a framework that can be comforting for both you and your parents.
Be Ready For Multiple Talks
End-of-life planning is a complex and prolonged process, so prepare for more than one discussion with your parents. As you try to move the process along, try not to be pushy. And if talks go awry, try again later when things have settled.
End-Of-Life Planning Topics
Long-term care can be one of the most problematic aspects of end-of-life planning. So to keep you or your parents from becoming overwhelmed, consider a gradual approach based on your parents’ changing needs.
First, think about specific situations that could occur, such as your parents giving up the keys. Then, brainstorm particular services they would need, such as transportation assistance. Depending on your parents’ circumstances, capabilities, and needs, they may need only one service or multiple.
In-home care has many benefits. Namely, it allows your parents to age in place. Additionally, home care services don’t depend on insurance requirements. But, on the other hand, the expense could be a drawback for cost-conscious seniors.
Some coverage, such as long-term care insurance, covers some aspects of in-home care, but for the most part, much of the expense is out-of-pocket. Still, if your parents fulfill specific requirements to be eligible for in-home care, it can significantly improve their independence and quality of life.
Depending on your parents’ health and circumstances, end-of-life planning may also include talks about assisted living.
These conversations must be focused and nuanced. In addition, you and your parents must be transparent with each other and decide which circumstances would require assisted living. Finally, be honest with your parents about your caregiving capacity and availability, even if it’s hard.
Finances or the responsibilities of care are often the main reasons why many families choose assisted living. However, in some cases, in-home care may become insufficient or too costly, making assisted living a worthwhile alternative.
Research the benefits of assisted living before bringing up the topic with your parents. Likewise, understand that your loved one will likely feel reluctant about this idea, so consider scheduling in-person visits to better understand what different facilities offer.
Nursing homes are often the last choice for seniors and families. This topic can create a sense of urgency regarding end-of-life care because your parents may be more willing to communicate if it means avoiding the nursing home down the line.
Rehabilitation is another type of long-term care that may come up during end-of-life planning. It involves intensive inpatient therapy after three or more days in the hospital because of a medical crisis.
Rehabilitation is covered by Medicare and has many advantages for seniors and their families, such as:
- Rehab gives older adults a safe and secure place to recover.
- It eases some of the responsibilities of caregiving.
- When you have fewer duties, you have more time to think about and organize in-home care for your parent’s eventual homecoming.
Advance Care Planning
Advance care involves the long-term care options above while supporting your parents’ desire for specific health care decisions during a medical event. Like other aspects of end-of-life planning, advance care planning can be a sobering experience. But ignoring it now can create more complications in the future.
First, determine which documents your state needs to begin the process. After that, it might be easier to work with an elder law attorney to ensure you have the correct paperwork in place.
Advance Directives & Medical Power Of Attorney
Your loved ones might believe that simply telling you their medical wishes is enough, but you must have the legal authority to carry them out. So make it clear that if your parents want to manage their healthcare, they must outline everything they do or don’t want if they become incapacitated somehow.
In addition, provide realistic scenarios that could occur, such as a coma or dementia, to explain. Similarly, talk about why your parents need a healthcare power of attorney and why it’s essential.
For instance, they may not know that it’s illegal for blood relatives to access health care records without this document, which can limit your ability to support their wishes.
Neither you nor your parents want to have this conversation, but addressing it carefully can make it easier for everyone.
First, consider sharing your own emotions and considerations about end-of-life planning. For example, discuss your desires, what you wouldn’t want for yourself, and explain situations that could impact those choices, such as a risky procedure or life-saving surgery.
Approach this conversation with warm intentions and an open mind because it will help your loved ones feel more comfortable discussing their wishes. However, be mindful that this talk doesn’t have to end with a concrete decision — nor should it.
Alternatively, give your parents enough time to consider and continue the talk later. It might be a good idea to encourage them to talk to their doctor if necessary.
In the same vein, discussing your parent’s end-of-life wishes also means establishing funeral plans. Again, this conversation ensures your parents’ wishes are fulfilled and avoids potential family conflicts. So if your parents don’t have a plan, then help them with the process.
Financial Aspects Of End-Of-Life Planning
Depending on your parents’ attitudes, family dynamics, and other factors, finances can sometimes be the most challenging topic to discuss. Since some seniors may find this conversation out-of-line, you must approach the financial and estate side with consideration and care.
Hire An Estate Planning Attorney
If your parents are reluctant to talk about finances with family — or are overwhelmed by everything — you might consider hiring a lawyer. As much as it may sting, your parents may be more willing to discuss this sensitive subject with an unbiased professional than you or other relatives.
Last Will & Testament
You might be surprised to know that almost half of adults over 55 don’t have wills. Do you know for sure if your parents have one? If not, try to understand why. Is it because of expenses or another reason? Listen to your loved ones so you can help find solutions to some of these problems.
Financial Power Of Attorney
No one wants to imagine losing the ability to care for themselves or their finances, and your parents are no different. They might presume they will handle their finances without issue, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Older adults are all vulnerable to incapacity, cognitive and physical decline, fraudulent activity, and more. If your parents can no longer manage their finances for one of these reasons, it may fall on you to deal with bills and other finances.
With a financial power of attorney, you have the authority to manage their finances. Similarly, you could propose a trust, which provides you with (or another relative) authority over your parents’ finances, but still gives them control of their finances until they need further assistance.
Care Options And Expenses
As tricky as cost-of-care conversations are, they’re essential to end-of-life planning because you need to know where your parents stand financially and what care options their estate can afford.
Of course, planning for expected costs creates the foundation for effective financial planning and positive outcomes. But as difficult as these discussions can be, it’s best to talk about them sooner rather than waiting until it’s too late.
End-Of-Life Planning Checklist
Hopefully, this end-of-life planning checklist can help you stay organized as you and your parents plan for the future.
- Financial power of attorney
- Living trust
- Last will & testament
- Marriage license or domestic partnership agreement
- Ownership of assets
- Real estate & mortgage
- Saving & checking accounts
- Investment accounts
- Credit card accounts
- Retirement or pension accounts
- Life insurance policies
- Unpaid loans
- Life support
- Resuscitate orders
- Organ & tissue donor designation
- Medical power of attorney or health care proxy
- Long term care preference (aging in place, assisted living, nursing home)
- All individuals named in the will
- IRA, life insurance, annuity, & other beneficiaries
- Close friends & relatives
- Colleagues or business associates
- Religious organizations
- Social groups
- Executor or trustee
- Funeral director
- Specified funeral home
- Burial or cremation
- Headstone or grave marker
- Place for remains
- Funeral, memorial, or nothing
- Type of service (religious, non-denominational, military)
- Eulogy, readings, music
- Memorial donations
MeetCaregivers Can Help
Discussing your parents’ future is stressful and challenging. But while it can trigger intense emotions, understand that these feelings are normal. So don’t let fears stop you from initiating a plan, or you may find yourself dealing with even more anxiety and uncertainty later on.
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- Brock, Catherine. “End-of-Life Planning: 2020 Checklist.” Harbor Life Settlements, 16 July 2020, https://www.harborlifesettlements.com/end-of-life-planning-checklist/.
- “Checklists for End-of-Life Planning.” Wiser Women, 22 Nov. 2019, https://wiserwomen.org/resources/retirement-planning-resources/checklists-for-end-of-life-planning/.
- Lambert, Amanda. “How to Talk to Aging Parents About Their Future: Step-By-Step.” Cake Blog, https://www.joincake.com/blog/how-to-talk-to-aging-parents-about-their-future/.