The Talk: Discussing End-of-Life Planning with Your Parents and Loved Ones

older women talking and sitting at table

One of the most difficult talks you can have with loved ones is about death. As tough as it may be, discussing end-of-life planning with your parents and family is a critical conversation to have if you want to avoid heartache and anxiety if a crisis happens.

According to a 2018 survey by The Conversation Project, while 92% of people think it is important to talk about end-of-life care wishes with their family, only 32% have had the discussion. Most people – one in five – avoid the subject altogether, fearing it would be upsetting to their loved ones.

Tips for Starting the Conversation About End-of-Life Planning

We don’t want to think about our parents or any loved one dying. But it is a part of life, and everyone needs to be prepared for it. You and loved ones need to be on board by having a serious discussion about end-of-life planning with your parents so the entire family is in on the decision-making.

Here are some steps to help you with the conversation: 

1. Get Ready – Think about how you will broach the subject and when. Perhaps you can have the discussion when the whole family is together, like over the holidays. Being prepared and knowing exactly what you want to say will make a difficult situation a bit easier for everyone.

READ MORE – Calling a Family Meeting to Discuss Estate Planning

2. Start the Discussion – To break the ice, you can say you want to discuss something that is worrying you. Perhaps you had or know of a recent life-changing event, such as the death of a friend or a sudden illness of an acquaintance. You can use this as the trigger to begin the conversation. Relate how the death or the illness has made you think of your parents’ mortality and what they would want should they become seriously ill.

3. Be Sensitive – The meat of the discussion of course is planning your parents’ or loved one’s end-of-life care. Instead of peppering them with a bunch of “you need to do this” or “you need to do that” statements, take the sensitive approach. Ask about their wishes and thoughts. Be tactful. Remember, this is about THEM and what they want.

Examples of Questions to Ask

  • “Have you thought about creating a Will? I want your last wishes to be honored if something happens to you.”
  • “Who do you want to make your medical decisions if you can’t make them yourself?’
  • “If you become seriously or terminally ill, what type of treatments would you want or not want?” 
  • “Who would you trust to take care of your finances if you get sick?”
  • “Have you thought about what long-term care you would want if the need arose?”
  • “Would you want to be resuscitated or put on life support?”
  • “What concerns or thoughts do you have about your finances or health do we need to know about?”
  • “What do you think about us helping you create an estate plan?”

4. Discuss “What if” Scenarios It’s not a bad idea to mention a few scenarios that could happen if your parents do not have a legal plan in place. For example, if your mom or dad suddenly becomes incapacitated and can’t make financial or medical treatment decisions themselves, you would have to petition the court to seek guardianship – which is the last thing you need to deal with if they are in the hospital ICU and immediate decisions need to be made. Or, if your parents die without a Will, the court will take control of their estate, divvy it up, and determine who would inherit the assets. This could lead to a legal battle and division or conflict among your family members. 

READ MORE Why Estate Planning Should Not Wait: What We Learned From Dad’s Recent Passing

Estate Planning Documents You Need

These are the important legal binding documents your parents should have as part of their estate plan.


The Last Will and Testament lists assets and the beneficiaries who will receive them after your parents’ passing.

Health Care Proxy

A person is named to make health care choices on behalf of your mom or dad if they become incapacitated.

Living Will

This lists your parent’s medical treatment wishes. (End of Life wishes are included in a Gentreo Health Care Proxy)

Power of Attorney

This is someone your parents would appoint to manage their financial and legal matters if they cannot.


Your parents can place their home, financial accounts or other assets in a Trust that will transfer to the beneficiary they named without going through probate.

Pet Power of Attorney

If your parents have pets, they can provide instructions for their care and name a caregiver.

Discuss End-of-Life Planning Now

Parents want to leave a legacy for their children. Let part of that legacy be having an end-of-life plan in place. Don’t wait until an emergency hits to have an end-of-life discussion with your parents. A relaxed, thoughtful conversation will help you, your parents, and your loved ones make the right decisions now instead of under the influence of a crisis later.


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