This is not at the top of our list of conversations we want to have with our parents, but it is a necessary one.  With the right preparation, the conversation should be easier to start and here is a step-by-step guide to help through the process.

Step 1:  Do Your Homework

Do some research, or talk to an expert, to determine just what topics you need to cover in this conversation.  This will help the discussion run smoother and help ensure that you do not leave any important items unresolved.

Step 2:  Carefully Choose the Right Time and Place

This is not a conversation you want to hold in a noisy setting or when you are under a time crunch.  Some points to consider are:

  • Make time – you do not want to be rushed
  • Find a comfortable space
  • Turn off your cell phone
  • Do not do this alone – it is a good idea to have other immediate family join the conversation to ensure that everyone understands your parents’ wishes.

Step 3:  Let Your Parents Lead the Conversation

You can start the conversation by discussing your own estate planning process or by mentioning an article you read on the topic.  Then let your parents talk.  You do not want them to feel pressured or like they are facing an inquisition.  Let them tell you what plans (if any) they have in place and explain what they know. From there you can ask questions.

Step 4:  Ask Specific Questions

You should ask during your conversation about several key documents.  They include:

  • Living Will or Personal Directive– This document gives another person the authority to make decisions on your behalf when you become incapacitated.Questions:
    • What medical treatments do you want or not want?
    • Who do you want to communicate your wishes to medical personnel?
  • Power of Attorney – This document provides authority to an individual(s) to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. You can choose one individual to handle health related decisions and one to deal with financial decisions or a single person to handle all decisions.  Questions:
    • Do you have a power of attorney?
    • Whom do you want to make decisions on your behalf?
    • What directions to you have for that individual(s)?
  • Last Will – This document explains how you want your assets handled after you pass away and who your beneficiaries are. Questions:
    • Who is your executor?
    • Do you have any specific requests regarding how you want your assets handled?
  • Living Trust – This document takes effect if a person can no longer manage their estate and assigns a trustee to make decisions on their behalf.Questions:
    • Who is your trustee?
    • Do you specific directions/requests for your trustee?
  • Documents – Where are all their documents kept? If they are scattered around, suggest putting them in all place and making copies.  Documents should include:
    • Those listed above
    • Birth and marriage certificates
    • Life insurance policies
    • Health insurance policies


While starting this conversation can be very difficult, these are not issues you want to deal with while you are in the midst of mourning the loss of your parent(s). The best time to take care of this is now, while everyone is still healthy and able to make decisions.