Talk to Your Parents about Estate Plans

Zina Kumok

By Zina Kumok
Zina Kumok is a writer, speaker, and coach. 
Posted on 12/21/2017

Part of becoming a Grownup is realizing that your parents are not going to be with you forever. Emotionally dealing with this fact is difficult in itself, and unfortunately for some, that truth has to be faced sooner rather than later.

The lucky ones get to prepare for their parents’ passing with a conversation—an often painful, uncomfortable conversation. No one enjoys discussing the eventual passing of their loved ones, especially with their parents—about their parents.

Getting your parents’ estate planned, their last wishes fulfilled, and their health care decisions clarified is essential to avoid having unpleasant discussions with lawyers and family members while in mourning. Thankfully there are ways to make that conversation easier, more efficient, and (most importantly) over as quickly as possible.

Do your parents have an advance directive or living will?

I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about my parents’ final plans until my in-laws gave my husband and me a copy of their advance directive (living will). When I asked my parents about their preferences for treatment during a prolonged, uncertain, (and possibly) fatal illness, they brushed the topic aside.

Advance directives include issues like resuscitation and utilizing life support. They detail which medical procedures you’re comfortable with and the extent of the measures you authorize doctors to pursue to sustain your life.

Your parents can name someone to make medical decisions for them in case they aren’t physically able to speak for themselves, which is especially helpful for families with multiple children.

Do your parents wish to be interred or cremated?

Ask your folks if they have a funeral plot or a place they’d like to be cremated. If they haven’t arranged for their burial or cremation, discussing how to move forward with financing their funeral is essential. If they haven’t prepared already, know some of the costs ahead of time so you can discuss a financial plan with them. The average funeral costs about $7,000 and cremation ranges from $1,500 to $4,000, depending upon where you live.

Many parents aren’t aware of these expenses or how they would affect their children. Before my grandfather died, he gave my parents money for the funeral service—he had already purchased the plot. My parents were able to focus on mourning and family instead of having to worry about the costs and arrangements.

Do your parents have a will?

It’s one thing for your parents to have a will, but do you have access to it? Has it been updated recently? Was it created with a lawyer’s assistance or did they write it themselves?

Finding out the details of your parents’ will doesn’t mean you’re being a greedy child—it’s just important to follow up with them so there’s no confusion when the time comes to execute the will. Even though I’m an only child, it’s still a good idea for my parents to make these arrangements.

Without written documentation, the process of distributing money and property may take much longer and could get very complicated. Even if they do have one, a will can still be contested in court, so it’s good to find out how thorough the document is.

A will allows the court to honor the wishes of the deceased. You don’t have to ask about their exact plans, but just see if they’ve created a will and filed it with an attorney.

Do you need to address other end of life issues?

If your parents, like mine, think it’s too depressing to talk about death, explain that you just want their wishes carried out. Websites like Get Your Shit Together can offer a checklist for them to follow, if they’re unsure of all the plans they need to make.

They can also consult a professional, such as a financial planner or an estate lawyer who may be able to find ways to minimize taxes on their estate, and any other financial issues they need to settle, such as mutual property.