Estate Planning with Elderly Parents – 8 Tips for Having “The Talk”

Talking about estate planning with elderly parents can be a difficult, emotional topic, but it’s essential for every family.

Unless you’re certain your parents have an up-to-date will and a wider plan for what should happen in the event of their passing, don’t assume everything will be taken care of. According to a 2017 survey, less than half of Americans have a will. If your mother or father dies intestate (i.e., without a will), such a situation could lead to added emotional strain and stress. I can also have major financial implications for the entire family members.

The following 8 tips can help you discuss the hard topics thoroughly and respectfully and prepare your family for the road ahead.

1. Make a Plan to Discuss Estate Planning with Elderly Parents  

Discussing estate planning and all it entails is not something that should happen without planning. Make a list of topics and questions, then let your parents know what you want to chat about with them. If possible, set a time and date and choose a private venue where everyone will feel comfortable. Be aware that you may need to schedule a few conversations as there could be too much to cover in one sitting. Remember to use language that’s respectful and supportive, and to take a breather if emotions run high or the stress becomes difficult to manage.

2. Identify Key People to Involve in Parents’ Estate Planning

There are several key people you will need to contact for estate planning purposes, including those listed below. Each of these people plays a valuable role in helping parents understand their estate, including their values and beliefs. These become the pillars upon which a solid estate plan is built. Therefore, ask your parents for the names and contact details of the following people.

    • Doctors
    • Attorney
    • Financial planner and/or accountant
    • Insurance brokers
    • Minister of religion
    • Closest friends

3. Discuss the Possibility of Existing Will

Determine if there is an existing will in place and whether the document is up to date. If a will was created more than five years ago, check to see if they will consider reviewing it to ensure that it is a true reflection of their wishes. Establish where they keep their will and confirm who they’ve appointed as the executor. The same goes for any trust that may have been created. And if your parents created a will themselves or wrote an online will, it is essential that it be thoroughly reviewed by an attorney.

4. Talk About Power of Attorney

Find out whether your parents have appointed someone to manage their affairs if they become incapacitated. If they haven’t given someone power of attorney, suggest they consider doing so.

5. Discuss Parents’ End-of-Life Wishes

Even though the subject may be uncomfortable to talk about, you should discuss your parents’ end-of-life wishes with them. Their estate plan will be incomplete without these directives, so it’s important to include them. The form those directives take depend on the state in which you live, and they may include:

  • Appointment of a health care proxy who can make medical decisions for your parents if they become incapable of making those decisions themselves. You can obtain the relevant forms from an elder law attorney or from a hospital or nursing home · A medical or advance directive that explains what sort of care they would like and whether life support should be used to keep them alive or not. These directives can be included in the document that appoints the health care proxy. The directive must refer to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) when naming the proxy
  • A living will contains instructions regarding the withdrawal or termination of life support under specific conditions, such as your parents becoming terminally ill, becoming comatose, or entering a vegetative state
  • Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), which provides more explicit directives regarding the type of treatment your parents would or wouldn’t want

6. Ask About Insurance Policies

Talk about the type of insurance policies your parents have in place, such as:

  • Health insurance – Medicare or private
  • Life insurance
  • Home insurance
  • Long-term care insurance
  • Disability insurance In some cases, there may be seniors funeral insurance or other policies intended to cover funeral or burial payments. You’ll need to know about these too and have all their details.

If you haven’t already done so, take note of the names and contact details of the insurance brokers. Check where the policy documents are kept, and if possible, make certified copies of them.

7. Request Access to Parents’ Tax Returns

It is important to know where your parents’ tax return paperwork is stored. They could be required if the estate becomes complicated. Confirm where you can find these documents and that they’re all up to date.

8. Discuss All Other Practicalities

In addition to subjects such as power of attorney and insurance, there are several other practicalities you should include in your conversations.

  • Make a list of their accounts – financial accounts such as bank and mutual fund, credit accounts, and store accounts
  • Check if they are registered organ donors or whether they would consider donating their organs
  • Talk about the memorial service they want and whether they want to be buried, cremated, or some other option.


Estate planning conversations are tough no matter how you tackle them. When discussing estate planning with elderly parents, try your best to be patient and transparent with other family members about what you’re doing. If you have siblings, invite them to be part of the conversation.

Accept that these talks can take time and avoid placing pressure on those involved to get it all done in a few hours. The smaller details are critical and should not be rushed. Lastly, always consult your attorney at Elville and Associates if you’re unsure about the legal aspects or implications of any of the points mentioned above.

To set a time to consult with an attorney at Elville and Associates, please contact Legal Administrator Mary Guay Kramer at, or you can reach her on her direct line at 443-741-3635.


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