How to Have “The Talk” With Your Parents

As your parents get older, you may start to have questions and concerns about their health, finances and end-of-life wishes. Below are tips to help you start conversations with them about their plans so they (and you) can be prepared for the future.

Experts call it the “70-40” talk. If your parents are 70 and you are at least 40, it may be time to tackle some difficult questions. Here are some worries that may come to mind:

  • Do they have an estate plan?
  • Do they have a plan for long-term care?
  • Should they still be driving?
  • How would they want to handle an issue that requires ongoing care? Do they want to stay in their home or move into an assisted living facility?
  • What are their end-of-life wishes?

It probably feels awkward to broach these topics. Many people don’t know where to start. Fully half (52%) of adults haven’t discussed senior care issues with their parents. Here are some strategies for having a heart-to-heart. 

52%
of adults have not discussed senior care issues with their parents. Source: care.com, 2016.

Don’t Wait for an Emergency

An urgent issue often acts as the catalyst for these kinds of conversations. But that’s not the ideal time to have them. The best time to bring up the subject is when people are healthy and there are no concerns.

“That’s when people tend to be the most open to having these talks,” says Jill McNamara, director of senior care for Care.com. “If they’ve fallen and they’re in rehab, that can be a much more stressful time to have that conversation.”

Use a Conversation Starter

One classic approach to this talk is to tell your parents you’re doing your own estate planning—and by the way, how did they manage their own estate planning decisions? But with COVID-19 on everyone’s minds, it’s even easier to find a starting point. 

The pandemic can become the catalyst to start to bring up some of these other conversations—their wishes as they age, end of life issues... Now, more than ever, this presents an opportunity.

Jill McNamara
Director of Senior Care for Care.com

You might also use stories from the news or from friends to get things rolling. Did a neighbor just move to a retirement community, and she’s thrilled to have new people to play bridge with? Bring it up.

Think About How Best to Approach Them

If there are multiple adult children in your family, think about how to broach these sensitive topics. Would your parents be more receptive to one of you talking to them, versus all of you? Does one of you have a better relationship with them when it comes to these kinds of details? Or will they respond better to a group conversation?

Don’t Expect to Get it Done in one Day

A health emergency can press your timing, but keep in mind that these conversations might take several encounters to unwind. Parents may understandably be reluctant to discuss their end-of-life wishes or their driving skills. It may take a few attempts to get the ball rolling.

Focus on What They Want

The best approach is to discuss your parents’ wishes with them and try to find ways to honor them. In other words, don’t surprise your parents with a list of nearby senior living communities. Talk to them first. Start by asking how they feel about aging in place versus senior living communities.

Make Sure Your Parents Feel In Control

Don’t surprise them with a list of nearby living communities. Listen first to their feelings about where they want to live. Then, discuss the options given their specific health and financial situation.


“While well intentioned, that sometimes can really halt the conversation, because it can feel like you’ve already considered what your loved one should do, where they should live the rest of their lives, without their input,” McNamara says. “It can feel like you have taken their opinion and control away from them.”

Involve a Third Party if Necessary

If you’re concerned that your parents need help or that they’re at risk, you may want to engage a non-family member to help you out. For instance, if you are concerned that your father shouldn’t drive anymore, bring up the topic with his doctor. He might take the news better from his family physician than from you.

Talking with your parents about their health and end-of-life wishes is uncomfortable for many. But understanding what they want puts you in a better position to help them as they age. Start early, instead of waiting for a crisis. Take your time for the best chance of success. 


Your Parents Aren’t the Only Ones Who Need a Plan

If you have questions or need help with your financial plan, we’re here for you.

This material has been prepared for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, investment, accounting, legal or tax advice.

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