Conversations to Have with Your Parents

conversations to have with parents

My parents are getting older. Dad will be 83 in a few months. Mom will be 72. Dad suffered a fall a couple of months ago and, although he has recovered, a full recovery was in doubt for quite a while. He is also close to being deaf and can hear only with the help of a hearing aid. Even then, he does not hear much unless the speaker is looking directly at him.

Fortunately, my parents are both generally strong and mentally alert. I think they have a few good years left in them. At the same time, their home is rather large for just the two of them and they live very far out of the way in a rural area of Florida. They certainly do not live close to any urgent care facilities. Even though they are happy where they are living, it does give me pause each time I visit them which, I know, is not nearly often enough.

My parents have talked about moving to a smaller home at some point but each year, that point is pushed farther off. With the economy and the housing market in such a sorry state, that may be just as well. At the same time, their future does weigh on my mind. My Dad has always made it clear that he has more than enough to provide for my Mom after he passes away, but money is not everything that needs to be considered.

The other day, my mother called to ask me if I wanted a garlic roaster. That seemed like an odd inquiry so I asked her why she was offering up a random kitchen item. She explained that she was going through her cupboards and getting ready to make a donation to Goodwill because she knows that at some point she will have to downsize and she does not want to have to deal with getting rid of everything in a hurry later on.

I thought that was a good first step for my parents. While I do not want to emphasize to them that they are getting old — not older, but old — I do want them to pay attention to proper planning. I used the Goodwill discussion as an opportunity to ask my mother if she would like me to have her stamp collection appraised. That way she could sell the stamps and use the money for something she and Dad might enjoy. She told me that she would rather leave the stamps to my son and I respected that. She is thinking about her legacy and how she will be remembered and that is every bit as important as seeing her enjoy the value of the things that she has collected over the years.

There are a lot of conversations that I need to have with my parents when the time is right, probably sooner rather than later. Here are some you might want to consider if you have an older parent.


Everyone should have a will. Everyone should consult with a lawyer who specializes in trusts and estates in order to have the will prepared. Everyone should review their will at least every five years or whenever a major life event occurs. If your parents have not been doing this, they should do so soon! One of the most important decisions they will make is the identification of which child or other person will be executor of the will. Make sure the executor will not act in any self-interested ways.


A will can tell grieving survivors a lot, but children should really talk to their parents to find out what the parents want to see happen after they have passed on. If Mom and Dad really want certain items to go to specific people, they should really consider making the gifts while they are still alive and can control the dispersal of their things.

Living Wills

Do your parents want to be kept alive on life support even if there is no hope? Each should have a living will to indicate their wishes.


Do your parents have a house that is too big for them at this point? If one passes away will the other be able to handle living in the home by himself or herself? It may be easier for them to downsize while both are still alive than to wait until one passes away or has to be placed in a nursing care facility.


If your parents live far from their children, do they have friends who can be supportive if one of them passes away? If a surviving parent is going to be left alone, who will be there to offer support? If there is no one, the parents might want to consider moving closer to a family support network.


If you have been in an argument with one or both of your parents, or your siblings, make amends now. You do not want to attend a funeral of a loved one and have to confront both the loss and the guilt of not having made amends.


You should know where your parents keep their important documents. When a parent passes away, the other parent should know where everything can be found. When a second parent passes away, the children should know where to find the will, and the documents that they will need to keep the parents’ home functioning until it is sold or otherwise passes to an heir.


As difficult as this may be to discuss, know how your parents would like their bodies to be handled after passing away. Where should they be interred? What kind of service and ceremony would they want? Should be advised of their passing? This is a horrible conversation but one that needs to happen.

Have you ever had to deal with the passing of a parent? What questions do you wish you had asked before they passed away? What conversations did you have with them?

(Photo courtesy of Marcel Oosterwijk)

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3 Responses to Conversations to Have with Your Parents

  1. Ann says:

    I had a short stint in my career when I was a financial planner. With that as a background and with all the complaints my mom had when my dad died, I was able to steer her towards having a revocable trust done and a medical power of attorney — a living will doesn’t do much except state what someone would prefer; a medical power of attorney, when correctly written, gives an actual person the power to see that excessive measures aren’t taken. I wasn’t able to get her to do a financial power of attorney, but then again, I didn’t really push it. Luckily, when she was ill, I had the financial wherewithal to take care of all of her bills and the funeral, etc.

    When things were right, I talked to my mom about how I felt about being kept alive in certain circumstances and she told me how she felt, which made it much easier when I had to invoke the do not resuscitate clause in the medical power of attorney. I knew how she felt and what she wanted!

    We also discussed the funeral (casket closed because “if people couldn’t come see me when I was alive, I certainly don’t want them staring at me when I’m dead!”), cremation instead of burial, etc. When the time came, again the discussions made it much easier to do the planning. Plus, my mom had a friend that she used to travel with occasionally who kept questioning everything and it helped a lot to be able to simply say “because that’s what she told me she wanted.”

    I was the successor trustee because my mom knew that I’d be meticulous in splitting the estate between my brother and I … and I was local. In some ways, my brother and I had it easy. I asked him what he wanted, I asked his 3 kids what they wanted as momentoes of their grandmother and my brother told me to take first choice of any items. We didn’t have any of the family fighting over certain items that you hear about all the time.

    I have older aunts and uncles. I know at least half of them have moved closer to children and a number have moved into retirement communities, which will take them from single residence through nursing home care, if they need it. A number of them are in their 80’s, but they’re all full of life! As a matter of fact, one 83-year-old uncle remarried for the third time just a year ago. :-) (He’d become a widower twice before.) But I also know, from my mom, how fast that can all change.

    It’s tough, but all those conversations have to be held. I found it easiest to start a number of them by talking about what I wanted “just in case.” Plus, my mom told me exactly where the documents were kept and I started carrying copies of the medical power of attorney with me as soon as she was diagnosed, so that, when the situation called for it, I could get them out and put her wishes on record.

    None of this stuff is easy, but it does have to be done.

  2. Jaime says:

    These are all important conversations to have and hopefully, not just when your parents are older. My birth father died when I was 2 years old. Since mortality struck so young, my Mom would talk occassionally throughout my childhood about certain things. Mostly they were along the lines of, “If something happens to me, Grammy and Grampy (her parents) will be here as soon as possible to help take care of you and your brother.” My favorite (extreme sarcasm) was the time when I was about 13 – we pulled up to a stop sign and Mom said out of the blue “I really like this song and want it played at my funeral.” LOL, you probably don’t want to ambush your kids, but I really appreciate how matter-of-fact my Mom has always been about these kind of things.

    As an adult, it means that I know I do not have to beat around the bush with my Mom. Someday, if I have kids, I want to set the same example and take the lead in letting my kids know that it’s okay to talk about end of life issues. My stepdad though …. he won’t make a will. He feels that talking about or planning for death is inviting death to take you. They both have life insurance and all of their assets are in both of their names, so they should be taken care of but it’s still a little frustrating since none of us know how he would prefer certain things be handled.

    With all luck though, it’s not something we need to worry about for 20 or 30 years. :)

  3. larabelle says:

    My dad is 72 and in poor health and my mother is 70 in poor health. They live three hours away from any family and most of their friends who live nearby and could be of assistance are either ill themselves or have died. I know that as my parents age things are going to be a big MESS!!!
    They will not even think of leaving their home to live closer to family. They already had one winter when they both were bedbound with pnemonia and neither would leave their house to seek medical care until my sister forced them. My brother and I are just waiting for Dad to have a stroke/heart attack etc (uncontrolled blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, high cholesterol) as it is coming since he is so noncompliant with his medications and diet then we will just pick up the pieces.

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