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Should Adult Children Be Included in Parent’s End-Of-Life Planning?

March 15, 2021

While it may be difficult to discuss end-of-life issues, it is to everyone’s advantage – children and parents alike – to calmly discuss plans and preferences for end-of-life care and preferences before an emergency hits and emotions run high. In fact, avoiding end-of-life discussions can make the whole experience more difficult and painful in the long run.

Photo credit: Dmytro/

Photo credit: Dmytro/

Most adult children do not like to consider the inevitability of a parent’s death and can often find excuses for not discussing the possibility of serious illness, physical or mental impairment, or death of their mom or dad. And they are not alone in this. The Conversation Project, an organization dedicated to helping people share their wishes for care through the end of life, conducted a national survey in 2018 which found that while 92 percent of Americans say it’s important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care, only 32 percent have actually had such a conversation.

When it comes to adult children discussing end-of-life planning with parents, experts recommend the 40/70 rule, a guideline which advises that adult children should bring up the topic as they turn 40 years old, or as their parents near 70 years old. However, it’s never too early or too late to bring up the subject and the timing of the discussion is entirely up to each family. Most children want to honor their parents’ wishes and having the discussion ahead of time allows them to know what their parents want when it comes to their own care as they age or for their funeral and burial at the time of their death.

Having the Family Conversation

Once you decide to take the plunge, the first step in end-of-life planning with your parents is to set up a family meeting to begin the discussion. Choose a time that will be relaxed, and no one will feel rushed. It can be distracting to have a sensitive discussion during a holiday meal, for instance. Try to have other siblings involved as well to make sure everyone is on the same page. If the whole family cannot attend in person, arrange an online video call, so everyone is included. Give your family ample time to prepare or travel and ask your parents and siblings to consider their feelings about end-of-life issues before the meeting. Keep the conversation as positive and proactive as possible. Some areas to discuss are unexpected health issues, financial challenges of long-term care, and end-of-life preferences.

Here are some helpful questions to ask your parents during the conversation:

  1. Do you have a durable power of attorney for both financial and healthcare?
  2. Do you have a will and/or trust?
  3. What are your end of life wishes? Are they documented in a living will or advanced directive?
  4. Where do you keep all your estate documents?
  5. Do you have an attorney and if so, how can we contact him or her?
  6. Do you have long-term health care insurance? If so, what does it cover and where is the policy?
  7. Is your funeral planned? Do you have pre-paid funeral and/or burial arrangements, and if so, where do you store that information?
  8. Do you have a list of your bank accounts and investments?
  9. Who are the doctors that you visit regularly or for specialty care?
  10. What benefits are you currently receiving or will be receiving in the future, including Social Security, pension or veterans benefits?

Resources to Help Guide Discussions About End-of-Life

There are many materials available online to help families take on these uncomfortable questions and concerns about death and dying.

The Conversation Project created a number of guides that assist people in the process of understanding and communicating their end-of-life care wishes, including Conversation Starter Kits. Another helpful tool is the Five Wishesfillable form. Created in association with of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging, Five Wishes helps individuals and families document and discuss their preferences for end-of-life care. This document also functions as a valid advance directive in 37 states once it has been signed and witnessed.

While it’s never easy or fun to talk about end-of-life planning, these family conversations are important. Once the plans are in place for end-of-life, you and your family can concentrate on living with the peace of mind that your parents’ wishes will be understood and respected when the time comes.


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