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How to talk to your parents about estate planning with compassion

3 generation family at home
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Family estate planning is planning for life. It's about how you can help protect your parents as they age, help them maintain their quality of life now and lessen any confusion for your family down the road.

It's certainly challenging to think about your parents needing an estate plan, let alone discussing it with them. But with some preparation and foundation-setting, you can plan for a positive and fruitful conversation for the whole family.

Get ready for the talk

Before you speak with your parents about estate planning, take some time to organize your thoughts and envision the conversation you want to have. Talk with your siblings or other close family members to ensure everyone who wants to be involved can be.

Make a personal list of reasons you want to talk about this, emphasizing your love and compassion for your parents. This isn't about protecting your inheritance or yourself. It's about creating a path of communication so you can support and assist your parents as needed. If other family members will be joining the chat, suggest they express this in their own words as well. This will help to root you all in the true goals for the talk and make sure everyone is on the same page.

When should you talk to your parents about estate planning?

It's better to have a conversation with your parents sooner rather than later. You don't want to wait for a crisis. At that point, managing the crisis truly may be all you can handle.

Pick a time when your parents are relaxed, comfortable and receptive. Some parents need a heads-up—otherwise, they may feel ambushed. Others do better if you gently introduce the topic during a visit. Think through what your parents might react to best. The key is to present the topic in an atmosphere of trust and without pressure. This isn't a confrontation, and it isn't the kids telling the parents what to do. It's simply a moment when you pose some questions and get them thinking.

It may work best to have an initial talk and then follow up later with plans, details, documents and more. You don't need to decide anything during this first conversation. Instead, you're opening the door to an important topic.

What should you ask your parents about their estate?

Your goal is to get your parents thinking about family estate planning documents and what they need to protect themselves. Not all documents are right for every person and situation. You even may have covered some of these topics if you talked finances with your parents in the past.

You'll want to cover at least these key aspects in your estate planning discussion:


Each of your parents should have a will that outlines how they want their assets distributed. The will should name an executor who will be in charge of handling the document's requests.

Power of attorney

This document authorizes a person to handle financial matters for a parent if they're unable to do so. This allows someone else to pay bills, sell real estate or vehicles, manage insurance, deposit funds and more.

Healthcare proxy

Sometimes called a healthcare power of attorney, this allows parents to name a person who can make healthcare decisions for them if they're unable to do so themselves.

Living will

Also called an advance directive, this is the chance for your parents to make their wishes clear about end-of-life treatment such as feeding tubes, respirators and more.


Your parents can set up a trust to hold assets, which would be distributed after they pass away. A living trust is a common type, which allows them to use their money as they normally would during their lifetime, but has an alternate trustee in place who can manage the assets if they can't.


Naming beneficiaries on any assets and life insurance contracts is the easiest and most efficient way to make sure your parents' wealth transfer plans are being honored. Ask them if they’ve reviewed their beneficiary designations in recent years. To ensure they have beneficiaries listed on their accounts or contracts, they can contact each financial institution.

Burial decisions

Your parent may wish to preplan a funeral, buy a burial plot or make other arrangements in advance.

Organ donation

If your parents decide to donate any organs, eyes or tissue after they die, they'll need to complete a consent form.

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Tips for a productive conversation

When you sit down with your parents to discuss estate planning, the right mindset is key. A good headspace can help you set a positive tone as you walk through this crucial information.

  • Establish your intentions. Be clear from the beginning that you're not trying to calculate your inheritance, and it's worth reiterating. You just want to help your parents plan and access resources.
  • Explain the benefits. Don't just tell your parents what they should be doing. Explain why. Share the reasons it's important to have an estate plan and how it protects their wishes and preserves their legacy.
  • Listen. Once you get the conversation going, remember that you're there to listen to what your parents think, feel and want. These are their decisions to make, at their pace and in their way.
  • Offer help. You and any other family members can offer help by finding an attorney or financial advisor or by accessing forms and documents for them.
  • Work out a plan. Try to get your parents to commit to what will happen next, even if they first need time to think. Identify what steps, if any, you and the rest of the support team will take.

Reflecting on the next step

Perhaps your parents already have done some estate planning. Broaching the subject can provide them with a chance to share details with you. If you find some important items are missing or have questions about some components, you can offer gentle suggestions for any changes or considerations.

Planning how to talk to your parents about estate planning can be difficult, but it's an important discussion for everyone involved. Staying in your defined role as a loved one who's there to support can make for a more productive conversation. You also could game-plan with a Thrivent financial advisor to help your parents identify and meet their estate planning goals. While Thrivent does not provide specific legal or tax advice, we can partner with you and your tax professional or attorney.