What’s the most awkward conversation you have ever had with your parents?

I am guessing most of you are going to say “the talk.”

My own parents must have been even more embarrassed than I was because we never discussed “the birds and the bees.” Not one word.

I didn’t learn “the facts of life” in school either. Not surprising, given I spent my entire educational career in Catholic schools. The most information I got in school was a unit in 5th grade religion class called “Family Life.” The highlight of the class was a giggle-inducing cartoon featuring a newlywed couple, lying in bed, covers up to their chins, with big smiles on their faces. Yeah, I didn’t quite get it then, but as I write this post listening to my four kids yelling in the background, I guess I eventually figured it all out.

If you think you are through having awkward conversations with your parents, think again. There is still one more difficult, but important, conversation you need to have with them–finances and estate planning.

Why? Wouldn’t this be invading their privacy? Make you look like you’re making a grab for their money? Gloom and doom? Who wants to talk about their own death?

No, the talk (or series of talks) is key to making sure your parents can live out their lives without worrying about money and their estate planning wishes are followed. In my book, your concern is coming from a place of love and responsibility.

Think about it. Are you your parent’s retirement or long-term care plan? If you haven’t had “the talk” with your parents yet, you don’t know if this is their plan (or the fallback option if they have no plan). Would you be able to assume responsibility for your parents at a time when you may be already stretched to your emotional and financial limits caring for your own family?

So what should you ask your parents? Here are a few questions for you to consider:

  1. Do you have a will? This is the baseline question. If they haven’t taken the time to write even a basic will, chances are they haven’t made adequate plans for their retirement and long-term care. If they do have a will, but haven’t updated it in the last five or so years, encourage them to at least take another look at it to make sure it still reflects their wishes.
  2. Have you reviewed beneficiary designations recently? Assets like insurance policies and pensions pass to the designated beneficiaries regardless of what a will might say. Make sure your parents have looked at the beneficiary designations to make sure they are in agreement with their overall estate plan.
  3. Do you have a living will and power of attorney? Ask your parents what their feelings are on life support and who should take care of their finances if they are no longer able to.
  4. Who are your care providers? You should know the names of your parents’ doctors, as well as any financial planners or attorneys they may have used.
  5. What financial assets do you have? Make sure your parents have a list of all of their bank, brokerage, and mutual fund accounts, as well as the user names and passwords on the accounts. They don’t have to give you the list now, but make sure you know where the list is.
  6. Where do you store your paperwork? The titles to your parents’ house and cars? Make sure you know where your parents store the documents.
  7. What insurance coverage do you have? Ask your parents if they have health and long-term-care insurance, and where you can find copies of the policies.
  8. What sort of memorial service would you like the family to have? As awkward as this is, ask your parents what type of funeral they would like to have, and if they would prefer to be buried or cremated. Also, funerals and burials are shockingly expensive (like big wedding expensive). Be sure to ask if they have purchased any pre-planned funeral packages or burial plots. 

My dad passed away three years ago. I did a okay job with some of these questions, and a terrible job with others.

I had had multiple conversations with my dad regarding life support and other end-of-life care issues, which were important in his final days. My siblings and I had a good sense of his financial assets and where to find important documents.

The one issue I wished I had discussed more with him was his wishes regarding his funeral and burial. He had mentioned to me a couple of times that he would like to be buried in Ireland and that at one point had a policy to cover the costs of transporting his body back home to Ireland. At the time, I just nodded my head and didn’t ask any further questions. I was too scared to even contemplate my dad dying.

After he passed away, my siblings and I couldn’t find anything in his papers confirming this wish so he was buried in Fort Worth. To this day I still wonder if we did the right thing. But knowing my dad he would have said, “Don’t worry about it love. What’s ever easiest for your mother is fine with me.”

Have you had “the talk” with your parents? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

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Copyright © 2018 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.