Asking your parents about their estate planning

Now in your mid-40s, you start putting together an estate plan. As you do it, you begin wondering about your own parents. They are closer to needing the plan than you are — in theory, at least — but you do not know if they have done anything yet.

You begin to worry. This is really going to impact your life. If they have no plan, it creates a lot of work for you and your siblings. It can also lead to disputes. You have heard plenty of stories about siblings fighting over assets when they cannot agree on what Mom and Dad would have wanted.

But, at the same time, you do not really know how to bring it up. You do not want them to feel like you’re basically asking for your money now or trying to gauge what you’re going to get, as if you’re looking forward to that day. How do you start the conversation about such a personal topic without it feeling insulting?

Ask for them to help you

One way to frame this is by asking for them to help you in the future. For instance, you could say “Dad, if something happens, I might have to make your medical decisions, and I’m not sure what you would want. Can you help me get an idea of what you’d prefer?”

Doing this can be a jumping-off point for a longer conversation about assets and everything else, but it starts it from a point where you all feel like you’re on the same team and working together. That’s good.

Talk about your own planning

A great way to do this, since you started doing your estate planning anyway, is just to tell them what tasks you have done. Maybe you wrote a will. Maybe you got an advance directive. Telling them what you did makes it feel very natural to ask how the process went for them or what they have done already.

Get together with your siblings

It can definitely help to do this as a family. Don’t make your siblings feel like you are trying to steer your parents in the direction of leaving their money to you. When everyone is involved, it shows that you all care, and it brings a level of transparency you would not have otherwise. This can turn into a very productive family conversation where no one has to choose sides.

Options and steps

No matter where you and your family are in this process, it’s important to know what options you have, what steps to take and how to move forward.