The one conversation you need to have with your parents this Christmas

Benjamin Franklin famously stated that you shouldn’t put off until tomorrow that which should be done today. Having a conversation with aging parents fits squarely in the middle of what needs to be done today.  As uncomfortable as it might be, having the talk before a crisis is critical to avoiding negative consequences that can affect you and your parents for years to come.

Getting things out in the open clarifies the choices ahead.  Talking through the options allows your family to chart the course your aging parents will take so they can prepare for unexpected events.  Not talking removes choice from everyone and leaves what will happen largely to chance.

A recent survey found that over 60 percent of parents and their adult children disagree about when to initiate these conversations. The same survey reported that over 40 percent of parents have not had detailed discussions about covering their expenses in retirement.  More than any other subject, financial issues are the most challenging conversation that children will have with their parents and it is among the most important.

As senior citizens age, they often feel like control is slipping away from their hands, a new sensation for the greatest generation.  Giving up control, even hypothetically, means facing their eventual mortality and the realization that life is in fact shorter than we would like.  Knowing this and planning for it are two very different things.  It will always be easier to wait for the right time than to act decisively.

Financial responsibility was ingrained in our elders from when they were young. They were the breadwinners; the ones their children came to for advice and direction.  For most of their lives they alone have been responsible for the emotional and financial care of their family.  This will not change overnight.

Talking about someone you know who recently had the same experience, especially someone from your family, can be just the icebreaker you need to get the ball rolling.  The reality is that our aging parents attend funerals of their peers.  A friend of theirs who has moved to an assisted living apartment is also an appropriate opening for this discussion.

Once you begin this discussion follow up is critical. Whoever is going to be the primary care giver / problem solver needs to have the legal authority to do their job.  Being able to clarify how children should carry out their parents’ wishes goes a long way to build the additional trust required to get everyone’s desired result.

Here are several key bases to cover in your conversation:

  • Ask if they have an estate plan or will in place and where the documents are located. Other questions include the details of their will, trust, power of attorney and healthcare directives. How long has it been since those documents were reviewed?
  • Clarify any medical insurance besides Medicare and if they have long-term care insurance.
  • Determine what income sources they have along with debts and expenses each month. Do they have an attorney and financial planner already familiar with their affairs?
  • Who prepares their tax returns and where are they located? Get information about bank and brokerage accounts and records of other assets. While financial decisions are still up to your parents as long as they retain capacity, the day will come someone else will have to step in. Adult children may have input into what should happen but it’s ultimately up to the parents to make important decisions about their future as long as they are able.


The Law Offices of Quinton J. Miller is a general practice law firm with an emphasis on Estate Planning and serves clients throughout Sacramento and Northern California.  We assist clients with estate and long term care planning, and small businesses with transition planning, litigation, and general business needs.  For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact us at (916) 714-1717 or visit our website at

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