It’s a discussion that’s often inevitable: talking to your parents about financial and aging concerns. These conversations can help ensure your parents’ wishes are understood and followed — and can help prevent surprises or more difficult conversations in the future.

Preparing for the conversation is critical. You don't want to seem as if you are seeking to secure your inheritance. You also don’t want to imply your parents have been irresponsible with their finances, call into question their independence or just generally throw off the parent/child dynamic.

Here are some best practices to help you navigate these tricky conversations.

1. Don’t put it off

Though it may be uncomfortable, having the discussion with your parents now could help prevent stress and family friction down the road. If you think it’s tough talking about these things now, imagine trying to navigate these decisions in the midst of a medical event, especially if you're not sure what your parents want or who in the family has the right to decide. These conversations are even more critical if you are named with certain responsibilities (health care power of attorney, financial power of attorney and/or executor/trustee). Knowing your loved one’s wishes helps ensure you can honor them and may prevent arguments among loved ones in a time of heightened emotion.

2. Give advance notice

Don't spring the conversation unexpectedly, especially during a family get-together or the holidays. Mention ahead of time that you want to ensure they and their affairs are taken care of as they want, so you would like to start having discussions to better understand their future plans and wishes. Ask if and when they might be open to a discussion and whom they would want to be involved (it’s ideal if all siblings hear the same message and are on the same page, but certain family dynamics may make this more or less practical). Make sure the group isn’t too big for the discussion and allow your parents to determine the best location, ideally somewhere they’ll be comfortable. Try to coordinate with siblings or any other interested parties; if too many people are asking them to have these conversations, they could become defensive and feel as though everyone is out to get them.

3. Be willing to have the conversation on their terms

Depending on how transparent your parents wish to be and your specific family dynamics, some topics or details may be completely off the table. The important things to determine are (1) if your parents have a plan in place and (2) that the people required for that plan have the information they need to carry it out. Carrying out the plan may or may not include you. If it does include you, you’ll likely want to be more persistent in ensuring you understand what your parents expect of you and that you’re comfortable fulfilling that role. If it doesn’t, you may have to accept your parents being unwilling to share certain details.

Even if your parents are reluctant to share details, try to find out where they're keeping their documents (and passwords) and confirm that those involved in carrying out their wishes have access to the documents. Also ask if they have a list of contacts (other family members or friends) for you to reference in the event of an emergency.

4. Have multiple conversations

Don’t expect to have one conversation and be done. Be willing to have multiple shorter conversations rather than trying to solve everything at once. Additionally, people’s wishes and priorities change over time, so be open to checking back at least every few years to see if what was originally communicated still holds true. If anything changes, it’s important that all people involved with decision-making are made aware.

If your parents are comfortable discussing their situation, ask if they want you to join their meetings with their advisors. It can help you understand their situation and how they like to handle things and develop relationships with key professionals in their lives. Speak with your advisor regarding documentation needed if you would like them to be able to discuss your personal situation.

5. Focus on them keeping control, not their money/death

If you start by discussing the financial aspects of your parents’ plans, it can seem as though you’re seeking information about your inheritance or implying your parents haven’t been responsible with their financial decisions/planning. There are lots of topics to cover, and starting somewhere else may better place the emphasis on them staying in control of what they want rather than on money. And if they’re willing to share more details, focusing on both the personal and financial aspects of the legacy they want to leave could be a very valuable and enriching conversation. Make sure to address:

  • Aging and independence

    • How do they want to be cared for if they begin to lose independence?
    • Do they expect to receive in-home care, move in with someone, or are they open to a skilled care facility?
    • Do they have the plans and support in place for what they want?
    • Note: When you talk about living arrangements, be especially careful about how you have the conversation. It’s easy for parents to become defensive and interpret it as the family wanting to get them out of their house.
  • Health care wishes

    • Do they have a living will and health care power of attorney (ideally naming a primary and backup)?
    • Have they had conversations with them outlining their wishes?
    • Do those named know how to access the legal documents?
    • Are they willing to share with you who was named, what kind of care they want to receive and what quality of life means to them?
  • Financial wishes

    • Do they have a financial power of attorney (ideally naming a primary and backup)?
    • Have they had conversations with them outlining their wishes?
    • Do those named know how to access legal documents?
    • When was their will last updated, and does it reflect their current wishes? Are beneficiaries designated on all their accounts, and do they reflect their current wishes?
  • Funeral and last wishes

    • Does their will include instructions for their funeral and last wishes?
    • Are they willing to share with you who is responsible for those decisions and what their wishes are?

6. Don't give up and enlist help if needed

If your parents are reluctant to talk about these topics with you, it’s easy to give up. If you’re having difficulty, try some different tactics:

  • Try broaching the topic by asking their advice for your situation.

    • “I’ve been thinking I need to get my affairs in order, but I don’t know where to start. How did you go about it?”
    • “We want to make sure we have the right people selected for our powers of attorney. What did you think about in picking people?”
  • Frame it as trying to plan for your future.

    • “We’ve been meeting with a financial advisor and talking about our financial future. They brought up what your future needs might be and if you’d ever want or expect support from us, and I wasn’t sure. What are your plans if you couldn’t live independently anymore? Would you ever want to move in with us?”
  • Ask for help from another family member. If a different sibling or grandchild has more success in these conversations, ask if they’re willing to help out. Ensure you clarify you only want to make sure your parents have appropriate plans in place; you’re not looking for detailed information.
  • Engage a third party. Your Edward Jones financial advisor may be able to act as an unbiased facilitator that can make the conversation easier. Keep in mind that your financial advisor can’t provide legal advice.