It’s a tough conversation.  Mom and dad are getting older, and the kids are wondering what changes life may bring in a few years.  Handling this conversation with care and grace is possible; the key is to be aware of a few important tips to keep the dialogue going.

How to have an effective conversation with your parents:

First, realize this will not be just one conversation. It will be a series of conversations, and to be most effective, it will involve a lot of listening.  In fact, it might involve more listening than talking. Remember that this conversation is not about YOU; it’s about THEM. Try to create a safe space for them to express their needs, fears, expectations, desires.  How?  Read on.  These are some suggestions I have learned through conversations with both experienced friends and professionals.
Set an appointment. The #1 mistake here is in thinking this topic can be handled at a holiday or family get-together.  This is not the best idea because there are so many distractions, and it can be difficult to maintain the necessary focus.  Also, during special occasions, emotions tend to run high, and establishing neutral ground can be tricky.  Instead, look for an opportunity to bring up the subject in a more casual, natural way: maybe you just updated your wills, or had a meeting with your financial planner, which got you thinking about the future.
Then, schedule a clear time and place to talk about this together, when you can focus on these important topics.

Use experts / third parties.  Trusted advisors can often help to establish a neutral playing ground for more productive conversations.  Who are your parents’ trusted advisors?  These could include the family CPA or attorney, financial planners, medical doctors, counselors or ministers.  Having a professional who has known them for several years on hand can help to get through some tricky topics.

Give them choices. Discussing options gives mom and dad a voice, something that can be essential in helping them maintain dignity and a sense of control.  If you go in with declarations about what they can or can’t do, the conversation will probably shut down.  It can be more helpful to recall that, just like you, your parents don’t want to suffer, feel pain, or be embarrassed.  Respect their needs for privacy and independence as much as you can.  Focus on points of commonality and remember that, just like you, they desire happiness, security, and comfort.

Here are some topics you might invite mom and dad to talk about:

  • Personal: what’s still on their “bucket list”?  Are there any experiences you can achieve together?  For example, has mom always wanted to see the ocean?  Can a trip be made?  Has dad always wanted to make his own pasta?  Maybe a family night can be arranged, where everyone joins in.  (One friend recommends shopping Groupon for affordable ideas.)
  • Family expectations: when additional care is needed, do mom and dad assume they will be moving in with the kids?  Do the kids assume mom and dad will go into Assisted Living? Needless to say, it can be helpful to get everyone on the same page.
  • Health/wellness: is there a family history of conditions/diseases that need to be addressed?  Where are important medical records/documents located?
  • Cognitive issues: if you suspect something going on here, start by asking other family members, what are you observing? Who is involved: Doctors, care-givers? Compare notes and agree upon a plan of action.
  • Financial/insurance/legal: you may not need to know all the details, and they may not be willing to divulge all of them.  However, someone should be aware of where important financial documents (like wills and statements) are located; and/or who to contact, when needed (financial planner, attorney, CPA).
  • End of life: preferences regarding hospice, final remains, burial/memorial services?  My late aunt had written an entire document about how she wanted her memorial service to be conducted, right down to what music to play.  It may sound odd to think about these details, but let me tell you, it was incredibly helpful to her surviving nieces who were responsible for the service – they didn’t have to make these decisions, just follow her blueprint.  They knew they were honoring her.  Could you give the same gift to your heirs?

I hope this helps to make transitional times a little easier for everyone.  Having a healthy conversation can go a long way in maintaining nurturing relationships as families mature.  If you approach topics respectfully and with an open mind, you may be able to find more win-win solutions together than you had imagined.

Other Resources: most people have heard of AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), but there are many helpful organizations out there.  Here is one I just learned about that covers a broad range of topics:

If you have experience with or know of other resources, please drop me a line.



Shadowridge Asset Management, LLC does not offer tax planning or legal services, but may provide references to accounting, tax services or legal providers. They may also work with your attorney or independent tax or legal advisor.