Estate Planning & Life Insurance: How to Approach ‘The Talk’ With Your Folks


Possibly the most difficult conversation you’ll have with your parents as an adult, scheduling a talk about their plans after they’re gone is more important than you may realize. And while it may feel uncomfortable, you won’t have the opportunity to chat with them about these important questions in the event they pass away unexpectedly, or become too ill to properly communicate their wishes.

By thoughtfully discussing both estate planning and life insurance with your parents, you’ll get a better understanding of their wants and needs, and what you can do to ensure their wishes are followed after they’re gone.

But where do you begin?

Start with their financial goals

That might sound like a strange topic of conversation – especially if your parents are in their later years of life – but financial goals after retirement can include things like:

  • Helping adult children with a down payment
  • Giving grandchildren a leg up in the future
  • Planning (and paying for) a family getaway
  • Putting money away for future health diagnoses
  • Setting money aside for funeral costs

Review their estate planning documents

Find out what they’ve done so far so you can understand where they might need help. Your parents could already have a detailed plan, or a lawyer prepped with all the paperwork. They may also have a box filled with documents under the bed – or possibly nothing at all.

Next you may want to gather their existing paperwork and look through it together. Then, put it in a safe, accessible spot. To ensure your parents’ estate planning is in order, consider asking them these questions:

1. Do you need to make any updates to your will?

At this stage in their life, they likely already have a will. But that doesn’t mean this task can be crossed off their list. Remember that a will is not a static document. Any big change in a parent’s life is a sign they should review or update their will – consider major life events like:

  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Children or grandchildren
  • Family death
  • Job change or retirement
  • New inheritance
  • Major gains or losses

Whatever the case, the experts recommend reviewing and updating your will every 5 years, so be sure to ask your parents about the last time they had a lawyer take a look at this important document.

Did you know? Serenia Life’s Wills and Power of Attorney benefit provides members with $150 reimbursement when they get their will or power of attorney updated by a legal professional.

2. Have you appointed a power of attorney in case of the unexpected?

A power of attorney grants someone the ability to make financial or healthcare decisions for your parent on their behalf. This includes:

  • Banking, borrowing money, buying or selling property, or signing cheques
  • Nursing care, hospitalization, treatment options, and more

When it comes to power of attorneys, make sure they’ve found someone trustworthy that they know will act in their best interest.

3. What sort of funeral would you prefer?

Nobody wants to talk about a loved one’s funeral, but the reality is that so much needs to be done after someone passes that it’s always best to be aware beforehand. Not only that, but some people want an extravagant good-bye, while others prefer something simple. The goal is to fulfill your parents’ wishes with dignity and respect.

Start by learning whether your parents want an in-ground burial or an above-ground burial in a community mausoleum. If they’d prefer to be cremated, would they like you to scatter their ashes somewhere meaningful, or keep them in an urn at home? Is their preference with or without a memorial plaque? Do they want a “green funeral“?These days, there’s such a broad range of options that it makes sense to know what your parents’ wishes are beforehand.

You should also ask whether they want a large funeral, or something private for close friends and family. If you plan ahead, you can pay for the service in advance to ease your mind when the time comes.

4. Is all your important stuff in order?

Find out if they have any remaining debt they’re paying off – things like their mortgage, credit card debt, or personal loans.

You may also want to ask them to record a list of their passwords so you can discontinue their online banking service, active payments, or any number of password-protected accounts.

Be sure to request a copy of their social insurance number so you can order a death certificate. This document will allow you to cancel their taxes and claim any benefits your parents are owed. This may also be necessary to activate a life insurance policy, if they have one.

Find out about life insurance

Life insurance can be incredibly valuable to family members when a loved one passes away. It could help support your mom or dad for the rest of their life, pay off outstanding debts they leave behind, or open a savings account for their beloved grandchildren.

If they already have insurance, you should clarify who’s listed on their policy as a beneficiary, and whether those people are still in their life. Make a list of anyone who needs to be added or removed. Remember that a beneficiary could be a charity that means a lot to them.

It’s important to ensure your parents have enough coverage to support the people they want to help with this money. The amount of money they’ll need is based on two main factors:

  • The amount of debt they’re carrying
  • The number of dependents they have

If your parents have paid off all major debts, and no one depends on their income, they may be overpaying for their coverage – unless their goal is to leave a legacy behind. Either way, it doesn‘t hurt to encourage them to undergo a free needs analysis to make sure they aren’t paying too high of a premium for their needs. (And, of course, they should always obtain professional advice before reducing coverage. Have them get started here.)

So go ahead… talk to them.

Estate planning and life insurance can be challenging to talk about, but it allows your parents to have a say in the legacy they leave behind. Not only that, but it could potentially bring your family some relief during an emotionally difficult time. The reality is, these types of conversations are best had when everyone is healthy and happy. Imagine how much more difficult it would be if a parent were seriously ill or suffering from dementia. And just as importantly, talking with them will give you the opportunity to gain an understanding of your parents’ wishes – so you can act on them after they’re gone.

When it comes to having ”the talk,” there’s no time like the present. Because who knows what tomorrow will bring? So grab your calendar and schedule that family meeting while it’s still on your mind. Once all the details are finalized, it will be a huge weight off your shoulders.