questions you need to ask your parents

Questions Adult Children Need to Ask Their Parents

Little Mama had some surgery last week and being the dutiful (and only) daughter, I was right by her side to see her through it. It was also the first time she’s had anything major happened since before my dad passed which means I was the one “in charge”. When my dad was alive he was a classic type-a person. There was never a time when he wasn’t in charge of every situation and he was always the one that was with questions you need to ask your parentsmy mom for doctor visits, surgeries – anything that was more involved than a routine checkup or dental cleaning.

When my dad found out that he had cancer, his type-A kicked into high gear and he had notebooks upon notebooks of records and notes. Every doctors visit was recorded in detail with any follow-up that was needed. Not knowing whether or not he would beat the odds and the cancer, he made sure that all plans were in place in case he didn’t. And when he passed 20 months later, I was extremely grateful that he had been so detailed. Since my dad passed, I’ve had several friends go thru the same thing and I can tell you from experience – the only thing worse than grieving the loss of a parent is grieving the loss and then having a huge mess to deal with.

While your parents are young and (hopefully) healthy, it’s a great idea to talk to them about what they want to happen if they become ill or pass suddenly. It’s not exactly a fun conversation to have but believe me, it’s time well spent.

Here are some questions you want to ask:

  • Do they have a living will and/or advanced directives? If they do, make sure you get VERY clear instructions before you’re in the middle of a crisis. do they absolutely want nothing to do with life support or do they want to be on it for a reasonable amount of time? When my dad was sick, he stopped breathing while he was in the hospital and they had to intubate him. Mom wasn’t sure if that’s what he wanted because he had a DNR (do not resuscitate) so
  • Do they have a power of attorney and if so, who is it? Just because you may be the oldest sibling doesn’t mean it’s you. And if they don’t have one, they need one. This gives (you) the ability to act on their behalf should they become incapacitated or pass. If there is not one in place, ALL of your parents assets will be frozen for an indefinite time. This becomes most challenging if one spouse (usually the wife) is left behind.
  • How do they feel about assisted care should they need it? Do they have long-term care insurance? If they don’t and are still reasonably young (60 and under) they can actually get a policy in place for a reasonable rate.
  • What are their wishes when they pass? Do they want to be buried or cremated? Small event or big one? Super religious or celebration of life?
  • Have they already made funeral arrangements? Even if it’s something simple like searching for urn wa (if you live in the Washington area of the US) to start making these sorts of arrangements, this will be beneficial for you and your family in the long run.

    My parents bought their burial plots 20+ years ago because they wanted to be in a particular memorial garden with my grand-relatives. Ironically, this is when they found out that *I* had no interest in being buried. If you don’t think you want to be buried either, you could think about other options. Cremations can be done in different funeral homes in jacksonville or in most places around the world. Make sure you’re happy with the option you choose, if you’re planning your funeral service before your death. However, if being buried is something that you have started to plan, then you may want to look into something like prepaid funeral plans comparison. It is the easiest way to plan ahead and save family from worries and expenses.

  • Where is all of their paperwork? Think of things such as wills, insurance papers, pensions (if they have one), stocks, etc. Help them build a notebook of who they bank with, their financial planner, insurance rep, attorney and so on. Account numbers, online access (this won’t be one most of our parents think of
  • Do they have beneficiaries on all of their accounts? If so, have they revisited that recently? Too many of us ‘check this off’ our to-do list and never revisit it. What if a beneficiary is no longer in the family because of divorce? What if there have been 8 grandkids added since the last time they checked.
  • Is there real estate that will need to be dealt with? You probably want to consider adding a transfer-on-death clause into deeds and other investments. By recognizing the death formally, heirs avoid probate, but only pay taxes on the appreciation since they inherited it.
  • Are there any “special” circumstances you need to be aware of? Such as do they support a family member and if so, should that continue? Are there kids from a former or new marriage? Is there a possibility that someone may contest the will? There’s no way you can plan for all of the “special” ones but throwing some of these out there could spark something.

People tend to shy away from these kind of chats because they think it means death is near. While that may be the case in some situations, it’s more about being organized and getting paperwork together when everyone is in a good state of mind and health.


March 23, 2014 at 7:36 pm

This is a great list…for a conversation with your parents and your spouse, as you mention. In addition to paperwork now we have a whole digital life to take care of as well. It’s not like any of us can avoid it happening, we really should take the time to be prepared.

Holly Murs
March 19, 2014 at 9:01 pm

Yes, these issues should be discussed as a family. It’s important that they address these issues when both mom and dad are still healthy and capable of making their own choices. It’s also our aim to raise awareness on this issue so we decided to feature it in our Weekly Digest. You can read it here

March 12, 2014 at 2:04 pm

I feel like I need to go talk to my parents right now! One of my friend’s dad suddenly passed away and she’s dealing with a mess going through all the paperwork. Great post!
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March 11, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Every time I go visit my parents, my mom points out where her “end of life” packet is. As much as I hate having the conversation, deep down I am glad that I won’t be burdened with making heavy decisions in a traumatic time period. When my MIL passed suddenly three years ago, no one had any idea what her last wishes were. It made the whole situation much, much worse.
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March 10, 2014 at 7:45 pm

Great advice. These are tout questions, but necessary ones. I have watched my parent go through this with their own parents, but haven’t wanted to think about it with mine. One additional advice, my FIL actually used to work for a funeral home. They actually had a packet for people who wanted to pre-plan and/or pre-pay for their funerals. The packets had lots of questions like these, and of course, funeral details included. If someone doesn’t know where to start, check with a local funeral home to see if you can get a packet like this. Sounds morbid, but might be helpful.
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March 10, 2014 at 6:52 pm

This is such important information to have. My husband’s father is very detailed like this, and I think my parents have everything buttoned up too. My husband and I need to be a bit more organized with it though.
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March 10, 2014 at 9:59 am

Such an important topic, and so much easier to handle when life is good, rather than waiting for tragedy or trauma to hit.
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