Thinking about the death of one’s parents is understandably sad and scary. Even though it’s a natural part of life, discussions about death can be so difficult to approach that it’s tempting to avoid talking about ageing parents – especially when it concerns those closest to you.

Though uncomfortable, it is necessary to have that talk.

Having a conversation with your ageing parents about death and dying will ensure that their end of life wishes are fulfilled. It will also help to prepare you and the family so that there are no unexpected surprises or tough decisions to be made later on.

Here are some ways you can start that conversation and gain insight into how they would like to be honoured when the time comes.

Starting the conversation

There’s never a right or wrong time to bring up the conversation of death and your parents’ wishes. It’s up to you and those close to you to choose a time and place where there are no distractions and where both you and your parents are relaxed.

End of life chats are difficult since the subject of death and our own mortality has always been a bit of a taboo topic. Yet it’s for this very reason why the conversation must be had.

In fact, the first and biggest reason to have an end-of-life discussion with our ageing parents is because death is natural and should not be a taboo subject. According to the NZ Seniors Cost of Death Report, 82.9% of people agree that there are simply not enough conversations being had about death and dying.

So how do you begin that conversation? Some helpful prompts to use when breaching the topic can include:

  • “Just wondering if you’ve given any thought about your will?”
  • “Mum/Dad, I’m curious to know whether you’ve thought about a will and if you have any of that paperwork sorted?”
  • “Mum/Dad, have you made a list of your end of life wishes? I know this can be hard to talk about, but I want to make sure we understand what you want to happen when the time comes”

Remember, it is to everyone’s advantage to discuss wills and end of life plans. It helps to prepare us and our parents for the inevitable and can make the experience far easier to deal with.

Questions to ask

Once you’ve broken the ice, you can then ask some deeper questions regarding your parents’ end of life wishes and funeral plans.

One of the best ways to get your parents talking about their wants and needs is by taking a trip down memory lane. Find out about their life, what their childhood was like, who their biggest influences were.

Allowing them to regale stories of their life and past adventures helps to keep the conversation positive and gives you some fascinating insights and stories that you may wish to retell once your parents are gone.

When it comes time within the conversation to talk about your parent’s wishes, consider the following questions:

  • “What would happen if it were your time? Is there anything you’d like to happen?”
  • “What do you want to be remembered for?”
  • “I know you like to keep your affairs in order, so I was thinking, have you decided on a Power of Attorney/Executor of the Will? Is that something you’re comfortable to sit down and discuss with us?”
  • Do you have any plans for your funeral? Are you thinking of a burial or cremation?”
  • “What, in your opinion, would be the perfect send-off for you?”
  • “What would you like to happen at your funeral? Are there any songs or hymns you’d like played or recited?”
  • “Do you have any questions for me?”

Making preparations

Once you’ve had the conversation with your parents, it’s time to start making those end of life arrangements.

In order to make certain their end of life wishes are officially recognized, you can take your time and draw up all the legally binding official documents. One of the easiest ways to go about finalizing end of life wishes including the Will and Power of Attorney is to meet with an Estate Planning Attorney or lawyer.

Once you’re there, you can discuss the plan that you and your parents have put into place and they can assist you with all the necessary legal work and preparations.

Even if your parents are still quite healthy, it’s never too early to start planning. Because, if something were to happen, you’d want to be confident making decisions that align with their wishes. It also helps to eradicate any confusion or risk of other family members potentially going against your parent’s wishes.

Although uncomfortable, the conversation about death and dying is a necessary one to have. It’s important to understand that death is a cycle of life, and shouldn’t be viewed as a taboo topic. It also doesn’t have to be morbid.

In fact, having end of life discussions with your parents can be a wonderful way to form a stronger connection and to appreciate the challenges and things they sacrificed to help bring you here! It can also be reassuring for them, knowing that all the details have been taken care of and they can then get on with living their best life without stress or worry.


Jacqueline Coombe has been a prolific reader since childhood, and now channels her love of the written word into writing content on a range of topics from business, marketing and finance to travel and lifestyle. Jacqueline is also a Principal Consultant specialising in Search + Content Marketing at international digital marketing agency Webprofits.

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