None of us likes to consider our own mortality. For our older loved ones, it’s an even more confronting topic and difficult to discuss.

When Charles became ill, his family’s priority was to support him through his treatment, and keep him positive and as comfortable as possible.

Typical of his generation, Charles had always been very private, never sharing personal information – not even with his nearest and dearest. After he passed away, it dawned on the family that nobody knew whether Charles would have preferred cremation or burial. At such an emotionally charged time, the question caused quite a dispute.

As parents, we aim to have open dialogue with our children over issues like drugs, sex, etc. But as our parents age, difficult discussions around medical arrangements, Wills, money, etc, are usually put off until something occurs to trigger the talk. Often, by then it’s too late, which is why it’s so important to communicate while you still can.

Once Charles’ funeral was over, the family faced more complex questions: did Charles have a Will? Was there any insurance? What investments and assets did he have? Trying to locate Charles’ paperwork and make sense of his finances became a nightmare.

If only someone had asked him.

What should you talk to your parents about?

If you think about all those things you’d rather not discuss you’re off to a good start.

Before the conversation, consider:

  • Finances, assets, investments, accounts, insurance policies, etc
  • Will:
    • Is it current?
    • Where is it kept?
    • Who is the executor?
  • Medical:
    • Medications
    • Power of attorney
  • Funeral preferences
  • Aged care arrangements, family home, care facilities
  • Location of important documents
  • Usernames and passwords for online accounts
  • Contact details for doctor, financial adviser, trustees, power of attorney, solicitor, executor, etc.

Before opening any dialogue, consider your approach. These are sensitive topics; introduce them gently and tactfully. It may be helpful to involve their executor, financial adviser or accountant.

During the conversation:

  • Extend an invitation
    Invite your loved one to express their feelings and articulate their wants. Present the discussion as a means to making their life more manageable. Stress that you’re not taking over, but that you care and that they are in control.
  • Present an example

Use examples of challenges faced by others, explaining that you hope to avoid the same situation. Tell them you’d like to help them organise their paperwork to provide peace of mind and a plan for their future.

  • Support independence

Point out that you’re not reducing their independence but ensuring they maintain their independence as long as possible.

  • Don’t judge

As your loved one opens up, listen respectfully and without judgement. Encourage discussion around their choices so you can understand and help implement them.

Afterwards, follow up and fulfil any promises you made.

Finally, just when you think your job is done, have the same discussion with your children, only in reverse. Be clear about what you want and why you’re talking to them.

Children don’t want to think about your mortality any more than you do. They’ll think you’re overreacting and probably won’t thank you for the information – not right now anyway. But that’s the nature of kids.

The main thing is that when your time comes, they’ll realise you’ve saved them a lot of heartache.