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How to Talk to Your Parents About Planning Ahead

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As our parents age, it becomes increasingly important to have open and honest conversations about end-of-life planning. While discussing funeral arrangements may seem awkward or uncomfortable, here is simple and realistic advice on encouraging aging parents to preplan. We also include conversation starters to help navigate these sensitive discussions.

According to the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of Americans in their 40s are “sandwiched” between their own children (younger than 18 or helping a young adult) and a parent 65 or older. One in five Americans are caregivers to an elderly or disabled parent or relative. 

Inevitably, these same adult children will make end-of-life decisions for their aging parents – or maybe it’s more accurate to say they will “guess” their parent’s final wishes. Only 36 percent of adults have discussed or written their funeral plans, according to a recent study by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). More adult children likely want their parents to plan ahead. 

Here are some simple ways to start the conversation with parents (stepparents, grandparents, and foster parents) about preplanning.

Helping Parents See the Importance of Preplanning

Initiating conversations about preplanning funeral arrangements with our aging parents can be challenging. Still, it is crucial to ensure their wishes are respected and ease the burden on their adult children. 

Planning ahead also spares the surviving spouse from making difficult decisions during a time of profound grief. You are not only protecting yourself (and your children) from additional stress, but also your other parent. 

Conversation starter: "Mom/Dad, I've been reading about the benefits of preplanning funeral arrangements. It made me realize how important it is for us to have these conversations. I want to make sure that when the time comes, we know and respect your wishes."

Tips on Keeping the Conversation Practical and Neutral

You don’t have to focus on a worst-case scenario, which may make your parent uncomfortable. You can frame your questions about what matters most to them. Many people have concerns about their mortality. Reassure them that these conversations are not about the end but about making thoughtful decisions and providing peace of mind for their loved ones. 

  • Encourage them to share their concerns freely.
  • Listen with empathy and understanding.
  • Recognize that talking about dying and death is a complex topic for everyone. 

Set a time and place to talk when you are least likely to be interrupted or distracted. 

Conversation starter: "I understand that discussing end-of-life and funeral plans might be difficult. Is there anything specific that worries you or any concerns you'd like to share? I'm here to listen and support you through this process."

Learn how to face your fears and make an end-of-life plan.

Show You Care: Offer Support and Collaboration

Instead of taking over the decision-making process, approach preplanning as a collaborative effort. Assure your parents that you are there to provide support and guidance, respecting their autonomy and preferences. Share information about various options, such as burial, cremation, or green funerals, and let them know their choices will be respected.

  • Listen without judgment to their preferences and opinions.
  • Consider making your arrangements at the same time.
  • Acknowledge that your parents might disagree with each other (cremation versus burial, for example) and gently diffuse the conversation if it becomes heated. 

Conversation starter: "I want you to know I'm here to support you in every way possible. Let's work together to explore different options and make decisions that truly reflect your wishes. It's important to me that you're comfortable and at peace with the choices you make."

Click here for more resources about preplanning.

Break Down Next Steps into Simple Actions

Once your parents are open to preplanning, help them take practical steps to make it a reality. You can prepare by researching funeral homes online or in person. Share the websites you bookmarked or give your parents brochures if they are more comfortable with printed material.

  • Write down questions and concerns about prepaid funeral plans.
  • Respect their preferences regarding burial or cremation, funeral ceremonies, and any specific requests they may have.
  • Get information about veterans’ burial benefits if your parents served in the armed forces. 

You probably won’t cover everything in a single conversation. Take a “short and often” approach and let your parents set the pace as much as possible. Once you break the ice, returning to the topic is more manageable.

Conversation starter: "I've done some research and found a few funeral service providers in our area. Would you like me to help you schedule some appointments or gather information? It would be a good starting point to understand the options available."

More Americans are choosing cremation. Discover why direct cremation is a dignified, affordable, and “greener” option.

Share Personal Experiences to Encourage or Reassure

Sometimes, hearing personal stories or experiences can provide reassurance and encouragement. Share your experiences or stories of friends who have gone through the preplanning process with their parents. Discuss how it brought them peace of mind and made the grieving process easier for their families.

Conversation starter: "I recently read a touching story about a friend who preplanned their funeral arrangements. It really made me think about how valuable it can be for the whole family. Would you like to hear more about their experience?"

Prepaid funeral arrangements can ease your parents’ concern about you and other family members and ensure their wishes are respected. Starting a conversation about funeral preplanning might not be easy, but many families feel closer afterward. 

Tulip makes preplanning simple and accessible. Most families complete their plans in about fifteen minutes online or over the phone – no funeral home visit is required. Talk to our care team 24/7 at (844) 942-4909.

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