Am I in Your Will? How to Talk to Your Parents about Their Estate Plan

by Patrick Walsh

Asking your parents about what happens when they die is always a difficult topic. You probably don’t want to think about it and you might be worried about coming off as greedy asking about their will. Below are a few tips to help you start the conversation, and keep the discussion productive.

How to Talk to Your Parents about Their Estate Plan

Be Direct

This can be a sensitive topic, more or less so depending on the personality of your parents, you, and your relationship with them. If you dance around it and try to hint that you want to talk about their estate plan, it leaves room for misinterpretation and you could end up creating a problem that was never really there. Whether you bring it up in person, over the phone or by text, and the choice of word will depend on you and your parents’ relationship. what tis important is that you make it clear that you want to know what they want to happen after they die, which leads to the next point.


Keep it about Them

Make sure when you first broach the topic, you keep the focus on them and their wishes, not you or your siblings’ inheritance. It also helps if you give them a warning instead of ambushing them with it. you might try something like “hey Mum/Dad, when you have some time, can we talk about what you want us/me to do if something were to happen to either of you?”.

It may also help to relate it to your own circumstances so they know your focus is on them and not on inheritance. An example could be if you have kids, “I’ve been thinking about what would happen to Timmy if I had an accident, and it made me realise that I don’t know what you would want to happen either, do you think we could find some time to talk about it so I’d know what to do?”

It might also be a good idea, depending on your family dynamic, to suggest having a discussion with your other siblings so that everyone is on the same page. This can help things go more smoothly when the time comes.

These are just examples and they might not be a good fit for you, but just make it clear that your main motivation is ensuring their wishes are carried out if they die or lose capacity.


Be Receptive and Accepting

When the discussion starts, it is important to remember that this is their plan for how they want things to go if they lose capacity or pass away. You may have strong feelings about their well-being or the way other family members have treated them. It’s ok for you to feel upset if they refuse to get help as their health deteriorates, or to think that a family member doesn’t deserve to inherit much given the way they treated your parents. Those are your feelings and you are entitled to feel them, but your parents might not feel the same way. The way a sister or brother feels about their sister or brother is very different to the way a parent feels about their son or daughter.  You may feel the need to question some of their decisions, and as long as you do it in a way that isn’t accusatory, and you respect their answer, it’s perfectly ok to ask those questions, after all, you’re having this conversation to understand how to carry out their wishes, so understanding them is part of that.


Know When Enough is Enough

During the conversation you may need to ask specific questions like, “who is/are the executor(s)?” and if you are one of two or more executors, whether you have to act together or if either of you can do it. If your parents have powers of attorney or an appointment of medical treatment decision maker, you may need to ask specific questions such as under what conditions they would want to be moved into a nursing home or in Victoria, what their position is on assisted suicide.

These are all difficult questions to ask and likely uncomfortable for both you and your parents to talk about, but they may be necessary to ensure you make the right decisions for them when the time comes. If you are an executor you may have to ask about specific gifts, where the will is held, if they have any lists of personal belongings to be gifted and where those would be found. If these questions need to be asked, it is important that you ask them, but if your parents avoid answering or haven’t thought about them in depth, don’t press the issue.


In Summary

How much your parents will tell you will depend on your relationship with them, and your role, if any, in their estate plan. If they don’t want to tell you much, your instinct will probably be to assume the worst, but in reality, they probably just don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about their own death if it can be avoided, and if you aren’t going to play a big role in managing their affairs, they probably just want to focus on enjoying the time they have with you.

Talking to your parents about their estate plan will usually only give you information. you may be able to ask them to give you Dad’s Monaro or Mum’s Jewellery, and you may not, but if you feel that you aren’t getting a big enough share, remember what they probably told you when you were young, “you can have what we give you, or you can throw a tantrum and have nothing”, because it’s their money, their life, and their choice. If you keep that front of mind, you should be fine.