5 Important Questions to Ask Aging Parents

questions to ask aging parentsThere are few things as difficult as sitting down with your parents to discuss their finances. It’s even tougher when the topic is how their finances will be handled after they pass away.

These are extremely important topics to cover though, especially if you and your siblings are going to be managing their estate.

We’re going to cover the five most important questions to ask aging parents. After that, you’ll learn six tips for breaking the ice so you can feel more comfortable starting the conversation (it’s not always easy, we know!)

5 Important Questions to Ask Aging Parents:

1. Do You Have a Durable Power of Attorney?

A durable power of attorney is a document determining who will take care of someone’s affairs in the event of incapacitation (physical or mental). Seniors can elect to have one person handle health decisions (the health care proxy) and another person handle financial decisions (the financial proxy). Or they can designate a single person to handle both roles.

How to bring up the topic:

“If you were ever on life support, I would be worried and not in the right frame of mind to be making any important decisions. I think it would give both of us peace of mind if you put how you feel about this subject into writing.”

2. Do You Have Long-Term Care Insurance?

The average cost for a single room in an assisted living facility is $3,500 according to Bankrate.com. The cost can vary a lot depending on your region and may be even higher, which can quickly burn through the savings and retirement accounts that your aging parents have set aside.

Because of this, it’s important to know whether your parents have long-term care insurance to help offset these costs in the future, in case it’s needed. If they do have a policy, review it with them and make sure you understand what is and is not covered. If you are not sure about anything, call the insurer and ask.

How to bring up the topic:

“I recently read about how much assisted living can cost. I was pretty shocked by the numbers. I would want to make sure you had the best care possible if it were ever needed. Have you looked into insurance at all?”

3. Do You Have a Will?

Having a will is essential for your aging parents to ensure their wishes are met. Unfortunately, only 69 out of 100 people think they need a will, and even fewer (34%) actually take the steps to establish one.

So it’s important to ask your parents if they’ve created a will, where the document is kept, and who is named executor.

Also, if the will is more than five years old, your parents should review it to make sure their current wishes are still represented. Having everything up to date prevents additional strain or grief if one or both parents pass away.

How to bring up the topic:

“I don’t want to upset or worry you, but if something ever did happen to you I would want to make sure that your wishes were honored. Do you have a will that is current and up to date?”

4. Are Your Beneficiaries Up to Date?

The beneficiaries named on investments, insurance policies, or pensions trumps the instructions laid out in a will. So this is one of the most important questions to ask aging parents.

A beneficiary is often established when an account or insurance policy is initially set up and then never reviewed. So it’s important to check on this every few years.

How to bring up the topic:

“Do you ever go back and review the beneficiaries you named on your financial accounts and insurance policies? I recently reviewed some of mine for a few older accounts and I had completely forgotten who I had named.”

5. Where Are These Documents Being Kept?

Finally, you should ask a follow-up question to make sure you know where the documents are physically located. This can save you time and stress if you ever were to need access.


Starting a conversation on any of the topics above isn’t easy. Here are six tips and strategies you can use to make any discussion easier, more comfortable and more productive:

1. Don’t try to do everything on your own. Ask siblings, cousins, or anyone else if they are willing to join the conversation. You don’t want your elderly parents to feel cornered or “forced” into a discussion. But sitting down with one or two other family members can encourage more of a back-and-forth discussion where everyone shares information, rather than it feeling like an interrogation.

2. Look for opportunities in everyday conversions. Related topics come up pretty often if you’re looking for them, and it could provide a nice transition into a more serious discussion.

3. You can also try to kick off the conversation by asking your parents for their advice on YOUR estate planning. Tell them it is something you are looking into and ask something specific. They’ll likely share some of their own situation after that.

4. Be clear that you are not trying to gain access or rights to any of their assets. You are simply making sure they’ve set up a plan for what should happen in the future.

5. If nobody in your family is willing to lead the conversation (including yourself), bring in an independent third party such as a family lawyer or close family friend.

6. If nothing else is working, you can attempt to start a discussion via writing (mail or email). Send your elderly parent a note. Acknowledge that it’s difficult to talk about this and you understand they prefer not to, but then explain your concern and explain why it is important to discuss and plan around. (We mentioned this in the introduction- you and your siblings are likely responsible for managing your aging parents’ estate. You have a right to ask about these things and request that the necessary paperwork is in place.)