Talking to loved ones about the future

At a certain point in their lives, many adults have to start a discussion or series of discussions with their loved ones about the future. This can be difficult, as the conversation can touch on things that are unpleasant to think about, such as death or serious illness. However, procrastinating on this necessary task can result in creating more problems for the family – legally, financially, and emotionally.

You may encounter resistance from your relatives, in the form of avoidance, defensiveness, or emotional outbursts. To counteract these reactions, here are some tips and guidelines to help you begin the process of preparing for the future.

Tips to help you talk to your loved ones

Choose the right place and time.
If you are talking to relatives about a tough subject, like whether they’re willing to live in a nursing home or if they have an advance healthcare directive in case of a coma or brain death, you don’t want to have the conversation over the phone while you’re running errands. It’s best to talk about this in person, if possible. If you do need to speak to them long distance, ask them to set aside some time to have an in-depth talk. The last thing you want is to rush through the discussion. However, don’t be discouraged if you don’t resolve everything right away. It may take several conversations to make decisions about these complex situations.

Listen to their fears and hopes.
You may get off-track as your loved ones confide in you about their fears, insecurities, hopes, and wishes. For example, they may talk about their negative views of assisted living based on watching TV shows and movies. Although this may not be helpful in the most practical sense, your loved ones want to know that you understand their feelings. And knowing their preferences and emotions about certain issues could help inform your decisions on their behalf in the future.

Try the natural disaster angle.
If your relatives are especially hesitant to talk about the future, try to talk to them about emergency planning. Tell them that you are working on a family crisis preparedness plan, and you want their help to be ready for any possible natural disasters. Think about an example of a recent bad storm or tornado as the reason for your sudden interest in emergency planning. This is a great way to get information from them, such as the names of their healthcare providers and where they keep their important records. This discussion could then lead to follow-up questions, such as, “Did you say you had a durable power of attorney document in the safe? No? Have you thought about getting one?”

Practical questions to ask

According to one expert, there are four areas of consideration you should talk about.

Legal issues
Do they have a lawyer? Can you speak with their lawyer? Have they drafted and signed standard legal documents, such as a will, an advance directive for healthcare, or a power of attorney? Have they included pets in their estate planning? If they are caring for adults with disabilities or children who are minors, have they prepared paperwork to establish guardianship, conservatorship, or a trust?

Health insurance
Do they have health insurance other than Medicare? Do they have insurance for services not typically covered by Medicare? Are they currently paying for anything out of pocket?

Income and costs
How much income do they receive on a monthly basis? What are their regular household expenses? Do they have a professional helping them with their money, such as a personal finance consultant? Are you able to speak with this professional for his or her input?

Financial documents
Where are their important records kept? Do they have an inventory listing all of their documents, such as past tax returns, bank accounts, and credit card accounts? If they access any money-related accounts online, where do they store their usernames and passwords?

If, at any time, you feel frustrated by these conversations, remind yourself that they are worthwhile. Not only will they help your family a great deal in the near or distant future, they can also provide peace of mind for the present.


Matthiessen, Connie. “How to Talk to the Elderly About Tough Family Issues.”, accessed March 4, 2014.

Rosenblatt, Carolyn. “Three Ways to Get Resistant Aging Parents to Talk About the Future.” Forbes, posted September 21, 2013, accessed March 4, 2014.

Rosenblatt, Carolyn. “Smart Ways to Talk to Aging Parents About Finances.” Aging Parents Blog, posted September 17, 2013, accessed March 4, 2014.

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