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In Part I of our series on Estate Planning With Your Elders: Bringing Taboo Topics to the Table, we discussed the key elements of opening a conversation with your parents regarding two traditionally taboo topics: finances and death. In Part II of this series, we are going to look at the basic issues you will want to include when having this important discussion, which, as mentioned previously, will likely take place over time.

Keep in mind that the goal here is to have these conversations while the parent is able to be in control of the conversations. That is, before a crisis moment occurs. The idea is to support your parent’s independence for as long as possible, and to be prepared to provide support should their circumstances change.


When talking with your elders about their finances, remember, that this may be a difficult subject for them and an awkward subject for you, as privacy and independence concerns sometimes arise. Being gentle with your questions will help everyone feel more at ease as you move forward with this important process. Listed below is some of the financial information with which you will want to become familiar:

  • Bank Accounts – What institutions are used for checking and/or savings accounts, safety deposit box, credit cards, retirement accounts, and brokerage accounts, if applicable.
    • TIP –  Work together to create a list of institutions, account numbers, usernames, passwords, and the general purpose of each account. Make a copy of the list for those involved, then tuck away the list to use down the road, only if necessary.
  • Insurance Policies – What type of mortgage, auto, and life insurance policies they have, who holds them, and where they can be found. This is a good time to discuss vehicle and home titles, too.
  • Financial Advisors and Annual Taxes – Names of financial providers and/or tax advisors, and where their annual taxes can be located. You will also want to learn where you can find their social security cards.
    • TIP – For ease of access, add this information to the list compiled from the information above. Be sure to make certain contact information is up to date.
  • Current Bills – If the situation calls for it, this may be a good time to offer assistance with bill paying, review of bank and/or credit card statements, etc.
    • TIP – The discussion of finances presents a good opportunity to explore the importance of creating a Durable Power of Attorney. This crucial document provides a trusted individual the power to manage financial accounts, if necessary. While this decision does not need to be made in the moment, in order to ensure a smooth transition, it does need to be made, preferably sooner rather than later. We will discuss the Power of Attorney in Part III of this series.


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End-of-life health choices are intensely personal. Patience goes a long way toward creating a meaningful and productive conversation. Your parent’s ability to provide direction should someone need to act on their behalf helps you make certain their wishes are met. This is an invaluable gift to all involved.

Listed below is some the health-related information you will want to discuss:

  • Health Insurance – What type of health insurance policies they have, where they keep insurance cards, and the usernames/passwords should they access their account(s) online. Be sure to inquire about long-term and supplemental insurance policies, especially if they have Medicare.
  • Physicians – What doctor(s) they currently see, the frequency of visits, and whether or not any specialists are involved in their care. Be sure to gather office locations, phone numbers, and names of those in the office with whom they most like to interact.
  • Medications – Names of medications, dosages, prescribing doctors, and the pharmacy they use to fill their prescriptions.
    • TIP – This is a good time to ask about their overall satisfaction with their current medical team and to explore options should they wish to make changes.
  • Living Situation – Comfort and safety of their current living situation, and whether or not they have plans and/or desires to downsize or enter assisted living. If not now, are there options for later or do they aim to remain in their current home?
  • Health Care Directives – Whether or not they have an Advance Health Care Directive and/or a Durable Power of Attorney For Health Care. Although often difficult to discuss end-of-life concerns, a discussion of health-related matters would be incomplete were this subject not broached. Again, sooner rather than later is key.
    • TIP – Preparing a health care directive is one of the most important aspects of estate planning. The opportunity for your parents to provide clear direction, in written form, about their wishes is the best way to ensure those wishes are honored. In turn, this is a tremendous gift to family members, eliminating painful decisions during difficult times. This document is especially crucial if your parent does not wish life-saving measures to be taken on their behalf. We will discuss health care directives in Part III of our series.

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Memorial Wishes 

Discussing what we want to have happen to our body when we die is not an everyday conversation. In fact, it can bring on feelings of sadness and fear and confusion. Still, it is an incredibly important conversation. Knowing ahead of time what your parents want to have happen to their bodies after they die prevents having to make uninformed choices at a time when emotions are strong.

Listed below are some topics you will want to address in your conversation about their memorial wishes:

  • Cremation or Burial – Do they plan to be cremated or buried, and have they purchased services and/or burial plots in advance. If they plan to be buried, do they wish burial immediately after death or several days later, after a funeral or other memorial service. If they choose to be cremated, do they have specific wishes for their ashes.
  • Type of Service – Funeral or memorial service? Visitation or wake? Reception or celebration of life? These are questions for which you’ll want your parents to provide direction, even if there is some hesitancy to begin the discussion. Having this information will help you avoid hasty—and sometimes costly—decisions during a time of grief. It will also help you understand how to best honor your parents wishes.
    • TIP – Creating a thoughtful environment for this discussion will help facilitate open, heartfelt conversation. Learning about the mood and style of service they would like to have will be invaluable to you and meaningful for them. Perhaps they have in mind a particular reading or selection of music they would like shared, or certain foods/beverages they would like offered to visitors. Perhaps there is a certain picture they would like used for the obituary. You get the idea. The more that is discussed ahead of time, the better you’ll be able to assemble a service that honors your parent in a peaceful way, even during a deeply difficult period.

Remember, the ideal time to start this ongoing conversation with your parents is while they are active and healthy, before a crisis moment arrives. In Part III of our series, we will discuss the specific documents related to this invaluable conversation.

Please visit our Estate Planning FAQs to learn more about estate planning in Staten Island.  Or contact us directly with your inquiries.

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This information, based on New York law, was provided courtesy of The Law Office of Christopher J. Arrigali, P.C.  It is intended to inform, not to advise.  No one should try to interpret or apply any law without the assistance of legal counsel.

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