Conversation Starters: Tips for Talking About Estate Planning

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Parents in their 70’s are more comfortable discussing estate planning than their Baby Boomer kids, according to research recently released as part of the “Family Conversations” series from The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.. The research also shows that parents and children need some help discussing estate planning issues.

“Older adults tell us they really do want to discuss topics such as estate planning, medical care and final arrangements with their children,” Maureen Mohyde, director of The Hartford’s corporate gerontology group said in a prepared statement. “Because Boomers are often uncomfortable discussing these matters with parents, The Hartford is offering some important ideas to bring them together.”


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Before parents are ready to have a conversation about estate planning, they need to have an estate plan to discuss. An estate plan is more than just legal documents, it is a plan for what will happen if an individual is unable to express their wishes either from disability or death. To help organize your estate plan, Mark H. Kaizerman, CPA/PFS, CFP, ChFC and author of the Beneficiary Directory – Your Personal System to Organize Your Important Documents and Guide your Beneficiaries suggests answering four important questions:

  • What documents do I need?
  • How will my beneficiaries find these documents?
  • Who should have access to these documents and when?
  • Who will best advise my beneficiaries?
  • Of course these questions represent a myriad of details. It is likely an individual will needthe assistance and advice of their children or even a professional financial adviser to work them all out. The answers to these four questions can, however, help identify the types of topics that need to be discussed and even offer some indication as to whom they should be discussed with.

    “Our research indicates a clear ‘Generation Gap’ in communicating about estate planning,” Mohyde said in a prepared statement. “Families need help in bridging this gap and tackling these issues.”

    To help get the family conversation started Mohyde suggests:

    • Parents should be the ones to bring up the topic with their children. If the child cuts the conversation short, another time should be chosen for further discussion and parents should be persistent about having the discussion.
    • Children should keep in mind that their parents are not only comfortable discussing estate planning, they are more receptive to suggestions.
    • Begin by focusing on things both parents and children agree on. Talking about shared values can open up an avenue for discussing estate planning.
    • Focus the conversation on where parents and children can help each other. Boomers should be sure to ask how they can help their parents maintain their independence.

    The Hartford’s Family Conversations Estate Planning Program helps bridge the communication gap, real or perceived, that sometimes seems to divide parents and adult children.

    The Hartford’s research, which surveyed parents between the ages of 70-79 and adult children between the ages of 45-65 having at least one living parent, made the following key findings that may be useful in guiding estate planning conversations with clients:

    • 76 percent of older parents say they are very comfortable with talking about their estate compared to only 45 percent of Boomers who say they are very comfortable.
    • 71 percent of parents are comfortable discussing the content of their wills while only 54 percent of their children are.
    • More older parents report having important estate planning documents than Boomers report they are aware of.
    • Boomers underestimate the importance their parents place on providing for their heirs.
    • Almost all older parents report talking to their children about their estate plan, however, not all Boomer children report having such a discussion.
    • Boomers claim less actual knowledge of their parents’ estates plans and issues than their parents realize.

    “What we’ve learned from our survey and conversations with older adults is that estate planning is really not about money, it’s about creating lasting bonds within families,” Mohyde’s statement says. “By reaching out, families can help cement those bonds and preserve memories for generations.”

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