When is it Time to Discuss Your End of Life Plans with Your Children?

“Mom, I don’t want to talk about it!  You’re fine!”

This was my response to my mother, who had recently been diagnosed with a rare disease after a long period of being in and out of the hospital. She wanted to have me walk around the house with her, and show me what outfit she wanted to be buried in, who should get her beloved silver service, and many other things that I was not prepared to even hear. I was just 22, and at that age, no one wants to consider that they might lose a parent in the near future.

If you are in your 60s or older, you should be making plans about a great many decisions for when that time comes. And there is a time to discuss this with your adult children, although how much information you give them depends somewhat on their age and maturity.

For children in their 20s, I think it is just enough to let them know you are fine, but you have made plans for your burial arrangements when that time comes, and tell them where the file is.

By the time your children get into their 30s and 40s, they likely have a family of their own, but might wonder, depending on your health, if you have made plans. By this age, they are ready to discuss this subject in a factual way, and you can tell them more about those plans. For example, if you plan to be cremated, let them know why you made that choice. This is a good way to find out if they have concerns about your choices. You don’t have to change what your wishes are, but at least you know that more talking-it-over time might be a good thing.

When they reach 50 and beyond, they are usually very aware of the fragility of life, and have likely lost the parents of friends that were close, or perhaps colleagues from work. They may even be wondering what your plans are. By this time, if not before, it makes sense to have a longer conversation. It is a good idea if you can do this with all of your children present, so they all hear the same thing.

You should talk with them about your medical directives and health power of attorney, and who is named in that capacity. Explain to them what you want in terms of a service and a celebration of your life, that you have written out what you want, and have also made arrangements about burial and/or cremation. This should lead to questions, and will bring out concerns they may have.  

Depending on how ready you and they are for this, it is also a good idea to at least give them some indication of what happens financially when you die. When I say some, I mean giving a broad brush of those plans, such as “we plan to leave an equal amount to each of our children, and we have certain bequests we want made.” If the plans include treating heirs in an unequal manner, I believe it is better to get problems out on the table before you die, while there is time to reconcile everyone to what your plans are and why you made them. 

In the end, the best time is when you sense they are ready to begin to know more.