Discussing end-of-life issues with your parents can be a difficult and emotional task, but it is also a very important one. By having these conversations, you can help your parents express their wishes, plan ahead, and feel more at peace.

Plan the Conversation.

Give me a heads-up and decide who should be in the room. Don’t spring the conversation to your parents without warning or when they are busy or stressed. Let them know in advance that you would like to talk about their end-of-life preferences and why it matters to you. Ask them when and where they would feel comfortable having this conversation and who else they would like to include, such as siblings, spouses, or trusted friends.

Organize the Conversation.

Ask all of the hard questions and take notes. Be prepared to ask your parents about their values, goals, fears, hopes, and beliefs regarding their end-of-life care. Some examples of questions are: What kind of medical treatments would you want or not want if you were seriously ill? Who would you want to make decisions for you if you couldn’t speak for yourself? Where would you prefer to spend your final days? How do you want to be remembered? Listen carefully to their answers and write them down or record them for future reference.

The Legal Conversation.

Discuss healthcare directives and long-term care options, as well as financial considerations such as power of attorney. Encourage your parents to complete an advance directive, which is a legal document that specifies their wishes for medical care if they are unable to communicate with them. Also, help them choose a health care proxy, which is a person who will act on their behalf if they are incapacitated. Talk to them about their options for long-term care, such as home care, assisted living, or hospice, and how they plan to pay for it. Make sure they have a will or a trust that outlines how they want their assets distributed after they die. Also, find out who has the power of attorney to handle their financial affairs if they are unable to do so.

Convert the Conversation.

Once you have had the conversation it needs to be converted to writing.  Once your parents have made their decisions, help them put them in writing and share them with the relevant people, such as their doctors, lawyers, family members, and friends. Keep copies of their documents in a safe and accessible place and review them periodically to make sure they are still accurate and up to date.

Finalize the Conversation.

Solidify your parents’ final wishes by visiting a funeral home and attorney. Another way to help your parents plan for their end-of-life is to accompany them to a funeral home and an attorney to finalize their arrangements. They can choose how they want their body to be handled after death, such as burial or cremation, and what kind of service they want, such as religious or secular. They can also make sure their will or trust is valid and reflects their current wishes.

Preserve the Conversation.

Assist your parents in creating an organized file box with all the pertinent financial and funeral information. To make things easier for yourself and your family when your parents pass away, help them create a file box that contains all the important information and documents related to their end-of-life plans. This may include copies of their advance directive, health care proxy, will or trust, power of attorney, insurance policies, bank accounts, debts, funeral plans, contact information of key people, and personal items such as photos or letters.

Expand the Conversation.

End your end-of-life talk on a high note. Talking about death can be emotionally draining and upsetting for both you and your parents. Try to end the conversation on a positive note by expressing your love, gratitude, and support for them. You can also share some happy memories or stories that celebrate their life. Remember that this is not a one-time conversation but an ongoing dialogue that can deepen your relationship with your parents.


The Conversation Project is a public engagement initiative with a goal to have every person’s wish for end-of-life care expressed and respected.  It was co-founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodman and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in 2010.

The objectives of the Conversation Project include:

  • To help people start conversations with their loved ones and health care providers about their values, goals and preferences for care through the end of life.
  • To provide free and accessible resources, such as conversation guides, videos, podcasts and stories to support people in having these conversations.
  • To foster a culture shift that normalizes and honors people’s choices and voices about end-of-life care.

The Conversation Project believes that the best way to ensure that people receive care that aligns with their wishes is to prepare them to have meaningful conversations with their loved ones and health care providers before a medical crisis occurs. By doing so, they hope to reduce the suffering, confusion and guilt that often accompany end-of-life.