It’s well-known that you don’t talk about religion, politics, or estate planning at the dinner table. Or, wait, was it just religion and politics? Estate planning might as well be on the list, though. Indeed, of the taboo topics listed, most young adults would prefer to talk about the first two long before addressing retirement finances or estate plans with their parents or loved ones.

Statistics show that this discomfort goes both ways. Thirty-four percent of parents have not had a detailed conversation with their adult children about living expenses, and forty-three percent report having avoided discussing long-term-care plans. As with most discomforts, this is often a sign that something needs to be said.

In the case of estate planning, children might avoid broaching the subject for fear of appearing greedy or nosy. Parents, on the other hand, may worry about losing control of their finances or admitting that they have not always managed their money well. Both parties are often inhibited by a deep fear of speaking about death.

However, the silence around the subject is apt to provoke serious problems. Without clear communication, it is difficult to avoid misunderstanding in the event of a parent’s passing and this is exactly what should be avoided at such a trying time. Below are a series of strategies that will make stepping out in front of this difficult subject less uncomfortable and more productive.

Request a meeting. Just as you would not spring a life-altering relationship conversation on your partner without warning, do not broach the subject of estate planning out of the blue. Not only is it fair to give all involved time to think about what needs to be said, but it is vital to consider that the subject may provoke emotions that are better managed with a little bit of preparation.

Be tactful. Connected is the importance of tact. Rather than opening with an abrasive question like, “Do you have life insurance?,” consider foregrounding your concern with careful phrasing. A good opening line may be, “I want to be sure to support you as best as possible in organizing your estate. In hopes of avoiding any misunderstanding, can we organize a family conversation about the subject?”

Keep good communication at the forefront. Once you have arranged to chat, keep in mind the importance of good communication. A tried and true strategy involves mirroring and validating what you hear the other say. For instance, you might offer, “I hear, and it makes sense that you want Amanda to inherit the lake cabin because she is the only sibling that has committed to living close to home.”

Show understanding and empathy. Broadly, you want to show understanding and empathy to all involved. A critical piece that is often overlooked here is you, yourself. It is important to articulate and arrive at the conversation prepared to share your own fears, vulnerabilities, and concerns. In order to do this with the greatest ease, you might decide to skip sensitive details. It is fine to say something like, “We don’t need to talk specific numbers, I just want to ensure a framework is in place for avoiding any possible future conflict.”

Determine which elements need to be directly addressed. Though some details may be glossed over, it is critical to determine which elements require a direct address. In the case of sudden loss or gradual dementia, it is easy for difficult-to-recover specifics to get lost. Examples include insurance policies, a will or trust, durable power attorney documents, medical directives, bond or stock certificates, safety deposit keys, property deeds, car titles, pension information, and contact information for a parent’s financial advisor. Make a list of such details prior to arranging a conversation and think about how to tackle each item.

Lastly, trust that those with whom you need to address such a subject love you and that an empathetic talk will bring relief to all involved. Indeed, you might want to begin by stating this as your reason for breaking table etiquette in the first place!



If you’ve talked to your parents about their estate plan, but have concerns—or if you’d like to start planning your own estate and don’t know where to begin—let the estate planning attorneys at Deliberato Law Center help. Complete the brief form below to learn more about our law firm, and to request your free initial consultation.