Start difficult conversations BEFORE there is a crisis

As parents age deeply entrenched family dynamics can come to the forefront.  It is not uncommon for this to be a time for many families where there is tension and conflict between parents and their adult children and also amongst the siblings.

One of the best ways to prevent or minimize this potential conflict is to start those difficult conversations BEFORE there is a crisis.  When families move into crisis mode there is far more potential for arguments, hurt feelings and long term damage to relationships.

Aging parents have a lifetime of experience making decisions for themselves.  It may be difficult for them to discuss these private matters with you.  They may fear losing control or they want to maintain the appearance that they have it all together.  Be sensitive to this but don’t let it stop you from having these very important discussions.

In Elder Mediation we find that these kinds of checklists can be really helpful to then bring to a mediator.  It helps the family group to set an agenda and move through each point.  The mediator will be there to assist with struggles in the conversation, conflicts that arise and problem solving that needs to be done.

Discussing the future with aging parents can be a very emotional time.  Enlisting the help of an Elder Mediator can ease the challenge of difficult conversations.

With that in mind, here is a list of questions to help you get those conversations started.  This checklist will help you to lay the ground work for further conversations and help you to understand what your parents are hoping for as they grow older.  You might want to break up these conversations over a few sessions so that it is not overwhelming.


1.     How long would you like to live in your own house?

2.     What changes need to be made to the house to make it functional and safe for you?

3.     What do you think about staying in the house if you were on your own?

4.     What would you consider to be some signs that it may not be safe to live on your own anymore?

5.     What options have you considered if you were to have a different living arrangement?  What would be the best way of exploring your options?


1.     What legal documentation do you have in place if health decisions need to be made and you are unable to communicate them?

2.     Have you thought about what kind of medical treatments you may need in the future?  Have you put those wishes in writing?

3.     How are you doing with doctor visits and keeping track of health information or medications?

4.     How do you feel about being kept alive by more exceptional medical interventions?  Under what circumstances would you want that?  Are your wishes written down?

5.     Would a conversation with your doctor about advanced care planning be helpful?


1.     Do you have a will?  Does someone you trust know where it is?  Who should we contact about it?

2.     What have you done for financial planning?  Do you need to know more about this?

3.     What could be done to make banking easier for you?

4.     How are you currently handling paying bills?

5.     What would you like to do if there comes a time when you are not able to manage your finances?

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