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Featured FAQ: How Do I Start the Conversation About Advance Funeral Planning with My Elderly Relatives?

February 1, 2018

Discussing end-of-life plans with your elderly parents or relatives can be difficult, especially if you don’t even know how to broach the subject. But helping your elderly relatives pre-plan their funerals now can avoid financial stress later and relieve concerns about what your loved ones would have wanted when the time comes. But how does one start the conversation?

Photo credit: Iakov Filimonov/

“Those who have benefitted from advance funeral planning will tell you that it was really a gift,” said Joe Reardon, Vice President for Community Development and Advance Planning. “However, it can be a difficult subject to broach with those who do not understand the value of it.”

You are the best expert on this subject, as you know your relatives’ personalities and how they will respond. Some people may prefer to know in advance that you’d like to talk about this topic, so they can begin to think about their wishes and gather their thoughts ahead of time. Others may prefer a more casual approach that stems from conversation in the moment.

While there’s no one right way to talk to your parents or other elderly relatives about advance funeral planning –– here are some ideas to get you started:

Where do I start?

  • Look for opportunities to bring up the subject of how your relatives want to be remembered following the death of a family member or friend, or as your parents reminisce about the past during a casual conversation.
  • Use some humor to break the ice. Some people respond well to a little gentle humor, especially around a difficult subject.
  • Pre-plan your own funeral and talk to your relatives about your own experience, or bring them along on planning sessions to see the process first hand.
  • Explain the benefits of advance planning so your loved one will understand that even though the conversation might be awkward at first, the outcome will be worth it.
  • Ask them about family traditions – how and where are their parents buried; what are the religious traditions in the family around death and burial; is it important for them to follow family traditions?
  • Ask a funeral director for help. Most funeral directors will be willing to sit down and talk with you and your parents or elderly relatives. A funeral director has the expertise to discuss with your parents the benefits of pre-planning a funeral.
  • Use resources to help you prepare and guide your conversation. Have the Talk of a Lifetime®provides a free workbook and discussion guide that offers tips and prompts that can help you have a meaningful conversation.
  • Using prompts such as family photo albums can be the perfect ice breaker for having a deeper conversation about memorialization and how your relatives want to be remembered.

What do I ask?

Meaningful memorialization helps those left behind toward healing after the loss of a loved one. Today, individuals and their families have more options for memorializing their loved one at the end of life. Memorialization can reflect a person’s life story, their values, interests, and experiences. It is transformative, healing, and comforting. Meaningful memorialization planning starts when loved ones talk about what matters most: memories made, lessons learned, and how they hope to be remembered.

Some questions you could ask to start the talk are:

  • What is your proudest achievement?
  • What was the one piece of advice you received from your parents or grandparents that you never forgot.
  • Tell me about the most memorable summer you had growing up.
  • Tell me about your favorite teacher; what did you learn from him or her?
  • If you could spend a day doing anything you like, what would it be?
  • Who has been your greatest inspiration?

Talking with your parents or elderly relatives about how they want to be memorialized doesn’t have to be painful. Sitting down with your loved ones to talk about their lives can be a valuable experience. Learning about the memorable events and people in their lives; favorite places and beloved activities; traditional values and life lessons they have learned can bring you closer to those you care about most. And the conversation helps us to reaffirm with our loved ones just how much they have impacted our life.

“Funerals are for the living,” said Joe. “Too many times, families fail to benefit from funeral ceremonies because they get lost in the many tasks they face. Advance planning helps to facilitate these conversations and complete these tasks so families can create a personal and meaningful experience.”

For more information on starting the conversation of a lifetime, please contact one of our knowledgeable funeral directors at any of our locations or call our main office at 1-800-Keohane (800-536-4263).


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