Advertisement
Family life

How to Discuss End-of-Life Wishes with Your Co-Parent

Why it’s so important to discuss end-of-life planning with your co-parent and how to broach the topic to ensure you have the appropriate plans in place for your children.

How to Discuss End-of-Life Wishes with Your Co-Parent

iStock

When you think of date night conversation, death isn’t the first topic that comes to mind. In fact, a 2024 survey from Willful and AngusReid shows that after sex and money, death is the most difficult topic for Canadians to discuss with their partner.

As parents, it’s even more important to ensure end-of-life plans are in place, but what happens when your co-parent is dragging their feet on discussing these topics?

In this article, we explain why it’s so important to discuss end-of-life planning with your co-parent and how to broach the topic to ensure you have the appropriate plans in place for your children.

Why is it important?

Whether you’re in a relationship with your co-parent or co-parenting separately, it’s important to talk about key decisions that affect your children. Here’s why:

Ensuring your family is covered financially

Your financial situation would be impacted if your co-parent passed away since you would likely need to replace income, incur additional childcare fees, or replace ongoing financial support. Do you have life insurance that would cover any immediate costs, like funeral or burial fees, and that would supplement income in the future? For me, a big consideration would also be the ability to take time off if my co-parent passed away and the ability to hire additional childcare or home help - so life insurance is a key part of that.

Do you know if you or your co-parent have critical illness insurance or life insurance through your jobs, and if so, how much? Knowing the extent of your coverage and making sure you’ve named your co-parent as a beneficiary for your policies, if relevant, can ensure peace of mind if something happens.

Understanding your needs based on your situation

Your end-of-life planning needs depend on your personal life situation. For example, if you’re legally married to your co-parent and don’t have additional complexity like children with disabilities or a blended family, you may be able to use straightforward digital estate planning tools, but some situations will require additional thought and planning. Here are some of the things that may require more:

  • If you’re separated but not legally divorced, the law still views you as legally married, so it’s important to ensure any separation agreement addresses what happens if one of you were to pass away
  • If you have a child with a disability, a Henson Trust ensures government disability benefits would continue even if the child received an inheritance
  • If you have a blended family, you may want to explore ways to protect and pass on assets to your biological children
Advertisement

It’s also important to prioritize end-of-life planning if you’re in a common-law marriage since common-law spouses aren’t always automatically entitled to assets if their partner passes away.

Aligning on key decisions

Many of the end-of-life planning decisions you make directly affect your children, which is why it’s so important to ensure you’re aligned with your partner or co-parent on the following decisions:

  • Appointing a guardian for minor children - who would take care of your children if both of you were to pass away? This is one of the toughest decisions to make, and we’ve linked to our article that guides you through that key choice.
  • Appointing an executor - will you be each other’s executors? If not, who will wrap up your estate, and do they have the key info they would need to do that, including any instructions regarding your children?
  • Appointing beneficiaries - are you leaving all of your assets to each other in the event that one of you passes away, and to your children in the event that both of you pass away? Do you have any special considerations or conditions regarding gifts to your children (for example, they only receive an inheritance if they graduate post-secondary school)?
  • Age of inheritance - at what age should your children receive their inheritance? Do you want it split over time (for example, 50% at age 21 and 50% at age 25)?

Formalizing plans

While many parents have a will on their to-do list, a Willful and AngusReid study found that two-thirds (61%) of Canadian parents with minor children do not have a will. By prioritizing discussing these topics, there’s a better chance you’ll put formal plans in place. This includes both of you creating wills and power of attorney documents, getting life insurance if you need it, organizing key documents in an accessible place, and discussing any key wishes around funeral or burial plans.

If you don’t put formal plans in place, it can create a huge burden for you and your children. For example, if your co-parent passes away without a will, a government formula in your province dictates what would happen to their assets - they wouldn’t automatically go to their spouse; they would be split between a spouse and minor children. Not to mention, it’s just a much bigger headache to wrap up someone’s estate if they don’t have a will. Life insurance can relieve any financial burdens, cover any funeral or burial costs, and manage ongoing finances, especially if the person who passed away was a sole or meaningful contributor to the household finances.

Once you’ve implemented these plans, it’s important to store key documents in a safe place and ensure the other person knows where they are. The last thing you want to do in an emergency is hunt for paperwork.

parents working with a financial assistant iStock

How can I get my co-parent to discuss end-of-life planning?

Advertisement

You may be passionate about the need to get plans in place, but how do you get your partner or co-parent on board? Here are some tips to ensure they are aligned with your choices and get key documents like a will in place:

Set a time to discuss

It’s easy to delay end-of-life planning since none of us plan to pass away tomorrow - but the earlier you complete these discussions, the more peace of mind you’ll have that you’ve taken the right steps for your kids. Instead of bringing this up on a family road trip or during a visitation handoff, set a specific time, and bring a list of questions. Here are a few thought starters:

  • How would our finances be affected if one of us passed away? What measures can we put in place to ensure our children are taken care of?
  • Do you have an up-to-date will? If not, can we prioritize getting our wills done?
  • Who would you want to take care of our children if both of us weren’t around? Why would you choose this person?
  • What do you want your legacy to be for our children? How can I help support that legacy?

Remind them of the why

If you asked any parent whether they would want to burden their children, the answer would be an emphatic no. But we often create stress and burden by not having end-of-life plans in place. If your partner is reluctant to discuss or prioritize estate planning, remind them that this is a gift you give your children - by definition, life insurance and wills don’t benefit you; they benefit the people you leave behind. By taking a couple hours to put plans in place now, you save your children time and money down the road. And what parent wouldn’t want to do that?

smiling family with baby iStock

Make a decision, not the perfect decision

I often see parents get stuck on key decisions like choosing a guardian - one of them wants their sister, the other wants their brother, and since they can’t align, it prevents them from finishing their will. With estate planning, the key is making a decision, not the perfect one. You can always revisit and update those decisions over time. It’s important to remember that some decisions, like guardianship, only come into effect if both parents pass away. If you don’t make a decision at all, then the government will make the decision for you - and it may not reflect what either of you would want.

Revisit plans often

Like a financial plan, your end-of-life plans should be reviewed and updated annually to ensure they reflect your life at that moment. For example, if you have another child later, you want to ensure they are included in your will; or if you purchase a large asset like a home, you may want to consider a life insurance policy that could pay off the mortgage if something happened to one of you. Or, if you go through a divorce or separation, you’ll have different needs than if you were in a relationship with your co-parent. Don’t let your will and other key documents gather dust in a drawer; make sure they actively reflect your life and current wishes.

Advertisement

As parents, so much of our day-to-day energy goes into ensuring our children are happy and healthy now. But discussing and planning for end-of-life is an investment in their future happiness and one that only takes a few hours of your time now. Hopefully this article gave you the motivation to have these important conversations.

This article provides information, not legal advice.

Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with your baby's development, get the latest parenting content and receive special offers from our partners

I understand that I may withdraw my consent at any time.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Named one of Bay St. Bull’s Women of the Year, Erin Bury is one of Canada’s top entrepreneurs, an active startup advisor. and a former marketer and technology journalist.

Erin is the co-founder and CEO at Willful, an online estate planning platform that makes it easy for Canadians to create a will in less than 20 minutes. Since launching in 2017, Willful has helped people in all 10 provinces to create over 300,000 wills, power of attorney documents, and other estate planning documents. Erin runs the company with her husband Kevin, and they secured a deal for the company on TV’s Dragons’ Den in December 2021.

Erin is also a board member for Save the Children Canada. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario with Kevin and her two young daughters.

Advertisement
Advertisement