4 in 10 Americans can't bring themselves to have candid conversations about death with their parents

·3-min read

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic leading to a rise in will-making, half of Americans still find it "nearly impossible" to discuss death with their family - a phenomenon particularly true for adults trying to speak to their older parents. 

According to a new survey of 2,000 Americans, 47% of people have gone out of their way to avoid talking about death with their parents. 

Surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't necessarily led to more of these conversations. 

Four in every ten people have never discussed the possibility of their parents' death with them before.

Even with media focused on rising Coronavirus-related deaths across America, only 12% of those who had never spoken to their parents about death before 2020 did so for the first time this year.

The other 88% percent of this group still haven't had the conversation.

Commissioned by FreeWill, a free online willmaker, and conducted by OnePoll, the survey found about a third (37%) of Americans have only discussed the possibility of their parents' death with them in passing. Less than a quarter (24%) have discussed it extensively.

This lack of discussion may be due to the fact that many Americans just don't feel prepared to have the conversation.

More than half of those surveyed (51%) have little to no idea what to expect when their parents die, and 47% do not have a will or trust.

In addition, many report not feeling emotionally ready to deal with the inevitability of their parents' death. Nearly a quarter expect to cope poorly when they lose a parent.

However, 60% of people would be more willing to discuss their parents' or their own final wishes if they knew how to approach it. Removing stigma around death could go a long way towards easing the conversation.

"So many people are fearful about bringing up end-of-life concerns, but the reality is that the stigma only exists if we allow it to," said Jenny Xia Spradling, Co-CEO of FreeWill.

"Being open with your loved ones about death should be treated no differently than discussing health concerns or other important issues - which is to say, openly and honestly. In many cases, clarity is kindness." 

Some of the reluctance to discuss estate planning and other end-of-life concerns may also stem from a lack of knowledge. 

More than four in 10 (44%) Americans believed that a lawyer is required to generate a last will and testament, and eight percent of those who haven't made a will believed that they couldn't afford to. 

While this could help to explain why close to half (47%) of people have neither a will nor a trust set up, it's an incorrect assumption, as multiple no-cost avenues for creating a last will and testament do exist (and are perfectly legal). 

In fact, of those Americans that have set up at least a will or trust, nearly one in five (19%) used software instead of a lawyer to generate it. 

Another interesting trend that emerged: Of those that had already set up a will, less than a quarter of them left money to a nonprofit organization, and one-third of people who haven't donated to charity in their wills simply didn't know it was an option. 

"So many people want to leave a legacy that's meaningful to them, but think that doing so will require excessive cost or elaborate planning, and that couldn't be further from the truth," added Jenny.

"Free, online estate planning options make it easier than ever to lay a blueprint for your legacy without burdening your loved ones, and make having those tough conversations that much easier."