60+ Key Questions to Ask Your Parents Before They Die

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Nobody wants to imagine what life would be like without their parents. It’s certainly not fun to think about them passing away and the grief to come.

But, as your parents get older, you may start to think about all the wisdom, experiences, and memories they hold.  

Jump ahead to these sections:

Their stories are part of their legacy. Take some time to sit down with your parents and ask them to tell you their favorite stories. A great way to prepare for the grief of losing a parent is to interview them.

To help out, we’ve come up with a list of 60 questions you can use as prompts. If any of your parent’s answers intrigue you, keep digging deeper!

Questions to Ask Your Parents About Their Childhood

It is certainly hard to imagine our parents as children. This is your opportunity to find out all about what that experience was like for them. 

Here are 10 questions about their childhood to get your interview started:

1. What is your very first memory?

This is the perfect question to get you started. Have your parent think back to their very first memory, and then ask follow-up questions from there.

2. What was your neighborhood like? 

Find out more about where they grew up and their community. You can also dive into questions about their school and what that experience was like for them.

3. What was your relationship like with your parents? 

It should be interesting to hear what it was like for your parents to grow up with your grandparents.

Once they get going down memory lane, you can then ask follow-up questions about your grandparents.

4. What was it like growing up with your siblings or without siblings?

You may know what your parent’s relationship is like with your aunts and uncles in their adult life, but dig into what growing up together was like.

Did they fight? What was their favorite game to play together? If your parent was an only child, ask them what that was like.

5. What kind of food did you like growing up? What was your favorite meal?

There’s something about food that elicits strong memories. Asking about the kind of food your parent ate and loved growing up is sure to ignite some great conversation.

6. Who were your role models and why?

Finding out who your parent looked up to when they were growing up can tell you a lot about why they’ve become the adult you know and love.

7. Who were your favorite celebrities? What were your favorite TV shows, movies, and songs?

Regardless of how old you are, entertainment looked totally different when your parent was a kid. It’s fun to hear what their favorites were back in the day, and you might even get to share a giggle about their first celebrity crush. 

8. What was the world like when you grew up? Did any major newsworthy events happen during your childhood?

Perhaps your parent lived through a war, natural disaster, advancement in technology, or other major events.

Their answer to this question is bound to be interesting and can give you a lot of insight into their experience.

9. What was the most difficult part of your childhood?

When getting a full history, it’s important to hear about the challenging experiences too.

You might also find out that your parent faced some serious obstacles in their childhood that made them the extraordinary person they are today. Try to listen with an empathetic, non-judgmental ear. These events are long in the past.

10. What is your favorite memory from your childhood?

Always end on a positive! With this last childhood question, give your parent an opportunity to reminisce on the good old days.

Hearing about their favorite childhood memory is sure to bring a smile to both of you. 

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Questions to Ask Parents About Their Relationship or Love Lives

When my grandma was in her 90s, my parents sat down and interviewed her. She had escaped Nazi Germany, and they knew that they had to document her experience for future generations. But they found out something else too — she had been married and divorced before she met my grandpa! My parents had no idea and were shocked. 

Interviewing your parents on their relationships and love lives might bring some surprises, but can also bring clarity. 

11. Did you have a first crush? Who was it? Did you ever act on it?

Get your parent thinking about their love life by starting right at the beginning. 

12. Tell me about your first love.

You can skip this question if your parent tells you that their first crush became their first love, but in all likelihood, these are two different people.

Dig deep — don’t be afraid to ask some details of their relationship and why they broke up (unless, of course, their first love is your other parent — how sweet!).

13. How did you meet my other parent? 

Even if you’ve heard this story a million times, now that your parent is an open book, have them tell it again. You never know if there’s a detail they may have left out all these years.

14. What has your relationship been like with them?

Whether your parents’ relationship was good or difficult, it’s an important part of your family’s history. It might give you a new perspective to hear about their relationship in their own words.

15. How would you describe your spouse?

It isn’t often that we get to hear our parents talk about the person they love and what they love about them. Be open and curious!

16. How did you know your spouse was the one?

It’s possible that your parent may never have thought this through themselves. It will be sweet to hear how your parent realized their soulmate was the one, and maybe there was a single moment it dawned on them that they can share with you. 

17. What was your wedding like? 

Get all the details! Who was there? Where was it? What was the planning like? 

18. What’s your strongest memory from your wedding day?

Find out if there was a moment that really stands out.

19. Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your love life? 

It is important to find out about regrets. You’ll likely learn something you never knew about your parent, and there might be some essential life lessons to unearth.

20. What is your most romantic memory?

This could be a date, vacation, or just a special moment frozen in time.

Questions to Ask Your Parents About Their Careers or Hobbies

People spend so many years defining their careers and hobbies. It’s often an important piece of their legacy. While you probably knew what job your parent had while you were growing up, you might not know specifics about their passion, dedication, or career trajectory. 

21. Why did you choose the college you went to?

Choosing where to continue your education after high school is a huge decision. Ask details on how your parent landed at their college. If your parent didn’t go to college, skip to question number 24.

22. What were your college days like?

College is an incredibly unique time. Your parent was likely a totally different person during their college years.

This is a great opportunity to discover a side of your parent you may never have known existed.

23. How did you choose your area of study?

This is a great transition question to open up the conversation about their career.

24. What was your very first job? Tell me about it.

Their first job may not have been in line with their future career. Maybe they worked at the local grocery store or as a camp counselor. If they start to talk about their career, that’s great too. 

25. What’s your least favorite job you’ve ever had?

Just like some of the previous questions, this answer can divulge some great life lessons and values.

26. What’s your most favorite job you’ve ever had?

We use the language “favorite” rather than “best” intentionally. Best can sometimes add a value judgment — they may think that the best job they ever had was the one where they made the most money or had the most important title — even if it wasn’t the job that made them the happiest. 

27. What three words would you choose to describe your career?

Asking for three words is a great way to help your parent summarize the whole of their career. It’s not a strict rule. They can elaborate as much as they like!

28. When you look back at your career, do you have any regrets? 

The intention of this question isn’t to make your parent feel bad about something they wish they had done differently in their career. It’s an honest look at their history, and there are many lessons they can pass onto future generations.

29. When you look back at your career, what are you most proud of?

This question really gets at their legacy. What your parent is most proud of in their career is likely a large part of the impact they made in the world.

30. What are some hobbies or work you did outside of your career that you’ve loved or are proud of?

You can ask about sports, volunteer work, or anything else your parent did that they’re proud of that was outside of their nine-to-five.

Questions to Ask Your Parents About Life Lessons and Values

Your parents have been teaching you life lessons and values your whole life. Your experience of what they’ve taught you may actually be different from their intention. Hear in their own words the life lessons and values they’ve picked up over their lifetime, and what they wish for you and future generations to know.

31. What is the most important thing your parents ever taught you?

Your parents likely learned some of the lessons and values they taught you from their own parents.

It will be interesting to hear what your grandparents taught your parents and what they learned from their own life experiences. 

32. What was your greatest adventure?

Your parent’s greatest adventure will, no doubt, be a fascinating story to hear. There’s also always a lesson to unearth out of a great adventure.

33. What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you? 

It will be refreshing to laugh for a moment (if you haven’t already). Whether or not this story is embarrassing, there is likely a lesson that came out of it.

34. What are the most important things in life?

Hear in your parent’s words what the most important things are in life. This is bound to spark a conversation about their values.

35. What do you wish you could tell your younger self?

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. Values and lessons will emerge for you and future generations as you hear from your parent what they wish they could tell their younger self. 

36. How did your values change as you got older?

So many more lessons to be learned here!

37. What were you most wrong about?

While nobody likes to admit they were wrong, being wrong sometimes is a crucial part of life. It’s how we learn.

Finding out what your parent feels they were most wrong about, can give you insight into their choices, obstacles they may have overcome, and who they’ve become as a result.

38. What was your parenting philosophy?

Popular parenting philosophies have undergone massive changes over the years. Philosophies your parents utilized with you might be completely different from how you raised your own kids.

This answer can also help you understand why your parents may have made some of the choices they did.

39. What is the happiest moment of your life?

You can also ask if your parent has a ‘happy place,’ and if this place has changed throughout their life.

40. Are there any sayings that ring true for you?

Are there sayings your parent has told themselves over and over to help them get through a tough time or to remind themselves of what is really important?

Questions to Ask Your Parents About Your Family and Family Tree

Having a family tree is a wonderful way to preserve your family’s history. Plus, the more you find out about your family, the easier it will be to understand why your parents are the way they are, and therefore why you are the way you are. 

41. Who is the oldest relative you remember?

Matriarchs and patriarchs change with each generation. Find out who your parents considered their elders.

I love to tell my family about my Great Great Aunt Greta and the twenty-dollar bill she sent for my birthday each year!

42. Is there anyone in our family that I haven’t met that you want me to know about?

Perhaps there is an estranged family member you’ve never heard of. Or there might be a family member who died young that your parents never told you about. Now’s a good time to find out.

43. What did your family do to celebrate holidays when you were growing up?

Spark their memories by asking them what their home smelled like on their favorite holiday. You might even find out about old family traditions you want to restore.

44. Tell me the story of each of your kids’ births.

Even if you’ve heard your own birth story many times before, you never know if a new detail or funny tidbit might arise.

45. Describe my siblings and me.

It’s very rare to hear another person describe you, and this can be a really special thing to hold on to. You can ask them to choose three words if that helps them answer.

46. If you wanted to teach each of us something, what would it be?

Have your parent answer for each of your siblings and you separately. The lessons they want to impart on each of their children may differ.

Even if some of these answers get uncomfortable, try to remain judgment-free, curious, and push through for the sake of having a fully documented life history.

47. Did you ever find out anything surprising about your relatives or family tree?

Perhaps your grandparents had an estranged relative that they didn’t find out about until one of their parents passed. 

48. Who was your favorite relative?

Your parent may have had a favorite aunt, uncle, or grandparent. Have them tell you all about this person and why they loved them so much.

If it’s someone you’ve known, you might even get to see one of your own relatives in a different light.

49. How did your parents meet?

This is a perfect leeway for finding out as much as possible about your grandparents. Once they finish this story, you can ask any other lingering questions you may still have about your grandparents.

50. Can we draw our family tree together?

This is a fun activity that can you can do together to ignite more conversation about each of your relatives and family members.

Questions to Ask Your Parents So You Know Their Final Wishes

Talking about death and dying is never easy, but it’s crucial to understand your parent’s final wishes so that you can get their wishes right when the time comes. 

51. Would you like us to have a celebration of your life together before you pass away?

Living funerals are a wonderful way to celebrate your parent’s life before they pass away. It can be like a family reunion of sorts.

It’s a great opportunity for them to see people they haven’t seen in years, and to hear the impact they’ve had on their loved ones with living eulogies

52. What details of your funeral are important to you?

This is one of the first questions Cake asks in our end-of-life planning tool. Your parent might choose to leave all of the details up to you, or they may have a specific vision for after they pass. 

53. Are there any physical markers in your memory that you want us to be able to visit?

There are various options — they may want a gravestone or to be buried in a mausoleum with a marker. Or perhaps they would be more interested in a living memorial, such as a tree planted in their honor.

54. Do you want to be buried, cremated, or something else? 

Understanding what your parents want to do with their bodies after they pass is important. This is also a good time to open up a dialogue on this if you have a preference.

There are other options as well, such as biodegradable pods or urns, or you can even turn ashes into diamonds. If they choose burial or cremation, find out where they would like their body or ashes to be kept.

55. Are there any traditions you would want us to follow on the anniversary of your passing?

If your mom lights a candle each year in memory of her mom’s passing, for instance, she might like the idea of you carrying on the tradition when she’s gone.

56. Do you have all of your affairs in order? Who should we contact to understand your final wishes when you pass?

Your parent may need your support creating a will or end-of-life plan, and this is a good opportunity to help them.

If they already have a plan in place, it’s important to know where to find it once they pass.

57. Who are the people that you trust to make medical decisions for you if you can’t communicate?

It’s wise to find out if they have a specific family member in mind, especially if that person is you. You can ask why they chose the person they did, and this might help you understand their wishes more clearly.

58. If we have to make medical decisions for you, what do you want us to know?

You might also want to also ask about medical documentation. Do they have a DNR or any other documents that express their wishes? 

59. How do you want to be remembered? What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

Your parent might have to think about this one, and that’s okay. Allow for some silence so that they can give an answer that’s meaningful to them. 

60. Is there anything I didn’t ask that you want to talk about?

Leave this question totally open for your parent to answer however they’d like.

After the Interview 

You might be wondering what to do with the interview once it’s complete. It depends on the medium you used to capture your parent's answers. Did you transcribe it, audio record it, or videotape it? Regardless of the method, it’s a good idea to start with a thorough edit. 

If you transcribed it, you could add photographs, artwork, and magazine cut-outs to transform their life story into a scrapbook. If you recorded audio, you could create a video by playing the audio over a picture slideshow of your parent’s life. If you videotaped it, perhaps cut it with some pictures and home videos to make a movie about your parent’s life. 

You can always enlist the help of a professional artist, editor, or videographer for any of these projects. They make great thank you gifts for your parents, and they are also wonderful to show at funerals, memorial services, birthdays, holidays, or to future generations.

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