Prestimulus subsequent memory effects (preSMEs)—differences in neural activity elicited by a task cue at encoding that are predictive of later memory performance—are thought to reflect differential engagement of preparatory processes that benefit episodic memory encoding. We investigated age differences in preSMEs indexed by differences in ERP amplitude just before the onset of a study item. Young and older adults incidentally encoded words for a subsequent memory test. Each study word was preceded by a task cue that signaled a judgment to perform on the word. Words were presented for either a short (300 msec) or long (1000 msec) duration with the aim of placing differential benefits on engaging preparatory processes initiated by the task cue. ERPs associated with subsequent successful and unsuccessful recollection, operationalized here by source memory accuracy, were estimated time-locked to the onset of the task cue. In a late time window (1000–2000 msec after onset of the cue), young adults demonstrated frontally distributed preSMEs for both the short and long study durations, albeit with opposite polarities in the two conditions. This finding suggests that preSMEs in young adults are sensitive to perceived task demands. Although older adults showed no evidence of preSMEs in the same late time window, significant preSMEs were observed in an earlier time window (500–1000 msec) that was invariant with study duration. These results are broadly consistent with the proposal that older adults differ from their younger counterparts in how they engage preparatory processes during memory encoding.