If you have ever joked that you would be late to your own funeral, this information may be for you. Planning for end-of-life doesn’t sound like a particularly fun topic, however, it can be one of the most important conversations you have. Taking the time to think about and write down your wishes is empowering for both you and your family.
Making clear plans can give peace of mind. During a time when stress and sadness can be off the charts, having guidance from you can make all the difference for your family. If you aren’t sure where to start the conversation – or when – or how – these suggestions might help.
3 Steps for Talking About End-of-Life
- Set the mood.
- Set the record.
- Set a date to revisit.
1. End-of-life planning isn’t a spontaneous conversation.
With fewer families eating dinner together, it is unlikely that a productive conversation about end-of-life will happen. An important, yet uncomfortable conversation such as this needs its own uninterrupted space. Call a family meeting and set time aside to talk about the important final details of your life.
An end-of-life conversation can be difficult during times of crisis or high emotion. The holidays are often an activating time for extreme feelings so saving this conversation for a more neutral time of year is best. Particularly if family will be traveling a distance to participate in the conversation.
Topics to Discuss
Digital assets and personal business
It may take more than one session to wrap up this emotional topic, so start with a mutually agreed stopping time and stick to it if you need a break from the conversation. This may be the first time some family members have heard your wishes and beliefs about end-of-life planning. Give everyone space to think things over and come back to the next family meeting. If the conversation is moving along nicely, continue the topic until your wishes are fully understood.
2. Record your end-of-life planning in advance directives.
Decisions for end-of-life planning are best memorialized through advance directives. Deciding who will make decisions for you – and what decisions you want made – are a big part of the end-of-life conversation. Let the record reflect - executing the proper documents for healthcare and financial decisions is best done with an Elder Law Attorney.
Most Important Advance Directives
Durable Power of Attorney
Health Care Surrogate
Optimally, during your family meeting, you discussed your specific wishes about healthcare decisions and who will make those when you are no longer able. Additional conversations may be needed to fully detail expectations and feel comfortable that the person you chose will support your goals and wishes. This is an important responsibility that should be given to someone who has the strength to act in difficult situations.
Your Durable Power of Attorney includes deciding who will manage your assets – property, bank accounts, investments, and other financial holdings. In your family meetings, you may worry about alienating one child by choosing another to manage the money, but the conversation must take place. Take the opportunity to ask your Elder Law Attorney for advice on how to best manage this common challenge.
Did you know you also have digital assets including social media, email, and other online accounts? Your social media accounts will restrict access to anyone other than your Legacy Contact, assigned by you, and verified by required documentation. If you haven’t assigned a Legacy Contact, the time to get on that is now.
What’s the Downside of Not Choosing a Durable Power of Attorney?
So. Much. Downside. From financial distress for your family to probate, the consequences of not executing a Durable Power of Attorney are endless. Without the authority to access bank accounts, a family cannot pay bills. Your Power of Attorney agent may also need access to bank accounts and other assets to help you avoid probate. Probate is a lengthy and difficult process that can be avoided by taking time to create an aging plan.
I have a Health Care Surrogate – now what?
Even if your Health Care Surrogate knows you well, are you sure they know your feelings regarding medical treatment and end-of-life decisions? Typically, these are not routine conversations, so a thorough discussion should take place to express your medical goals in specific situations. If you have chosen someone who does not agree with your end-of-life plan, make a change and appoint someone else.
What is Hospice?
If you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, your Health Care Surrogate needs to know your goals regarding hospice services. Do you have any religious beliefs surrounding end-of-life care or rituals that are important to you? Do you want to remain at home or are you open to care in a hospice house or other medical facility? Your Health Care Surrogate is your advocate – they speak for you and ensure your end-of-life care is what you envisioned for yourself.
3. End-of-life planning is not one-and-done.
Before you finish your first family meeting, schedule the next one. Most likely, everyone will need time to process the thought of losing a loved one and move past the immediate sadness into a problem-solving space. There will be more questions to answer, clarifications to make, and reassurances to offer.
During subsequent meetings, conversations may turn to other matters of concern:
What happens to your loved one’s pet?
What will the funeral look like?
Have veteran funeral benefits been requested?
For any family, these open conversations can open a floodgate of feelings and emotions. End-of-life planning is a dynamic process, changing as your needs and goals change. It is never too early to start an aging plan and even better to start before there is an urgent need.
From creating an aging plan to closing your estate, your Elder Law Attorney is on your side. As your experienced guide and counsel, an elder law specialist is uniquely qualified to help you through the challenges of protecting your estate and your legacy. Learn more about how an Elder Law Attorney can help your family avoid common pitfalls with solid estate planning in the Legal and Financial Section of our Blog.