8 Tips For Talking About Final Wishes with Your Loved Ones

A somber looking young man with his arm around an older man seated next to him.

As you approach the end of your life, there are several decisions you’re going to have to make about how you’d like things to proceed. It’s important to share these decisions with your loved ones. But understandably, your family might not be eager to have this difficult conversation so we have some tips to help.

Why Discuss End-of-Life Wishes?

It might seem like this conversation will bring up more difficult emotions than it’s worth but it’s important and you might find that your family is more receptive than you’d expected. According to statistics, the overwhelming majority of Americans feel this conversation is important: 92% of Americans say it’s important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care but only 32% have had such a conversation.

  • 92% of Americans say it’s important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care but only 32% have had such a conversation.
  • 95% of Americans say they would be willing to talk about their wishes and 53% even say they’d be relieved to discuss it.

If you feel ready to talk with your loved ones about this topic, but you aren’t sure where to begin, here are some tips that can help. 

1. Ask Yourself the Tough Questions First

Before you talk to your loved ones about your final wishes, you need to know what those wishes are verbally or through a last letter of instruction. Spend some time on your own figuring out your preferences before you share them with family. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Would you prefer to pass away at home instead of in a hospital or assisted living facility?
  • Do you make major decisions by yourself, or does the whole family need to agree?
  • If you are unable to make medical decisions by yourself, who would you like to step in?
  • Would you want to be resuscitated, if necessary, on dialysis or a breathing machine? 
  • How much independence do you want to retain? 
  • Are there any life events or milestones (either yours, or a loved one’s) that you want to reach?
  • Who will receive your money and assets?
  • Do you have any pets who will need taking care of?
  • Who will manage your trust and estate once you pass away?
  • Do you have a power of attorney? 
  • Would you prefer burial or cremation?
  • Do you have any certain wishes for your funeral service, obituary, or tombstone? 

It can also be helpful to complete the sentence, “What matters to me most is ____.” This can help you hone in on what you truly value as you approach your golden years. 

Once you’ve organized your thoughts about your wishes concerning your health, your finances, and other pertinent areas of life, you can approach your family to communicate and discuss your preferences with them.

2. Choose Who Needs to Know Your Wishes

Your immediate family should be part of this discussion (assuming they are supportive and you have a good relationship). But you don’t have to stop there. You might also want to have this conversation with:

  • Extended family members
  • Close friends
  • Doctors or other medical professionals
  • Caregivers
  • Members of the clergy

3. Put it in Writing

Write down the most important wishes you’d like to communicate during this conversation or write a letter of instruction. If you’re worried that you will forget what you wanted to share or that you’ll be overcome with emotion, writing out your talking points can offer a handy guide to make sure everything that needs to be said gets said.

4. Pick the Time and Place

Time and location play a major role in determining how the conversation will go. Choose a time when your family is relaxed and together (a holiday weekend or a family wedding likely aren’t the best times). Morning is also better than evening or afternoon — our ability to address conflict and make decisions is often better in the morning.

A good location might be at a park surrounded by nature, tucked away in a quiet corner of a coffee shop or in a safe, familiar environment like your back porch.

5. Make It Meaningful By Connecting

Your end-of-life conversation doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. As you talk with your children or other relatives, share family memories and ask what kind of traditions they’d like to start with their own families. This is a special, meaningful time where you can connect with your family on a deeper level. 

6. You Start the Conversation

If you still feel unsure of how to approach your family, try one of the following conversation starters to get things moving:

  • “I’d like to talk about something.”
  • “Can we schedule a family conversation soon?”
  • “I’ve been thinking about the future and I wanted to share what I’ve decided.”

Reassure them that nothing is wrong — you simply have some important questions you’d like to discuss. When in doubt, keeping it simple and straightforward is best. 

7. Be Open

This conversation isn’t just difficult for you, it may be hard for your loved ones to hear too. If they don’t react the way you’d hoped, try your best to have patience. They may need some time to process what you’ve said. In that case, you could schedule a follow-up conversation a week or two later.

If you and a family member continue to disagree on a decision you’ve made, that’s okay. Make it clear to your loved ones that you want and appreciate their support as you figure out how to navigate the difficult decisions associated with the end of life.

8. Take Action

Once you’ve brought everyone up to speed about your final wishes, it’s time to carry them out. In some cases there may be paperwork you need to complete, such as a Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) order, a health care proxy, or a living will. 

Figure out what you need to do now for your end-of-life wishes to play out the way you want them to. Then you’ll be free to enjoy your golden years with the support of your family and loved ones by your side.

Want more? Please read our blog Finances and the Death of Your Spouse: 14 Things to Do Now

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