How to Start a Conversation About End of Life Planning

Summary: Knowing how to start a conversation about end of life planning is important, if not always pleasant. Sometimes tips can help you know where to begin. But in some cases, you just have to feel out your relationship with your loved ones. Your experience will be different depending on that relationship. But you have to start somewhere.

Learning How to Start a Conversation About End of Life Planning

Talking about end of life planning is never easy. But it’s important. Sometimes just knowing how to start a conversation about end of life planning can make the experience easier. We are all acutely aware of our own mortality–usually–so it’s just getting around that initial awkwardness that can hold some people back.

How you start this conversation is going to depend heavily on the kind of relationship you have with your loved ones. And this goes for both sides of that discussion. If you’re the parent, talking to your children can be delicate. If your the child, you want to make sure you broach the topic delicately.

That’s why we’ve got a few tips on the topic. End of life planning is, unfortunately, quite complex. So how you start a conversation on end of life planning may have much to do with particular areas you’re concerned about.

What Does End of Life Planning Mean?

Before we talk about how you can start these conversations, it might be useful to briefly discuss what end of life planning actually means. Obviously, everyone passes away at some point. Our lives are varying lengths–and so preparing for death often entails a bit of guesswork. We can’t accurately predict when we’ll pass away so we have to prepare for that day early.

That preparation can come in many forms. And, frankly, the more complicated your life has been, the more complex end of planning will be. In general, you’ll want to consider the following:

  • A plan to distribute any property or assets you might have (usually in the form of a will or a trust)
  • How you’re going to pay back any loans or debt that might be outstanding
  • Any dependents that might, well, depend on you should have a plan in place
  • If you want special treatment requirements (for example, a do-not-resuscitate order), those should be filed legally as well

There’s more that goes into end of life planning, of course, but you’re starting to get the idea. One thing that many families don’t talk about–but which they should–is how to handle nursing home care and hospice care. Medicare treats each of those situations differently–though they can both be a significant drain on one’s finances (that’s not meant to sound callous; I’m just trying to emphasize that nursing homes are incredibly expensive).

Tips to Start the End of Life Conversation

Again, this isn’t necessarily an easy conversation to have, on either side of the divide. It will be easier if you have an open and trusting relationship between yourself and your adult children (or vice versa). But not everyone has that. Raising kids is hard. And any time you’re around someone for, well, a lifetime, it’s easy to build up resentments and divisions.

Your mileage on these tips might vary. As already stated, much will depend on your relationship with your parents.

The Tips:

  • Try to keep the conversation as low-stakes as possible.
  • Ask a lot of questions. You can try something like “what are your wishes?”
  • Offer support. Sometimes this can be financial support (for example, for a trust or wills attorney to draw up papers) or emotional support.
  • Start the conversation early. Many people will wait until a health scare or terminal prognosis. But, frankly, the conversation might go better if it happens before these things (which doesn’t mean you should not have the conversation if you’ve had a health scare).
  • Try to have this conversation casually. Bring up your concerns over dinner.
  • Don’t push too hard. If one party isn’t ready to have this conversation, don’t push it if you don’t have to

The Biggest Tip: Remember to be Kind

The biggest and perhaps most important tip is this: remember to be kind. Yes, this is an important conversation. And if you want your own end of life wishes followed, you need to make sure people know those wishes (a piece of paper locked in your desk won’t do any good if no one knows it’s there).

Above all, have these conversations with as much love and kindness as possible . Because at the end of day, that’s what really matters. How to start a conversation on end of life planning is often hard to know. Hopefully these tips can help you get through a tough, but important, discussion.

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