Studies indicate that the single most powerful thing a person can do to improve their chance for a good death is — simply and directly — to talk about it.

Whom To Talk To

First and foremost, talk to those who have the greatest impact on your care options — your personal physician, your designated healthcare representative, and your family or other loved ones. Additional people who need to know about your end-of-life concerns and wishes include your estate attorney, caregivers and friends.

What To Talk About

You’ll want to talk about the topics covered in this guide: your values, your wishes for end-of-life care, your designated representative, other elements of your advance directive. You may want to bring up other topics as well, such as your financial plans and plans for care of your body after your death. And a single conversation will likely not be enough. Your situation and your wishes may change over time.

Avoiding Future Conflict

You may discover that some of those you talk with do not agree with or support your wishes. As noted earlier, you have the right to change physicians or to name a different healthcare representative who supports your desires. If you anticipate that other family members may strongly disagree with your preferences, communicate directly — verbally and in writing — with them, and be clear that if they cannot support your wishes, you do not want them involved in your healthcare decision-making. Keep in mind that if physicians hear of disagreement among loved ones, they could be justified in continuing unwanted treatment to avoid a possible lawsuit or licensing complaint.

When To Talk

Death can be a difficult topic to bring up, but the time to talk is now. One approach is to set aside time to initiate a conversation about it. You might select a family gathering or a time when illness and doctor visits provide an opening. Or you could prepare to introduce the topic when a particular subject arises, such as concerns about losing various aspects of your independence. Decide whether individual conversations with specific family members or a group discussion would work best. Perhaps begin by giving family members a copy of your advance directive.

Some Ways to Start the Discussion:

  • “It’s important to me to be able to talk honestly with you about my concerns and wishes if I ever become seriously ill or unable to speak for myself … ”
  • “My doctor/attorney, says I need to go over my advance directive … ”
  • “I want to make sure that I get the best care possible and the type of care that I want, so there are things we should talk about … ”
  • “I’d like it to be as easy as possible for my family to make medical decisions on my behalf if I ever become incapable of communicating my wishes … ”
  • “If you are ever in a position where you need to make healthcare decisions for me, it will be helpful for you to know what I really want … ”

Download the Advance Planning Toolkit

Now that you have read the advance planning guide, download the full My End-of-Life Decision Guide and Toolkit for helpful forms, checklists and templates for all you planning needs (beginning on page 15).

NEXT: Advance Planning Toolkit