Help Yourself and Your Family to Discuss End-Of-Life Wishes

By Stephen J. Silverberg
New York Elder Law Attorney

If your family is one that skirts sensitive topics, you may find that communicating end-of-life wishes often among the most difficult conversations you can have with your family and loved ones. It’s also a conversation that you need to have.

Spelling out your end-of-life preferences is critical and having everything prepared in the event of a life-threatening illness or other crisis can ease anxiety and stress for your family. Without this advance planning, family members can be confused and upset about your cloudy or vague final wishes.

According to an article in “10 Steps to Communicate Your End-of-Life Wishes,” the most important question might be “How do I start the conversation?” Here are some tips:

Permission. Ask your loved ones for permission before launching into the topic. This will reassure them that you respect and honor their wishes.

Planning. Right now is the best time to let your family know about your final wishes. Call our office to speak with us about creating a living will that states your treatment and care preferences in the event you are unable to speak for yourself. You also need a durable power of attorney that appoints one or more family members or trusted friends to make medical decisions for you, if you become incapacitated.

Clarity. No one wants to think abo0ut becoming too ill to make healthcare and other important decisions, but a critical injury or debilitating illness can occur at any time. As a result, it’s vital to be clear about your wishes as soon as possible—just in case.

Opportunity. Finding the appropriate time to discuss end-of-life issues can be tough, but there are certain events may give you the opportunity to do so. Milestones like the birth of a child, marriage, death or serious illness of a loved one, retirement, an anniversary, during holiday gatherings when yhou and your loved ones are together might be a good time to float the idea that a conversation needs to take place. Ideally, have this conversation before an injury or a major illness that requires you or another family member to move out of the home and into a long-term care setting.

Discussions. Have these end-of-life conversations early to make certain that everyone understands your wishes. Your preferences may also change over time and necessitate future discussions on the subject.

Purpose. Your conversations with family need to include two important goals: (i) to be sure your financial and healthcare wishes are expressed and honored; and (ii) to give them the information and confidence they need to make future decisions.

Setting. Have the talk in a quiet and comfortable setting, such as a private spot without distractions.

Listening. Whatever your role in discussing end-of-life wishes, it’s important to listen carefully. Be certain that you hear and understand what your loved ones are saying.

Pace. If you’re listening to a loved one express their wishes, led them set the pace.

About the Author
Stephen J. Silverberg is nationally recognized as a leader in the areas of estate planning, estate administration, asset preservation planning, and elder law. He is a past president of the prestigious National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), and a founding member and past president of the New York State chapter of NAELA.