Having A Final Wishes Conversation
The holidays are quickly approaching, and for many of us that means spending quality time with family and the people we care for most. It can also be a perfect opportunity to sit down with your elder loved ones and have a conversation that many people in this country avoid—one about final wishes.
It’s not that Americans don’t want to talk about the end of their lives. A recent poll conducted by The Conversation Project found that 9 in 10 Americans are eager to talk to their loved ones about their end-of-life wishes. But a mere 27% have actually taken the step to sit down and actually have that conversation.
Jazmine is among a number of organizations who think that’s a problem and are encouraging people to sit down with their parents or elderly loved ones and take the steps necessary to be properly prepared for end of life or life-threatening emergencies.
It’s no secret that the end of life or an emergency can be a harrowing time filled with tough, emotionally wrought decisions. How does a loved one want to be cared for? What are their preferences for care if they’ve become incapacitated? Who do they want making decisions for them? Where do they want to spend their final days? What arrangements do they prefer after they’ve passed on? Having the conversation with your loved ones can make these tough questions easier to handle in moments already full of stress and anxiety.
But there are steps we can all take to make end-of-life planning easier. And it all begins with having that first conversation with your loved one. The Conversation Project and Begin the Conversation are among a number of great resources available to help you have this conversation with your loved one and know what kinds of information you’ll need to collect to be fully prepared for the end of life.
Below we’ll give you some advice on best practices and show you how Jazmine can be used as a vital tool to prepare you and your loved ones for the future. We strongly encourage you to educate yourself further through both The Conversation Project and Begin the Conversation, as well as explore the other resources at the bottom of this post.
Preparing For The Conversation
Starting the conversation with your loved one about end of life care can be intimidating. Many people feel uncomfortable with the topic. That’s ok! Doing a little prep work can go a long way to help overcome those nerves. Here are some popular recommendations for what you can do ahead of time to help make the conversation with your loved one a little easier.
- Write yourself a letter or email. It’s a perfect way to get down all of your thoughts in one place.
- Practice having the conversation with a friend. Doing a trial run with someone you trust can help you get past that initial nervousness.
It’s also helpful to make some practical considerations ahead of time.
- Pick an appropriate time to have the conversation. The holidays or other family get-togethers are perfect for some. Others might prefer a less busy, quieter time to have the talk.
- Find a comfortable location. At the kitchen counter? On a long walk through the neighborhood? Over a nice dinner at your loved one’s favorite restaurant? You know them best and will know where they’ll be most comfortable.
- Choose who should be there. A one-on-one conversation works for some. Including other family members or loved ones might be right for others. However, be sure that you talk to most of the people who might be involved in your care—for example, talk to all of your children, and not just one. This can avoid conflicts and misunderstandings down the line.
- Write down the most important things you want to talk about. When it comes to end of life care, there is a lot of stuff to discuss. Don’t worry, we’ll get to some examples soon.
Finally, there are some very important points that are helpful to keep in mind before talking to a loved one.
- This is the first of many conversations. There’s a whole lot to cover. Remind yourself that this is constantly evolving discussion that will get more comfortable as time goes on. You don’t have to accomplish everything in one shot.
- Be patient and don’t rush your loved one. Some people need more time than others to talk about end of life issues. It’s a difficult subject and recognizing that will make a huge difference.
- Don’t try to drive the conversation in one direction or another. Let it happen. Listen to your loved one. What they want to talk about is most likely going to show you what is most important to them.
- Don’t judge your loved one’s wishes. It’s vital that they feel they can openly discuss their opinions, no matter what those opinions might be.
- Don’t worry about disagreements. You and your loved one might not agree on certain types of arrangements and points of views. Don’t sweat it. It’s better that it comes up now than in the middle of an end-of-life crisis.
- Decisions can change. There’s no decision that can’t be revised. This discussion is just a starting point.
Having The Conversation
At this point, you’re probably wondering: where do I begin? Depending on your love one (you know them best) there are a handful of approaches that you can use to get the conversation started. Here are a few ice breakers that experts in end-of-life preparation recommend trying:
- “Hey Mom, could you help me out with something…”
- “Dad, I was thinking about what happened to my next door neighbor John, and it made me realize that we haven’t prepared for the worst…”
- “Grandma, I just answered a few questions about how I want the end of my life to be. I want to show you my answers. I’m wondering, what would yours be?”
- “Aunt Betty, do you have a half hour to help me with some planning for the future?”
- “Pops, I was reading about a guy my age who was in an accident and his family’s been arguing over whether or not to take him off life support. I’d never want to put our family through that so I’m making an appointment with an estate attorney next week to put together all the necessary information in case I become incapacitated. I was wondering what plans you had in place?”
Remember, exactly how you start the conversation isn’t the most important thing. What’s important is just getting the conversation started.
Once you’ve got the ball rolling, there are a number of topics you’ll want to address during your first conversations. Here are a handful of questions that experts suggest you ask during the first conversation:
- What matters most to you when you think about the last stage of your life?
- Do you have particular concerns about your health?
- What kinds of things do you think you need to get in order or discuss with your loved ones.
- Who do you want to be involved in your end of life care?
- Where would you like to receive care? (Home? Nursing Facility? Hospital?)
- Are there certain kinds of treatment you’d prefer? Treatments you’d rather not have?
- When would you want us to switch from curative care to comfort care? From hospital to hospice, or in-home care.
Some end of life care specialists recommend starting by asking your loved one to finish the sentence: “What matters to me at the end of life is…” Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. How you approach the subject is up to what you and your loved one are most comfortable with.
Also, don’t forget to write things down. It’s important to make sure you have your loved one’s wishes clearly recorded. This will help you continue planning after your initial talk.
What To Do After The Conversation
Now that you’ve opened up the discussion with your loved one, it’s time to organize all the necessary documents involved with end of life care.
Here is where Jazmine comes in!
There are a handful of legal and medical documents that you’ll need to have prepared for an end of life event. It’s important to have copies of these documents in an easily accessible physical location (like a filing cabinet in your home) and in a secure place online that allows you to share and reference them easily (Jazmine.com!). IMPORTANT: Do not keep your will and advance directives in a Safe Deposit Box. A Safe Deposit Box will get sealed by the bank upon your death and will not be accessible until the court has recognized and appointed an executor.
- Health Care Advance Directive: This document provides instructions about your loved ones health care wishes. It usually includes:
- Living Will: a document where a person states their preferences for medical treatment in the case that they become incapacitated and are unable to express themselves.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: this document gives legal authority to another person to make healthcare decisions for your loved one if he or she becomes incapacitated and is unable to make decisions for themselves. This person is known as their health care proxy. Your loved one can include instructions or guidelines for these decisions as well. This document helps your family avoid any stress over who should make decisions about a loved one’s end-of-life care.
- Durable Power of Attorney: similar to the durable power of attorney for health care, this document gives legal authority to another person to manage your loved ones affairs, including personal and financial affairs, if your loved one becomes unable to make these decisions for themselves. Instructions on how affairs should be handled can be included in this document.
- Last Will and Testament: is a document in which your loved one names a person or people (executor) to manage the distribution of their property after they’ve passed.
- Trust: is an arrangement where a person or institution (the Trustee) holds the title to property or assets for the benefit of other people (the Beneficiaries). Trusts are useful for lifetime management of substantial assets.
- Medical Records: not only should your loved one have a record of their medical condition(s) handy, but they’ll also want to have their medicare and/or medicaid identification number and card, insurance policies, and a list of the medications they’re taking (with dosages) available for easy access.
- Letter of Instructions or Final Wishes: is a non-legal document that you can create so that your wishes are known to your executor and family members. This typically contains information on burial wishes, cremation wishes, organ donation wishes and so on.
Gathering Important Documents
There are number of other documents that are helpful to have on hand in preparation for an end-of-life event. You can use Jazmine to collect these documents and keep them stored, safe, and shareable for when you or your loved one needs them. These documents include your loved ones:
- Birth certificate
- Social security card
- Life insurance Policy
- Long-term Care Insurance
- Mortgage and Rental Documents
- Utility Bills
- Car insurance and car title
- Bank records
- Credit card information
- Passwords and online account information
- List of assets and debts
- List of Household Bills
- Federal and State Tax Returns
- Bank or financial planner contact information
- Power of attorney
- Pre-paid burial trust or contract
Remember, Jazmine can help you organize all of these documents and keep them safely stored online.
We suggest you review and update this information annually or whenever you change your wishes.
Getting On With Your Lives
After you and your loved one are finished gathering their documents, it will help them do what’s most important and get on with their life! Helping them make their end-of-life wishes known and gathering all of their necessary documents will give both you and them peace of mind.
Much of the information here can be found on The Conversation Project, an organization dedicated to encouraging people to have the end-of-life conversation with their loved ones and helping people prepare for it every step of the way. Their Conversation Starter Kit is a very useful tool for organizing your thoughts for your initial end of life conversation.
Check out these other resources as well:
- Begin the Conversation
- Aging with Dignity
- Take Charge of Your Life
- Area of Agencies on Aging
- National Association on Aging
For legal help, check out: