How to Handle End-of-Life Planning

End of life conversations

The conversation with our parents to find out what their end-of-life wishes are is not a conversation anyone looks forward to. Whether the dread comes from facing death or acknowledging your parents are not invincible , you should move past the deterrents and find time for “the conversation,” before it is forced upon you.

Life can change in a matter of seconds and perhaps the worst thing ever is to make a dire decision on behalf of a loved one and always wonder if it aligned with their personal wishes.

Even though it may be difficult for you, most likely your parents have given the topic a lot of thought and secretly hope that you will bring it up so they won’t have to. Here are a few suggestions on how to approach the situation and what to say.

Give Advanced Notice‍

Inform your parents what the discussion will be centered on beforehand. Advanced notice will help prepare everyone and if your parents haven’t made their final decisions, they will have an opportunity to determine their preferences prior to conversation time.

Determine Who Will Be Involved in the Conversation‍

If you have siblings, this is a conversation they should be involved in. Regardless if you have already been designated as executor or power of attorney, this is a delicate conversation involving parents, the people who brought you into this world.

If siblings live out of town, notify them well in advance so they can make plans to attend the meeting in person. If attendance isn’t an option, have a conversation with each other so everyone has an opportunity to share their opinions. Failure to include siblings, or at least attempt to, will only result in resentment and anger down the road.

Prior to meeting with your parents outline the details you want to discuss. If you siblings or other relatives will be involved, decide beforehand who will lead the conversation. This will help ensure the specifics are covered and prevent it from lasting too long.

If questions arise that prevent final decisions being made in a single meeting, plan another one, but keep them short and on point to prevent awkwardness.

Setting Expectations‍

While this is not a pleasant discussion, the sooner you have the discussion the better it will be. Naturally, your parents may not look forward to discussing their death, and sometimes siblings have difficulty thinking about it too.

Death is inevitable and by taking the initiative to get the business aspects out of the way, when the sad time does arrive, you will be able to grieve with peace of mind that you are carrying out the wishes of your parents.

Details to Address‍

During the conversation, there are certain points to address. Here is a list to assist you in outlining the discussion.

Power of Attorney

The power of attorney should be designated while parents are still of sound mind, as this title will give authority to the assigned individual to make all decisions on behalf of parents, should they not be able to decide for themselves. Some siblings opt to split power of attorney duties between healthcare and financial. Discuss this in detail and have an attorney draw of the legal documents according to your state regulations.


Find out how your parents feel about hospice. Gathering information ahead of time may prove beneficial for sharing purposes during the meeting. There’s no need for an immediate decision about this to be made but it does need to be decided on eventually.

Do not resuscitate (DNR)

During this conversation, let your parents know that their wishes will be respected regardless of your personal opinions. However, they need to let you know in advance to ensure you know and understand their wishes. Likewise, involve siblings in this decision as well and ensure that everyone knows this decision is solely one made by your parents.

Advanced Directives

The advance healthcare directives consist of instructions pertaining to a health proxy, HIPAA release, and living will. The health proxy is a person designated to make decisions on behalf of the individual should he or she be unable to make their own decisions, such as in a health crises; and the living will specifies the measures that should be taken in an effort to sustain life. The HIPAA release form gives another individual access to medical information, which is beneficial in discussions and filing insurance claims.

Financial Details

You should also find out how and where to access your parents will and/or trust in place. If they do not have these matters sorted out, they need to be addressed. Other financial aspects include gathering life insurance policy information and steps for filing a claim.

Funeral Arrangements

And finally, they need to convey funeral arrangements to you. Should this be an area that needs finalization, find out their preferences and communicate with them that your goal is to carry out their wishes. Local funeral homes have detailed brochures readily available to help work thorough the specifics of services and a final resting place.

After the particulars have been discussed, everyone should be able to walk away feeling relieved that logistics are either taken care of or at the very least is in the process of being addressed. While this isn’t a happy conversation, it is an important and necessary one.

Death isn’t a surprise. It happens to all of us. Following the conversation, have dinner together and enjoy quality time and making memories that you can cherish even after your parents pass on.

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Barbara Brown holds a master's degree in Interdisciplinary Gerontology from Bowling Green State University. She is passionate about improving the lives of older adults and helping them to thrive.