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Five Ways to Talk with Your Loved One About End-of-Life Issues

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How do you begin the discussion with your dad about sensitive subjects like advanced directives and end-of-life planning? How about designing a pre-planning checklist for yourself? (After all, you'll need one someday, too.) You might begin by engaging your dad in conversation: "Dad, I'm preparing a checklist in the event something happens to me . . . and for the inevitable. Would you look this over and see if this makes sense to you?" If possible, involve all siblings in the process. If you make copies of this checklist for Dad and your siblings, he would be more likely to pull one together for himself. This could even turn into a family project, whereby the adult children help suggest and gather the information, so that everyone stays in the loop. And, if everyone is working on their own checklist, Dad won't feel so "singled out."

Here are five tips to help you broach these sensitive subjects.

  1. Keep it light.
    Have this talk at a time that is not serious. Try to make it a fun experience; reserve a private dining room in a restaurant or videotape it, film a family movie.
  2. Immediate family only.
    Limiting this type of meeting to immediate family members is often more efficient. The group is smaller; your parent will likely be delighted to spend time with just his or her children and be more open to the discussion.
  3. Don't make it an intervention.
    Think about how you would like to be approached with such matters. Maybe start by sharing a story of another family in a similar situation or produce your pre-planning checklist and talk about how you are "getting your affairs in order."
  4. Make good use of a holiday gathering.
    This may be when all family members are present and, therefore, a good opportunity to devote some of the time to discussing these details. Perhaps the oldest sibling could initiate the conversation, but no sibling should be left out.
  5. Limit initial expectations.
    Even though a talk about end-of life issues may have been on your mind for a while, it might not be top-of-mind for your parent. Allow your parent to process the proposals and maintain as much dignity and independence as possible. It might be easier than you imagine.

Download the full "40/70" Five Ways to Talk with Your Loved Ones About End-of-Life Issues PDF (350 K)

Expert advice from Jo Meyers, author of Good to Go: A Guide to Preparing for the End of Life, The Ultimate Planning Guide for Baby Boomers and Their Parents. For her book, Jo interviewed 30 professionals and Baby Boomers about end-of-life issues. Good to Go is her personal story with appropriate humor and professional advice about pre-planning for death. Good to Go contains an at-a-glance, personal, pre-planning checklist that can help anyone address the inevitable without intimidation.

For more tips about talking with your seniors about a variety of subjects, see the resources on our additional resources page or contact your nearest Home Instead office.

Last revised: December 8, 2010

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