Facing the Future: Starting End-of-Life Conversations Now

Facing the Future

The majority of people want to discuss their own end-of-life care with loved ones, but only a few actually have these conversations.   As the saying goes, there is no time like the present.  Conversations with adult children, family and close friends about health, financial, legal and end-of-life issues are hard topics to broach, but imperative to have.  Open conversations provide the opportunity to inform and set realistic expectations, and ultimately, your wishes are more likely to be followed. 

Conversations should include the reasons why you are making certain choices for your end-of-life care and this may ultimately bring you and your loved ones closer than before.  Start these conversations early so there is no question about your mental aptitude or state.  If you’re not sure how to start, the following four steps will help you undertake the conversation about the rest of your life.

STEP ONE:  THE DECISION

First, decide that you will have the conversation.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is a hard step to get past.  Below are a few common reasons why people don’t get past the first step and how to move forward

I don’t want to burden anyone.  You must create open communication for your children and family to be informed.  Your family will be more burdened if they do not know what you want.

I don’t have time, or there is plenty of time to do this in the future.  Sometimes you don’t have the time that you think you will.  Illness, accidents and death are often unexpected. 

I need to get everything organized first.   Rarely will all the stars align.  Don’t wait to be “organized,” or the conversation may never happen.  By starting the conversation, your family may be able to help you get everything in place. 

I don’t have anyone that I trust to be in the roles that will be needed.  If you don’t have family or friends to rely on, advance planning is even more critical.  While it is usually preferable to rely on people you know, professionals can be hired to fill the needed roles.

There are tensions between family members.  When siblings or other family members do not get along or you have children from different marriages, you may have some tough decisions.  The key is honesty.  Separate conversations with individual family members may help.  Neutral non-family members or professionals can be used in the needed roles to help keep the peace and make unbiased decisions on your behalf.

I don’t want anyone to know my business or I don’t want to give up control.  It is understandable that you want to maintain your privacy, but you can communicate your wishes without divulging specifics. Having conversations does not mean you are giving up control.  It is just the opposite – you are planning for and taking control over your future, should you need assistance.  You are putting the pieces together so that your future wishes are carried out. 

I don’t want to give the expectation of a large inheritance.  You do not need to talk about the details of your finances. The goal is to get all of the involved parties on the same page to avoid unwanted surprises in the future.

I don’t like thinking about or discussing death, especially mine.  No one enjoys thinking about getting older and death, but avoiding the topic is a disservice to you and your family.  You must do your part to make your wishes known, answering questions that may arise and make the future transition easier for the people who will help you. 

If you are hesitant to initiate the conversation, try to focus on the benefits, such as making your wishes known, creating the path for an easier future transition and helping to avoid your family or friends from being overwhelmed.

To help you feel comfortable and to facilitate the conversation, you can invite your financial advisor, estate planning attorney or other trusted professionals to be part of the meeting.  They can help answer any technical questions that arise, make suggestions and act as a neutral party if needed.

STEP TWO:  WHAT AND HOW TO DISCUSS

Think about what you want to discuss.  You don’t have to cover everything in the first conversation. You may have a folder or computer file that includes key documents, but telling your family where to find the folder or file is not enough.  Go over the actual documents and offer your family the opportunity to ask questions.  You can create a list to guide the conversation.  You may start off by referring to a common obstacle you all faced, such as a car accident or a family member’s recent death, to explain why you want to initiate the conversation now.  Some suggested topics to review include:

  • Health and Medical:  Health and medical considerations, including health issues, diagnoses, a list of your doctors and medications and where to find your health insurance cards and policies.
  • Professional Contacts:  Who should be contacted if you are incapacitated or upon death?  These contacts should be the professionals who manage your assets and developed your estate plan (financial advisor, accountant, estate planning attorney and insurance agent, among others).
  • Legal:  Who are named in the roles of Financial Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Executor and Trustee?  What is expected of the people that fulfill these roles should also be discussed. 
  • Important Documents:  Location of important documents such as your estate planning and financial documents.  Other documents may include location of any safety deposit boxes, loans or other liabilities, insurance policies, beneficiary information, pensions, other property, Social Security card, birth certificate and online passwords.
  • Other:  Anything unusual or specific, such as valuable jewelry, art, collectables or a coin collection.  If specific items are to be bequeathed to certain individuals, then this should be discussed as well, especially if it may cause tension between family members.
  • End-of-Life-Decisions:  This topic is usually the hardest to address.  These decisions may include living arrangements, medical treatments and care preferences, do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders or other life prolonging measures and after-death arrangements.

STEP THREE:  THE CONVERSATION

Now it is time to have the conversation.  This might be a good time to use Zoom, Skype or a similar video conferencing tool, if you won’t be able to meet in person.

Remember that this is a conversation, which gives you the chance to present your information and your family to ask questions.  It is counterproductive if the conversation turns hostile or family members start bickering. Take a break or pause and resume the conversation if needed.  A talk with individual family members may be needed or including your professional team may be a good way to ease any initial tensions. 

STEP FOUR:  REEVALUATE AND REPEAT AS NECESSARY

Now that you have had a first conversation, you and your family should reevaluate and repeat as necessary.  After the initial conversation, while it is still fresh in your mind, you should write out anything you forgot to say, ask or want to clarify. As life changes (both in terms of health and finances for you and your family), so do your planning needs.  You may need to change/update your contacts, beneficiary designations, estate planning documents and other important information based on changed circumstances. 

The key take-away is that you must be proactive and not wait for the “right/perfect” time to begin these important conversations with your family or others.  Contact us for more strategies to start these conversations.

Stay safe and healthy,

Michael Fuhr, CFP®

Evergreen Wealth Services

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