According to USA Today, 90 percent of people think it is important to have end-of-life conversations with their loved ones, yet only 30 percent of Americans are actually doing it. This disparity is easy to understand. We know that we should be aware of the wishes of our loved ones surrounding their death, but the conversations themselves seem too difficult. However, it is essential for us to address these questions head-on for the benefit of the whole family.
How to Proceed
Some people will be open and proactive about the subject. However, some may be too proud, scared, or embarrassed to bring up their end-of-life arrangements themselves. They may even try to avoid the subject when you bring it up. If this is the case, it is your responsibility — along with the rest of your family — to make sure the conversation happens.
Be kind and patient, do not force anything, and explain to them that you want to talk about this so they can have the end-of-life that they want. If you enter the discussion fully armed with every question you need to ask, you won’t have to do it again. This will keep the conversation useful and productive rather than overwhelming. Below are the key things you need to address.
End-of-life care includes how someone is treated in the last days or hours of their life, but also how they are supported in the years leading up to it. You need to establish what sort of end-of-life care your loved one is envisioning:
- How would they wish to proceed if they needed support for basic tasks?
- Do they want to live with family, independently, or in a retirement home?
- Would they want to be kept on life support in case of a long-term illness?
- How would they like to manage their pain?
- What are their preferences for hospice care?
Up to two-thirds of Americans don’t have a Will. This is the bare minimum you need to have to make sure your wishes are respected after your passing. Your Will should include what property you mean to pass on, who it should be passed on to, guardianship arrangements for any children or dependents (this includes pets), and an elected executor to handle your estate.
The AARP recommends having this discussion as a family, with all siblings and concerned persons present. This makes sure everyone is informed and allows for open conversation. This is a particularly important conversation for young people to have with their parents, as the millennial generation is set to inherit more from their families than any generation before them.
Find out your loved one’s wishes for after they die. Would they prefer to be buried and, if so, where and with whom? If they want to be cremated, do they have a preference for what you should do with the ashes? You can also ask about details such as who they would like to be present, what music they would like, or what kind of ceremony they prefer.
Financing and Insurance
Growing old and dying can be expensive, with some elderly care costing over $8,000 a month. Even for people with Medicare or health insurance, out-of-pocket care for the last five years of life can average $66,000. The average funeral costs between $7,000 and $10,000.
Because of this, you also need to find out how they plan to finance their care. Do they have savings and, if so, how much? What Medicare and Medicaid options are available to them? Have they looked at financing options and, if not, can you help them go through these? For instance, they could get a critical illness rider on their life insurance or sell the life insurance policy outright to free up cash.
Many of us choose to put these discussions off, telling ourselves there is plenty of time and that our loved ones are doing well. What we fail to understand is that this is exactly why we should address these issues now, while they are healthy and capable of having them. If you wait until a loved one is ill to have these conversations, you may find it is too late.
Beverly created StandUpForCaregivers, which aims to protect and advocate for the health and well-being of adult caregivers. Her goal is to someday build the website into an online community for caregivers