How to Open Up About End of Life Planning

End-of-life planning is a difficult topic to discuss under any circumstances. For family members, the topic can be tough to broach because they don’t want to imagine a reality without their loved one or don’t know how their loved one will react to this type of conversation. For those who are terminally ill, it can be just as hard or intimidating to approach the topic with their children or loved ones. They may be worried about burdening their children with sorting out care options or may be waiting for a physician or caretaker to initiate the conversation for them.

According to The Conversation Project, 92% of people say that talking to their loved ones about end-of-life care is important, but only 32% actually do. While having these conversations can be difficult, it is more difficult to handle these things after a loved one has passed away. In reality, discussing end-of-life plans can actually give everyone a sense of control and certainty, allowing you and your loved one to make the most of their days without the fear of unanswered questions.

Wherever you are in life, end-of-life conversations aren’t easy — but they’re necessary. The first step is getting started.

Educate and Empower Yourself 

American society as a whole views death as taboo, making it even more difficult to feel comfortable discussing it. The more that people broach the topic with loved ones, the better educated and empowered both parties will be to navigate their loved one’s final days and, when the time comes, their own. 

Tips For Talking About Death

One of the best ways to approach an end-of-life discussion is to educate yourself on the issues you want to discuss beforehand and prepare questions. If you need to talk about estate planning, desired care options, or whether or not to consider in-home care, educate yourself on what’s relevant to your situation ahead of time.

Look for opportunities to open up a line of communication with your loved one. The holidays or even the death of a family friend may present an opportunity. Family often gathers together and becomes reflective during these events and this can be a natural progression into a conversation about end-of-life plans.

End-of-life plans aren’t just medical decisions, they also involve personal preferences and important planning documents. To help you prepare, here is a list of talking points and topics to guide you:

Things to consider/prepare:

  • Last will and testament. This states an individual’s final wishes for their estate.
    • Ask: If something happened to you, I’d want to make sure your last wishes were honored. Have you thought about writing a will?
  • Power of attorney. This is a written authorization to act on behalf of another person if an individual is unable to make sound decisions.
    • Ask: If you were no longer able to make medical decisions for yourself, who would you trust to make those choices for you?
  • Advanced healthcare directives. These specify how a person should be cared for if they aren’t able to make decisions for themselves.
    • Ask: What kind of medical treatment do you want if you’re terminally ill (i.e., chemo, ventilation, intubation, etc.)?
  • End-of-life housing. This is where your loved one may spend their final days, whether in-home or in a hospice facility.
    • Ask: What are your preferences for future long-term care?
  • Life insurance. This can help loved ones and family members cover funeral expenses or other final expenses.
    • Ask: Have you considered whole or term-life insurance?

Other questions to ask:

  • What worries you about death? (i.e., managing pain, leaving behind loved ones, etc.)
  • What’s most important to you during the end of life? (i.e., repairing relationships, fulfilling a bucket list, etc.)
  • What would you like to have “in place” before your final days? (i.e., paperwork, a hospice provider chosen, etc.)
  • What do you currently know about your health? (i.e., medications taken, symptoms and pain management, etc.)
  • How would you like to be remembered? (i.e., death announcement, funeral and burial arrangements, etc.)

Using these topics and questions as a guide, you can better understand your loved one’s wishes.

 Still struggling with how to start the conversation? 


Voice Your Choice with Hospice of Southwest Ohio

Hospice of Southwest Ohio is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care. Having tough conversations about the end of life doesn’t have to be scary. It’s never too early to begin researching your options as you age. Hospice care provides comfort, rather than a cure, at the end of your lifetime and focuses on enhancing the quality of life during final months and days. At Hospice of Southwest Ohio, we’re happy to answer any questions you may have about end-of-life care. We offer hospice, palliative and in-home primary care in and around the greater Cincinnati area in Clermont County, Butler County, Warren County and Hamilton County.

Call Hospice of Southwest Ohio with questions at any time at (513) 770-0820.

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