Someone you love is aging. Or maybe, facing a potentially terminal illness. And you know it’s time for them to think about long-term care and end of life planning because in the end, it will ultimately impact you, and whether you choose to play an active role or not is a choice we must face one way or another.
So how do you broach this delicate topic when it feels so uncomfortable to acknowledge?
The first step is to acknowledge that it can be a difficult or uncomfortable conversation. Give yourself time to consider how you want to bring it up with your loved one.
Ideally, considering end of life matters would be something we regularly spoke about and got comfortable with before the end of life was near, but that’s not generally the case in our culture.
You can change that going forward, and I’ll share guidance for how to make end of life discussions a regular part of your family conversations.
But, if you haven’t already begun incorporating long-term care or end of life discussions into the culture of your family, it could be awkward at first. Especially if your family member is ill.
Create a safe space for the conversation. Prepare your loved one in advance that you would like to speak about something that could be difficult, but also will provide peace of mind that his or her wishes will be known and honored.
Maybe the first meeting would be with just you and your loved one and be more generally exploratory with an intention to schedule more specifically focused future meetings with other family members included, based on the desires of your loved one.
During this first meeting, begin by acknowledging any discomfort and your desire to create a supportive field based in clarity and understanding. If you find yourself speaking more than your loved one, ask more questions to open a space for listening and clarity.
Consider that this conversation can happen over more than one session and does not have to take place all at once.
Educate yourself about what will happen when your loved one becomes unable to handle his or her financial affairs, make medical decisions for him or herself, and then also what will happen to their assets and personal effects when they die.
Understand what your role will be if your loved one doesn’t take any action, and how that will impact you and other family members. Ask your loved one what role they would like you to take, rather than assuming. And reassure your loved one that you have no expectations, but that you will be involved as much or as little as he or she desires.
Be prepared to share that with your loved one so he or she can decide if the state’s default plan is sufficient to meet his or her wishes, so action can be taken if an alternative plan is desired.
Here’s the bottom line: learn to ask the right questions and then listen deeply. This may be a difficult topic for your loved one to discuss, so make sure you are bringing your curiosity, not answers, and then staying open to truly hear what your loved one wants.
If you need support on the right questions to ask, check out the Conversation Project. Their Conversation Starter Kit, available for free on their website, has a series of questions that you can use to begin the conversation about end of life care with your loved one.
Be able to answer questions. If your loved one hasn’t thought about estate planning, make sure you can help him or her make important decisions about their estate plan and end of life wishes. You may want to consult with an experienced lawyer who handles estate planning first, and suggest your loved one speak to us at de Jesus Law Group for a full Legal Life Planning Session.
You can offer to attend the Session with your loved one, but be prepared for us to confirm with your loved one (outside of your presence) that he or she feels comfortable with you in the room and that he or she was not pressured into having you present.
Discuss estate planning and end of life wishes with your loved one before it’s too late. If your loved one becomes incapacitated or dies before you have an understanding of his or her wishes, it will be challenging to ensure their medical choices, and the management of their estate will be handled they way they would have wanted. And, you could end up in Court, unnecessarily. We are here to help your family stay out of Court and out of conflict. It’s our mission.
Finally, you may want to check out the Five Wishes process for discussing and documenting end of life medical-decision making. In the event that you do, please contact us after the Five Wishes document has been created so we can review it for you and your loved one to ensure that it will meet the requirements you will need to actually support your loved one, in the event they cannot make their own medical decisions.
If you need to come in and meet with us over the coming summer months, because you are visiting family or having family visit, please contact us to schedule now and we’ll do our best to meet when it’s the best time for you either in office or via Zoom.
If you haven’t been through your own Legal Life Planning Session, perhaps start there. This is a Session during which we look at everything you own and everyone you love to determine what would happen if something were to happen to you, based on the State’s plan for you. By understanding the default plan, specific to your personal situation, you are able to make informed and empowered choices and can then help the people you love do the same.
Contact us to schedule time for us to do this with you. By considering your own planning first, you can let your loved one know that you’ve looked at these issues for yourself and you would like to share what you’ve learned and perhaps invite him or her into a Legal Life Planning Session to consider his or her options.
Then, when your loved one is ready, consider bringing him or her to meet with us for their own Legal Life Planning Session. We are here to support you each step of the way.