Talking to Loved Ones About End-of-Life Arrangements: How to Make the Most of the Conversation

Talking to Loved Ones About End-of-Life Arrangements: How to Make the Most of the Conversation

One of the hardest things about getting older, and seeing your parents or loved ones grow older too, is facing the difficult conversations about end-of-life care and arrangements. It’s natural to be reluctant to have these conversations. Talking about death makes it feel all too real. However, uncomfortable it may be though, avoiding the topic could cause much more grief and anxiety after someone passes than having the discussion now. Use these tips to bring up the topic in a sensitive way for a more relaxed, productive conversation.

How to Have “The Talk”

Ideally, this discussion should be ongoing, rather than just one talk, but bringing it up is often the hardest part. An expert at Daughterhood recommends starting small and using what she calls props. You can do this by starting the conversation on a positive note, and then lead into the topic as it relates to someone or something else, such as a book about end-of-life planning or someone you know who has recently lost a loved one. 

What You Need to Know

Thinking about everything you should ask your loved one can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. The three main things to consider are medical issues, financial and legal issues, and planning for final arrangements. Using a checklist as a resource can help you make sure nothing gets overlooked.

  • Medical Decisions: Part of this conversation should include discussing what type of medical care your loved one wants at the end of life. Talk to them about establishing a living will or other advance directives so that their wishes are in writing.


  • Financial and Legal Documents: Talk to your loved one about gathering important personal, financial, and other legal documents, and ask them to keep those documents in a single place where you can locate them. This should include estate planning so you don’t have to worry about what to do with your loved one’s possessions after they die.

Life Insurance and Funeral Arrangements

Many people find that as they age, life insurance is no longer a necessity. This can be determined based on one’s health or whether it’s necessary to leave a certain amount of money to beneficiaries. In some cases, it’s better to settle a life insurance policy to free up cash to handle medical expenses or to put toward funeral arrangements. Others may find that burial insurance is the way to go, as it can cover funeral costs and any medical bills that need to be paid, as well as any lingering debts and expenditures.

Planning a funeral can be complicated and costly, and the last thing you want is to be left guessing what your loved one would want while grieving. Talk about specific wishes they have for final arrangements, and ask if they have considered pre-planning.

Handling Challenges

As you think about having this conversation, be prepared for potential hesitations or conflicts. Some older adults aren’t used to talking about money the way younger generations are, so it’s possible that the financial aspects of planning will make them uncomfortable. If this is the case, your loved one may prefer to communicate their general wishes for estate and funeral arrangements without talking about specific dollar amounts. Be willing to accept where they’re coming from, but also make sure their wishes are in writing and somewhere you can access the information you need when the time comes. 

It’s also important to be mindful of family dynamics and any strain this topic may put on your relationship. Psychology Today explains how unresolved conflicts from earlier in life can affect how your parent responds to the topic of end-of-life issues. Parents may feel like this is a role reversal where you are trying to parent them. Be very clear upfront that you aren’t trying to tell them what to do and that, in fact, this conversation is about making sure they communicate what they want so that you can be sure to carry out their wishes. 


As hard as it may be to have this conversation, keep in mind that doing so now is a gift to you both. Have this conversation before the necessity arises. That way, your loved one’s decisions won’t be based on fear, and you can both feel good about knowing that you’re prepared.

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