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How to Start The Conversation
End-of-Life and Estate Planning 

Thinking about the end of life can be hard enough without defining what that actually means. Part of human nature is to avoid or delay decisions about something we don’t want to think about, which can be especially true about the end of life.

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What is End-of-Life Planning?

End-of-life planning is defined as planning for what you wish to have happen when you die. If everyone died suddenly and instantly while they were still healthy, the process would be much easier. However, that is not what usually happens. 

The end of life is a process and one that can involve scores of heart-wrenching and difficult decisions. Planning ahead is essential for us all, not just people who are dying. Many loved ones, relatives, and friends want to honor your wishes and legacy. End-of-life planning also means thinking and talking about how you wish to be cared for in the final months of your life.


You may ask, why do planning now? Why not wait? If you wait until you are sick, mentally impaired, or die without plans in place, your wishes may not be honored. Making these decisions now while you have a clear mind puts your mind at ease and reassures those who care about you. By planning ahead, you can also make any financial, legal, and practical issues following your illness and death easier for your family to handle.

End-of-Life Planning Checklist: 33 Items

How to Do End-of-Life Planning for Yourself


Current health and finances

  • Estate plan. An estate plan is a comprehensive and legally binding set of documents that outlines your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets, the management of your financial affairs, and your loved ones' care.

  • Healthcare and financial power of attorney. A healthcare and financial power of attorney allows you to designate a trusted person to carry out your wishes should you become unable to do so.

  • Living will. A living will permits you to specify your healthcare preferences and treatment choices in advance, particularly regarding life-sustaining medical procedures.

  • Review of current medical conditions and prognosis. If you have been diagnosed with a chronic medical condition, understanding your illness and prognosis will help you make informed decisions about the future.

Aging goals

  • Boost physical and mental health. As you age, consider taking proactive steps to improve your health. Set and commit to health-related goals for significant health and financial benefits. 

  • Learn about housing options and costs. Some people can age in place, but not everyone. Familiarize yourself with housing options early in case you need more care someday.

  • Review future insurance options. Medicare eligibility begins at age 65. Become acquainted with your choices so you make an informed decision when the time comes.

  • Review medical providers. Changing medical providers isn’t always easy or seamless. Make sure you are satisfied with your healthcare team. If you aren’t, consider making a change.

Living arrangements

  • Your current home. The big house you bought for a family may not be appropriate once the kids leave home. Will you want to downsize? Review the long-term cost of maintaining a single-family home. Aging in place may require making significant structural changes to your primary residence.

  • Explore other housing options. Your community may offer different living situations, such as co-housing or shared housing,  more conducive to socialization.


Healthcare and long-term care insurance 

  • Long-term care insurance. Are you at an age where long-term care insurance makes sense? Explore hybrid plans allowing for some of the principal to return to your heirs upon your death.

  • Evaluate your current health insurance. If you have any chronic diseases, how will they affect your long-range planning? Can your current health insurance cover your needs?

  • Future care. As hard as this is to discuss with your family, an open, honest dialogue is important. 

Advance care directives

  • Healthcare power of attorney. A healthcare power of attorney allows you to indicate medical care you do and don't want to receive if you can't speak for yourself. Part of this process involves identifying the person you want to fulfill your wishes. Every state has  a different healthcare directive form

  • Financial power of attorney. A financial power of attorney, also known as a durable power of attorney for finances, is a legal document that grants someone the authority to manage an individual's financial affairs and make financial decisions on their behalf. There are different ways to construct a financial power of attorney —you can designate someone to have immediate authority or upon a specific triggering event. 

  • Living will: A living will differs from a healthcare power of attorney because they address end-of-life care and life-sustaining treatments.

  • Will: A will is a document that allows for the distribution of property and assets upon your death. Everyone needs a will.

  • Trust: A trust is used for various financial and estate planning purposes and can protect, manage, and distribute assets according to the grantor's wishes. 

  • Life Insurance: Life insurance is a financial contract that provides a predetermined sum of money, known as the death benefit, to your beneficiaries upon your death.

When is the Right Time to Plan?


Significant events in your life can trigger planning and reorient your thinking about what you want and need. Some possible times to prepare or review your plan include:

  • Marriage. Partnering with someone else is a perfect time to review your health, finances, and wishes. 

  • Divorce. If you get a divorce, you may want to change your healthcare and financial proxy to someone else.

  • Significant medical changes. If you are diagnosed with a chronic medical condition or experience a life-changing disability, you will want to reevaluate your end-of-life wishes and interventions.

  • Financial obligations. Finances aren’t static. As life changes, so do your financial obligations. You may have one or more kids going to college or find yourself caring for an elderly parent.  

  • Having a baby. Everything changes when you start a family, and planning for your child's future is an excellent time to start planning. 

  • Change of career. Losing or changing jobs can place enormous pressure on your finances. You may need to reevaluate your long-range plan to account for a change in income.

  • Becoming a caregiver. Most of the time, we think about caregiving for an aging parent or grandparent, but many people also care for disabled children. Becoming a caregiver can have a life-changing impact on you and your family.

How to get loved one to plan

Talking about your end-of-life plans is never easy, and it can sometimes feel impossible to start these conversations with your loved ones. This is especially difficult if your loved ones aren't ready to break down these walls. Luckily, there are different strategies for encouraging them to take the first step with you.


Begin with small talk

Every conversation about death and mortality should begin and end with a specific goal in mind. Although you can’t predict how a conversation will end, you can undoubtedly guide how you purposefully enter it. 

Introducing death and dying in small, digestible chunks can make the conversation more palatable and less likely to turn your loved one away from it. Every little step builds progress toward answering or resolving any unanswered questions you may have concerning your loved one’s end-of-life wants and needs.

Consider their needs

Everyone has specific wants and needs near the end of their lives, and these things don’t always tie into end-of-life planning, burial, and funeral arrangements. Talk to your loved ones on a more intimate level about the things that matter most to them.

You might be surprised to find that the things holding the most meaning for your loved ones are different from what you envisioned. Give them the time, space, and opportunity to formulate their thoughts and words without interjecting your ideas first.

Have open communication

Try not to cram everything into one conversation. When discussing your loved one's needs, allow for an open-ended dialogue that continues into more than one sitting. Making tough decisions can be emotionally taxing and can place individuals on the defensive, causing them to shut down.

Break things down into small, manageable pieces, and let your loved ones know when you'll pick back up on the conversation so that they're not surprised. Knowing ahead of time what to expect can help them better prepare for your discussions so that their input becomes more meaningful.


Ask pointed questions

Talking about aging, declining health concerns, death, and dying can help avoid unintended consequences in planning for your loved one’s final days. You can help them achieve contentment and find closure by creating a trusted space for them to have these conversations. Consider your loved one’s vulnerability and their need for transparency and honesty. 


Next Steps: Putting It All Together

Here are some general next steps to take as you plan. You may have completed some of these, while others still need attention. 

  1. Assign healthcare power of attorney.

  2. If appropriate, set up a trust with an estate planning attorney. An estate planning attorney can also help you set up your healthcare power of attorney.

  3. If necessary, especially if you are older, assign a financial power of attorney to a trusted family member. You can give immediate control or upon some precipitating event that triggers authority.

  4. Living wills change depending on your medical condition and age.

  5. Meet with a financial planner who can assess your financial health/retirement/aging goals and help you plan for adult children.

  6. Write a will. 

  7. Start to think about, plan, and investigate housing and care options as you age.

Planning For Yourself Now and For the Future

Life is unpredictable. No amount of planning can change the future, but it can provide a safety net for you and your family. Getting started now and completing all the steps will bring a great sense of relief and accomplishment. There's no time like the present to prepare for the future. 

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