People often want to make sure that they have put their affairs in order so they won’t put any extra stress on their family after their death. Some people find it easier to think about what will happen to their money and property than how they would like to be cared for at the end of their life, but both are important.
Why you might want to talk
Talking about the end of life can be very emotional, both for the person who is nearing the end of their life and for their friends and family. Your friend or relative may avoid talking about it because they:
don’t want to upset anyone
are superstitious – they think talking about it will make it happen
don’t want to be seen as morbid
assume you know their wishes
don’t know what their options are.
Don’t assume that there's no need to have the conversation because, for example, they think they don’t have anything to leave in a Will, or they have a particular faith so they’ll want to have a certain sort of funeral. It’s easy to overlook things or make wrong assumptions, so it’s good to talk things through to make sure you have a clear understanding of what they want. Discussing things out loud can be helpful for your friend or relative too, because they may be unsure of exactly what they want for themselves.
Talking things through can be a positive experience for both you and your friend or relative. The benefits of talking include that:
they'll feel in control
they'll have the relief of knowing that their wishes have been documented
you will know what they want and won't have to worry about getting it wrong
it helps family to feel involved
it can avoid stress and disagreement between family members if they have to make decisions on a relative’s behalf or after they’ve died.
We've done the whole lot, the Wills and everything else. Everybody is quite happy about it and we feel slightly relieved, if you like, that it's sorted. It has made us both feel easier.
How to start the conversation
You might not know how to begin talking about end-of-life planning. Use triggers to introduce the subject – talk about something that’s happened to someone you know, TV programmes or news items. Ask questions that encourage your friend or relative to think about what they truly want:
How would you feel in that situation?
Are there any treatments you wouldn’t want?
Have you thought about writing down what you want?
Listen carefully to what they have to say. You don’t have to focus on a worst-case scenario, because this may make your friend or relative feel uncomfortable and sad about the future. Instead, you can frame your questions in a way that focuses on what matters most to them.
I've written down what care I want, so that people know that's really what I want and they don't have the guilt or the worry. I don't know – it's something that shouldn't be thought about when you're 70. It should be thought about much earlier.
an advance decision (sometimes called an advanced directive in Scotland), which, if set up correctly, is legally binding and lets your friend or relative specify treatments they wouldn’t want to receive in certain circumstances. For example, they might want to say that if they were in a coma they wouldn’t want CPR if their heart stopped. Advance decisions would be used if your friend or relative lost mental capacity, which is the ability to make and communicate a decision when it needs to be made
an advance statement, which is a written statement of their wishes for their future care and treatment. It isn’t just about medical treatment – they can also include preferences about other matters, such as their daily routine and what food they like. It isn’t legally binding but anyone making decisions about a person's care would have to take it into account if that person lost mental capacity.