How to Share Your Final Wishes with Your Family
According to research by The Conversation Project, 90% of Americans want to talk to their family members about what happens when they die. This makes sense, as we’re a country of independent people who believe in taking care of their responsibilities. But the media is frequently filled with unfortunate stories wherein the families of celebrities and regular people alike are overwhelmed with funeral plans and estate concerns because they were unclear on the final wishes of the deceased.
In this article, we want to help you with the following:
- Figuring out what you want
- Telling the right people what’s important to you
- Preparing you and your loved ones for the future
We believe that planning is essential to making good decisions, and it’s especially true when it comes to your after-life care. The more you get ready now, the greater the peace of mind your family will feel when the time comes.
Determine What Your Final Wishes Are
It’s good that so many people want to share their after-death plans with the most important people in their lives. However, a study conducted by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine revealed that 75% of people haven’t made any real preparations. Thus, before you can talk about your final wishes with your family and loved ones, you need to first figure out what you want to do.
Few of us really like paperwork, but it’s one of the most important aspects of effective post-death preparations. Here is a list of the key documents you should assemble in a single secure location:
- Living Will – what you want to happen if you’re alive, but can’t communicate
- Health Care Power of Attorney – the person responsible for making decisions about your health
- Durable Power of Attorney – the person responsible for paying bills, taking care of finances, and other such tasks
- Last Will and Testament – what will happen to your stuff and responsibilities after you die, including your estate, finances, assets, debts, etc.
With this information in your possession, you’re ready for the next section.
That “Living Will” we just mentioned should be chock-full of specific conclusions you’ve made about your life. You should provide clear instructions about what you want to happen during your last days and after you pass away. This includes, but isn’t limited to:
- A DNR, or do-not-resuscitate order
- Life-saving treatments
- End-of-life care
- Organ donation
- Care for your body
You’ve made some hard choices about your last days, but there are a few more to go.
Many people have very specific ideas about what they want to happen after they die. Thus, since you won’t be there to see your plans carried out, it will help your family greatly if you could give them clear guidelines for anything funeral, such as:
- Type of burial
- Type of ceremony
- The music for the event
- The guestlist
- The distribution of family heirlooms not listed as part of the formal estate in the last will and testament.
Your family wants to remember you during this time, not plan an event. They also want to honor your wishes, so be as direct as possible.
Have the Talk
Now that you know what you want, it’s time you tell people, specifically your close family, friends, and decision-makers. It will do you no good to collect all those documents and assemble all your plans if you don’t share them with others.
However, we also know that not everyone likes having conversations where death and dying are discussed. This is especially true when you’re talking to your children and grandchildren about what to do when you’re gone. Thus, we recommend taking this 4-step approach to broaching the topic and then have a successful chat about your final wishes.
1. Start Small and Safe
Start with as few people as possible, even if it’s just one person. This should be an intimate and heartfelt conversation with the people closest to you. Grant them the respect of gathering a tiny audience in a safe place so they can be honest and open with their feelings.
2. Start Light
The theme of this chat shouldn’t be “I want to talk about what happens when I get sick and die.” You want to show your loved ones that you’re simply thinking about the future AND that you’re thinking of them.
If you want to have a thoughtful talk with only one or two people, bring along a favorite memento to serve as the focal point for the discussion. If you’re talking in a larger group setting, we recommend keeping things lighter by playing with The Death Deck, which is specifically designed to help people have important conversations about difficult topics.
3. Speak with Compassion
Obviously, your family will be worried that you will die soon if, out of the blue, you want to talk about your plans for when you do die. Start by recognizing their fears, and then present your final wishes clearly, complete with the location of your essential documents and records. While not sugarcoating the details of the talk, you should focus on the positive and allay your family’s concerns about the future.
4. Settle Up with Clarity
The point of this talk is to first share your final wishes and to ensure that your family and loved ones understand them. You should walk away knowing that everyone understands each other, especially the people you have asked to take on responsibilities if you do enter your last days and pass away. As before, don’t make this about “Be ready when I die.” Keep the tone of “I just want to be prepared and thoughtful.”
Communication is the Key to Sharing Your Final Wishes
It’s essential that you and your family members remember that these plans aren’t about death and dying; they’re about planning. Preparing for the future is a good habit in general. If you plan for a vacation, home improvement project, or paying for your kids’ college, you should also follow those same principles with planning for the day you eventually die.
But the whole point of these plans is to communicate them to others. If your friends and family members don’t know what your final wishes are, they can’t fulfill them. And if they don’t know where they are — as some of them have to be presented as legal documents to doctors and attorneys — they also can’t fulfill them.
Ultimately, both you and your family deserve the peace of mind that comes from knowing exactly what you want for your future and then making all possible plans so it comes to pass. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to make this happen.