How to get Parents and Loved Ones to do End-of-Life Planning

How to get Parents and Loved Ones to do End-of-Life Planning

In many parts of the world, especially in Africa, superstition is a big deal. Everyone  knows that death is an inescapable reality, but often there is a school of thought that suggests planning for death means inviting it into their home or tempting fate. This is most prevalent with aged parents and relatives.

If it isn’t tempting fate, then the issue is that “one cannot talk about these things with children”. Unfortunately, when you look around you realize; we are the adults now. If or when our elderly relatives pass on, it has started to fall to us to deal with the logistics and issues that come with a loved one’s passing.

This reluctance to deal with death and the admin and issues around it often leads to confusion or a burden on family left behind or those who can take a decision when the time comes, but have no idea how to go about it. Getting your parents and loved ones to do this End-of-Life planning can go a long way to ease this burden.

It is important to plan for life, but also very important to plan for death. Before we move into details of how to achieve this, let’s take a closer look at what End-of-Life planning entails. There are four major aspects to consider;

  • Healthcare Planning

The idea is to make certain decisions now, while you can, in the event that there may be a time, when a decision is needed but you cannot make it. Defining care choices is a caring and responsible thing to do in the event that you do get incapacitated in the future. For your parents or loved ones, it is important they leave a legal document and a will that states their preferences for when that time comes. Do they want to be kept on life support (artificial nutrition, bypass machines, ventilator) or not? What are their orders on resuscitation? Would they rather be in a nursing home or is there a member of the family that can be a caregiver? Who would that be? Is it explicitly stated or implied, i.e do they know? Would they like to donate their organs or tissues? Will they delegate a healthcare power of attorney to someone in case it is needed?

  • Financial Planning

No one can underestimate the importance of financial planning. Anyone doing End-of-Life planning should put together a document that lists what they own and what they owe. You should also decide what must be accomplished financially before you pass. This can include paying off a debt or a mortgage. The banks are usually way ahead of you here; If you have a bond or mortgage, you almost always have cover for the outstanding portion of a homeloan.

There are other things that need to be planned for though. Areas of financial planning include investments, debts, bank accounts, life insurance and businesses. All of these should be clearly identified, actions spelt out and safeguards emplaced, but revealed to a loved one or trusted attorney.

  • Funeral Planning

For some people, making a funeral plan is part of their End-of-Life arrangement. Some even go ahead to pay for the expenses. Your parents and loved ones can do the same by specifying who should be notified about their death, the funeral home they’d like, the type of funeral service they want, how the obituary should be written and, as mentioned earlier, how the funeral expenses are to be afforded. For very elderly people or those who have a terminal illness, this can be an exceptionally comforting step to take. It may seem trivial, but for your old great grandfather, knowing he will not be buried in the brown suit he hates is very empowering.

  • Estate Planning

Some people see the estate plan as the overall document that covers healthcare, finances, decisions about children (especially minors) and funeral arrangements. This is not far from the truth. The basic issues pertaining to estate planning include assets owned, beneficiaries, power(s) of attorney, decisions about assets for minor children, last will and testament, a living trust, and other such decisions that may not be as straightforward.

These are the four basic, but closely related subjects that are discussed in End-of-Life planning.

Ok, so now you know what it means, how though do you get parents and other loved ones to do it? Talking about the reality of your parents dying, especially with them is not an easy topic, but it is a necessary one. Here are some useful tips;

  • Do It Yourself

We begin with this point because there’s no better way to convince someone to do something than showing them. Doing your own End-of- Life Planning will take the sting out of it and show them it’s not a bad thing after all. It can also tear down superstitions that they may have as well as challenge them to go ahead and get theirs done.

  • Starting the Conversation

With such sensitive subjects, breaking the ice is the most important part of the process. How do you begin? The best way is to use the knowledge you have of them. Are they “monitors” (people who cope by getting more information) or “blunters” (those who want to avoid planning but will depend on you regardless)? How do you think they will respond; the usual “do you think I’m dying” or dismissively? This important knowledge will help you plan your approach.

If an incident has just occurred, like a recent illness, a near-death experience or the loss of a loved one, you can ride on that incident. If you have a newspaper article on the subject, you can simply talk about it. You could say, “Dad, I read about a man’s story today and it got me thinking”.

  • Be Personal

You’re their child after all. it is important they see that you really care and you need them to take care of you by doing this important task. This will also work if you have experienced something life changing yourself. You can use that to get them thinking.

  • Use Interesting Content

There are several blogs, articles and podcasts that talk about and deal with the idea of death. You can share these with your parents or loved ones to get them to take that big step. If they are podcast listeners, Radiolab’s What doctors want at end-of-life vs. what the rest of us want is a great one. How to die is another great one with a local twist. For book lovers, we particularly find Roz Chast’s “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasantvery resourceful. Sharing such content with them is an easy way to get them to make up their minds.

  • Cite Inspirational Examples

There are several examples to cite, from the dad who wrote several ‘post-mortem’ letters to his son before he actually died to the inspiring story of Emily Debrayda Phillips who wrote her own funny but very inspiring obituary. These are people who planned for their death and eased the burdens on their bereaved. If you have personal examples, you can cite them as well, especially those that your parents or loved ones can relate with. Humour may also work here; “Nobody gets out of this life alive……”

  • Discuss Consequences

Perhaps, telling them what can happen if they fail to engage in such planning can trigger their desire to do so. There are many cautionary tales of families that have been torn apart by disagreements over how a loved one is put to rest or how an estate is to be divided.

  • Show Your Worry

It is your parents, siblings and relatives we’re talking about. As much as you’re trying to get them to do this, don’t be afraid to show them how difficult it is for you to talk about it as well. Showing that you’re willing to have them do it even as hard as it is for you can inspire them to take that step.

A great resource for End-of-Life planning is the “Purple file”, a free resource put together by our friends at Love Legacy Dignity.

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