How to talk about death with your loved ones

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Coping when a loved one dies is hard. Wouldn't it be great if any 'unnecessary' grief could be eliminated? In our experience, a lot can be by simply summoning up the courage to talk about 'wishes' and 'what ifs' whilst we're alive. Talking about death and end of life planning though — your own or someone else's — is never, ever easy.

Here are some tips from our estate planning experts to help ...

When is a good time to talk about death?

Many of our estate planners tell us that the most common question they are asked is, "When is the best time to talk to my parents (or other loved ones) about end of life planning?"

Every family is different and there is no fixed way to have such a difficult discussion. What is crucial is that the conversation happens before it is too late. Unfortunately, life has a habit of springing surprises upon us, so, the best time to have such conversations is now, while you are all physically and mentally able to.

We know, we know: this is much easier to say than to do! So, here are five ideas to help you start such a sensitive and vital conversation. Before you do so though, please give some consideration to who else needs to be involved in the discussion. It is probably one of the most important discussions members of your family will ever have, and it has been known for Wills to be contested simply on the grounds that discussions were had without certain family members present.

5 ways to start a conversation with your loved ones about death

1. Watch a film together that covers the subject of aging or dying and use it as a prompt for your discussion. We recommend On Golden Pond, Quartet, Driving Miss Daisy, The Bucket List, Cocoon or The Straight Story.
2. Tell them about a news story relating to people dying without a Will, or people losing capacity before they have made their final wishes clear (we'll be posting plenty here and in our Facebook and Twitter streams to help you).
3. Share the story of a friend who has recently suffered bereavement, or written a Will, or spent time planning their estate. Explain how much better writing a Will or estate plan made them feel (or would have done, if only they'd been brave enough to have the dreaded conversation).
4. Ask them what happened when they lost their own parents, or another loved one. What helped them cope? What may have helped them to cope better? If this does not lead directly to the discussion you know you would all benefit from having, try making some suggestions, e.g.: "Do you think it would have been easier for you and them if you'd talked about it before it happened?" "Do you think it would have helped if you knew where you could find a Will that made their wishes clear?"
5. Blame your own financial advisor, who has advised you to ensure all your family's estates are in order!

Having finally got the subject on the table, how can you make sure you make the most out of the opportunity so you don't have to experience the teeth itchingly, squirmy unease you just went through to get to this stage again?

Here are our suggestions for five key questions you need to ask when talking to your loved ones about their long term wishes. We will be supplementing this information by publishing a series of articles that provide further prompts around each of these key questions over the coming weeks.

5 must ask questions when talking to your loved ones about death

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However your conversation begins or progresses, it is important that you directly express your respect of other people's reluctance to talk about death, and ultimately demonstrate this respect by calmly and kindly ending the conversation if necessary. If you are successful in getting the discussion started, here are the five key questions to ask in your own way:

1. We really hope it never happens but, if you ever become very ill and are unable to make decisions, or communicate decisions, yourself, how would you like to be cared for?
2. Just so we know we're honouring your wishes, can you let us know what you want to happen to your possessions when you die?
3. Have you thought about what sort of a funeral you want?
4. If there were ever an emergency, where would we find your Will or bank account details?
5. If you ever need to go into care, do you know how the care will be paid for?

If you are not successful in starting the conversation, or are still feeling too nervous to do so, keep in mind — and put in the minds of the other people involved in this vital discussion — the very real long-term benefits of fighting your (and perhaps their) fear of talking about death.

5 benefits of talking about a loved one's death whilst you are all still able to

1. Talking about a loved one's death removes all doubt and guilt about difficult decisions regarding end of life care, and ensures your loved ones wishes are honoured.
2. Talking about a loved one's death takes out the guesswork — and associated stress — of planning a funeral whilst dealing with the trauma of loss.
3. Talking about a loved one's death ensures that there are no nasty surprises, such as unexpected fees to pay (from settling mortgage to probate costs to Inheritance tax).
4. Talking about a loved one's death saves everybody tremendous time, costs and stress if there is clarity about their loved ones' wishes regarding their health and wealth and knowledge about where the legal documents recording these are kept.
5. Talking about a loved one's death brings deep peace of mind to all concerned - the biggest benefit of all, according to the feedback we get from the 12000 plus families we've helped so far.

Of course, you could always get a qualified Will writer involved, who will be experienced in guiding these difficult discussions. The Will Associates has over 250 qualified Will writers and estate planners right across the country, all trained to provide you and your family with the best service possible.

Have you successfully talked to your family and loved ones about their end of life wishes? If you're a parent, do you wish your kids would bring up this delicate conversation to make it easier? Do you have any ideas that might help others? If so, please get in touch.

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