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It’s human nature to put off thinking about or dealing with unpleasant topics. And for many people, death and dying is one of those topics. So it’s not uncommon for a person to reach their senior years without putting any detailed end-of-life plans in place. 

As the loved one of a senior, you might want to help them start this challenging task. However, you might not know where to start either. If there’s a senior in your life who’s starting the process of end-of-life planning, the tips below can help you help them.

1. Ask them questions.

A good place to start with end-of-life planning is simply asking some of the difficult questions. Although it can be tough to think about some of these topics, you might find it easier than you expect. 

End-of-life planning questions are a great way to learn more about a senior loved one as well as start thinking about your own end-of-life plans. 

Here are some questions to ask: 

  • Have you thought about your end-of-life wishes? (You might find that they have thought about this quite a bit but haven’t put their plans into place.) 
  • Have you ever created a living will (aka advance directive) or a last will and testament? 
  • What are your thoughts and feelings about cremation and burial?
  • Which would you prefer, and how strongly do you prefer that option?
  • What do you want done with your remains? (Which cemetery, where to scatter the ashes, et cetera.)
  • Who do you trust to make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to do so? 
  • Who do you want to execute (carry out) your will?
  • Who do you want to take care of or adopt your pets when you’re gone?
  • Where do you want to spend the final months or years of your life? Consider senior living, hospice, and palliative care homes, as well as in-home care options.
  • What do you want to be remembered for? 

2. Put wishes in writing. 

The goal is to eventually prepare official documents, like an advance directive and a will. But in the meantime, putting your loved one’s wishes down in writing is an excellent first step. 

This ensures that their ideas are easier to remember when it’s time to create official documents, and it means that their wishes are recorded if something happens to them before that paperwork is in place. It’s always better to have something in writing than nothing at all.

3. Prioritize important documents. 

There are many documents associated with end-of-life planning, but not all of them are essential to complete right away. 

Here are the most important documents to take care of: 

  • Advance directives (living will, healthcare proxy form, Physician's Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment or POLST, HIPAA Release)
  • Will (aka last will and testament) 
  • Trust (to designate funds for a specific purpose)

4. Help them talk to their doctor. 

An important part of end-of-life planning is understanding current medical conditions and how they’re likely to progress. You can help the senior in your life create end-of-life plans by discussing the topic with their primary medical provider. 

Ask what the outlook is as far as living at home alone, and what they would recommend based on your loved one’s current level of health. You can also ask when you should start thinking about senior living or assisted care, and what the alternatives are. 

Your loved one’s medical team can also help you prepare documents like a living will, HIPAA release, and healthcare proxy documents.

5. Review their estate, assets, and debts. 

It’s important to make sure that your loved one’s estate is passed on in the way they would prefer. To help ensure that happens, you can go through their investments, assets, and debts to see what the overall picture looks like. From there, you can go through together how they want to distribute their estate and who will be responsible for any debts.

6. Speak with a lawyer and a financial planner. 

Although you can create a will yourself and have it made legal, most seniors would benefit from speaking with a lawyer about their estate and their wishes. Often, creating a simple will only takes one or two visits with an attorney, especially if you already know what you want to put in the will. 

If your loved one has a large or complicated estate or a lot of debt, it might also be beneficial to have a discussion with a financial planner or accountant. 

Creating Your Own End-of-Life Plans

While you’re helping a senior loved one create their end-of-life plans, you may begin thinking about your own. It’s never too early to start putting plans in place for the end of life, as long as you make sure to keep them updated and accurate. 

Creating your own end-of-life plans can also be a great way to help a senior loved one feel more comfortable and supported throughout the process. 

Sarah Kessler is a writer at JoinCake.com, an end-of-life planning website with free resources and information on how to estate plan and honor loved ones’ final wishes.

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