How to Talk About Your Final Wishes
November 21, 2023

Written by Sylvia Thompson, BA, CMC, CDP, GRMS

In the United States, we struggle to talk about something that is an inevitable part of life: death. It will happen to all of us, yet so many avoid the subject at all costs, finding it uncomfortable, taboo or even offensive. People shift anxiously in their chairs when its brought up and brush off the subject saying, Its not the right time,” or It is a depressing topic.”

So when is the right time? John F. Kennedy said, The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” Likewise, the time to talk about death is when everyone is healthy. 

Why do I need to plan? 

Its important to discuss and document wishes before someone is seriously ill. Planning allows individuals to communicate their needs and desires while they are able. It also allows thoughtful discussion without the emotional charge present in a crisis. Having a well-thought-out, documented plan about the care you want and what to do with your belongings after youre gone helps avoid putting a burden on your family. Youre never too young to plan, and prior knowledge of your wishes will help things go more smoothly for those you appoint to handle your affairs.

How do I start?

This doesnt have to be one long conversation. In fact, I have found the best approach is to have a series of small conversations throughout your lifetime. Having conversations when no one is grieving is always best. Check your own comfort level so you can be as matter-of-fact as possible. Take every opportunity to comment on your wishes after seeing something in the news or a movie. Think about what matters to you and share your feelings with others. Sometimes starting with bigger questions can ease you into the details.

What do you want your life to have meant? What legacy do you want to leave? How do you want to be remembered?

For more care-related questions, great conversation starters like Five Wishes, a national advance care planning program, or a Go Wish deck of cards for tough end-of-life discussions are helpful.

Tip to consider

When your loved one cant seem to start their conversation, you start it! Tell them about your own wishes for yourself. It eases discomfort and creates a trusting atmosphere—then theyll start working on their own wishes.

What do I need to know?

Six areas need to be considered and are handled in different ways:

  1. Where do I want to spend my last days? Consider the different options of home, hospital or hospice home.
  2. How do I want to be cared for? Who do I want caring for my needs, and what kind of care is important to me? Completing your Advance Health Care Directive can also help. Select someone as a health care agent who can make difficult decisions and stay true to your wishes.
  3. Where/to whom do I want my things to go? An estate planning attorney can ensure your belongings and assets are addressed in your estate plan to avoid probate.
  4. What gifts do I want to give/legacy do I want to leave? An estate planning attorney can include language in to your trust to support your favorite charities as you wish.
  5. What do I want to do with my body? Preplanning for mortuary services is available, providing tremendous support for families by planning the disposition and transfer of remains.
  6. How do I want to be remembered? Most mortuaries will assist with planning and carrying out a memorial service onsite. For less traditional plans, cremation services and independent funeral planners can assist.

Sylvia ThompsonMany resources are available online to help guide these discussions. Having these conversations now about health care decisions, burial arrangements and all necessary legalities” will allow everyone to understand the choices you made. If needed, you can also enlist the help of a counselor, spiritual advisor or care manager to facilitate a family conversation.

Sylvia Thompson, BA, CMC, CDP, GRMS, is an Aging Life Care Manager with Holistic Family Solutions and a Torrance Memorial Professional Advisory Council member. 310-904-9852 or