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End-of-Life Planning: Starting the Conversation

It's useful for people to consider end-of-life preferences throughout their lifetimes

By Kirsten Jacobs and LeadingAge

End-of-life planning is often avoided or delayed by Americans. In the United States, names like Terri Schiavo and Dr. Jack Kevorkian clutter our collective understanding of what to expect at the end of life. And thus, we ignore the topic altogether.

Starting a conversation about end-of-life wishes is often the most important and difficult step. While older adults and those with life-limiting illnesses are usually the focus of the conversation, it's useful for people to consider end-of-life preferences throughout their lifetimes.  

Questions like the following can help guide one's thinking on the topic:

  • How do I define quality of life?
  • What would a good death be for me?
  • Who do I want near me at the end of my life?
  • Where do I want to die?
  • If given the option, would I use hospice?
  • What kind of medical treatment do I want?
  • Is being lucid more important than complete pain management?
  • Who would be my best advocate at the end of my life?
  • How do I want to be remembered after I die?

While potentially sad or uncomfortable, talking about end-of-life wishes can be a relief to loved ones who want to know how to best advocate on behalf of friends and family members. Documenting end-of-life wishes increases the odds that family, friends and medical professionals are all advocating in tandem. The following resources encourage conversation, ask important questions and help document end-of-life wishes.

Aging With Dignity

This national not-for-profit organization strives to promote better care for individuals as they age and particularly at the end of their lives.

Consider the Conversation

This evocative documentary urges individuals and families to journey into the uncomfortable territory of end-of-life conversations.

Directives by Design

This website offers tools intended to guide end-of-life planning and the option to create a health care directive that meets state legal requirements and can be stored securely online.

My 5 Wishes Online


A project of Aging With Dignity, this secure online system allows people to document end-of-life preferences in a printable format.

My Voice, My Choice

From the creator of Directives by Design, this book offers practical guidance on writing a health care directive.

Respecting Choices

This not-for-profit organization focuses on the process of end-of-life planning.

The Conversation Project

This website includes tools for talking about end-of-life wishes and real stories about end-of-life planning, loss and death.

Whether you elect to purchase a service or use a free tool, starting the conversation and articulating your wishes is an important step toward a good death.

Kirsten Jacobs Read More
By LeadingAge
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