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Beginning the Conversation About the End of Life

Planning well in advance of the end of your loved one's life can help safeguard his well-being and your peace of mind. That planning starts with an incredibly important conversation about death and dying, as difficult as it may be.

See also: Helping Parents Address Legal Issues.

Getting answers to questions about where your loved one would prefer to spend his last days, who will take care of him and what he would like to do to achieve a "good death" are vital pieces of the plan.

The person you are caring for most likely has strong preferences and opinions about their final days and it is imperative that you learn them. Start the conversation by expressing how much you share their desire to stay as independent as possible for as long as possible, and to have their wishes followed after they pass away.

Ask your loved one to consider the following questions:

* Where do I want to die? At home, or in a hospital or medical facility? Surrounded by people who love me, or privately with as little fuss as possible?

* What kind of medical treatment do I want?

* Who do I want to take care of me? Do I have a preference in terms of male or female, or anything else?

* What kind of funeral services do I want? Do I care about an open or closed casket, cremation or donating my body to science?

* Where do I want to be buried? Do I have a burial plot? Do I want to use it or be buried somewhere else?

Then, use their answers to help them assemble advance directives, which are legal documents that explicitly describe their wishes for care near the end. Prepare the two most important directives:

1.) A Living Will: This document specifies their wishes regarding medical treatment, and particularly the refusal of life-prolonging medication when death is imminent.

2.) A Health Care Power of Attorney: This document allows your parents to appoint someone they trust to act on their behalf and make decisions regarding their medical treatment if they are unable to do so.

Give copies of the directives to the key people involved in your loved one’s life, with his or her permission.

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