How to Talk to Your Spouse about End-of-Life Plans

By: Amanda C.
Edited by Ali Reza

Thinking about the end of your life and what will happen after you pass away is never a pleasant thought.  However, facing the fact that no one lives forever is something that every person must come to terms with.  Moreover, this is a conversation that must be had in the open with a spouse or loved one.

It is a reality that broaching this topic with a spouse is something that many people do put off.  However, realize that it is an important part of the process as it pertains to establishing advanced directives about medical care and end-of-life wishes.  Just as loving couples talk about their hopes and dreams, it is also important to discuss the items that are considered less than pleasant.  Realize that you might not need to actually face any of these issues for a very long time—but that it is better to prepare 20 years too early as opposed to one day too late.

Why It’s Important to Talk about These Wishes—and Record Them Legally

It’s one thing to talk about end-of-life wishes, but it is equally important, if not more so, to make sure these  are recorded from a legal standpoint.   If you do not have healthcare or medical directives logged in a legal capacity with an attorney, and cannot make decisions for yourself because you are incapacitated, someone else has to make these for you.  In this circumstance, those decisions may not coincide with your actual wishes.  At the same time, if you have passed away without a Will, Living Trust, or other estate planning documentation in place, it could be necessary for the courts to decide on the administration of your estate—and your preferences for burial, cremation, or other types of memorialization may be overlooked.

Preparing for “The Talk”

Next, it is necessary for you to prepare for having “the talk” about end-of-life wishes with your spouse or loved one.  Keep the following in mind:

  • Acknowledge that this is a process.  This is not something that is an item on a to-do list.
  • Realize that your spouse might disagree with you on points. This is okay.
  • Understand that you cannot plan for every scenario or circumstance.  Plan in a general sense.
  • Think about your own beliefs, values, and preferences in your life right now and how these apply to the future.  Write them down so you can organize your thoughts.
  • Identify the things that you do and don’t want—if you are incapacitated medically as well as what happens to you after you pass away.
  • Understand that it is never too soon to begin this process.

Talking with a Spouse

After you have decided what is important to you, then it is time to talk with a spouse. There are certain items that must be discussed and decided upon.

  • Who should make decisions for you or your spouse if faced with incapacitation?  This relates to healthcare matters as well as financial decisions. This may or may not be the same person for both of you.
  • What medical treatments or care are acceptable to you?  Is there anything you fear?
  • Do you opt for resuscitation if your heart stops or you aren’t breathing?
  • Do you opt for hospitalization? Or do you prefer to stay at home, or somewhere else, if you are terminally ill?
  • How will care be paid for?
  • What do you wish to happen to your remains after you die?  How do you wish to be memorialized?

Once you have identified answers to these questions, it is then necessary to record them legally.  An attorney can help you with this.  Then, once documents are drafted, ensure that children or other loved ones or caregivers know about them, so they can be accessed if needed.


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