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Discuss your desires for what medical care you do and do not want if you become incapacitated and can't express your wishes. Also discuss you plans for what's going to happen to your assets if you die.

If you communicate your loved ones will know what you really desire. Communication makes it less likely they will fight your wishes, with each other, or have unnecessarily hurt feelings.

Having the discussion straight out can be morbid. Your life affirming deed can seem to be about your getting ready to leave the planet. Instead, make the discussion more general, more inclusive of the people close to you. For instance, the next holiday you are all together, suggest a family discussion. The odds are an open discussion will bring you closer. Other issues which aren't normally discussed in your group will likely also come to the fore. Experience shows this is usually the beginning of a healing process.

For information, see:

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An Example To Start The Discussion

Our friend Sally, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer a few months earlier, had a discussion with her family over a Christmas holiday together. Perhaps how she started the discussion will give you an idea for creating your own opening for a conversation with the people closest to you.

On Christmas morning, Sally asked everyone except the young children to set aside time for the group to meet after lunch. When they were all together, she started:

"I've asked everybody to set aside this time because I have something important I want to discuss, and I want to hear what you each have to say as well.

Since my diagnosis, I've been more aware than ever of how fragile life can be. I'm not planning on going anywhere soon, but I have put plans in place just in case.

I've also become aware of how important it is for all of us to have plans. Terry Schiavo, that young woman in Florida that even the Congress made such a big fuss about, brought home to all of us what can happen while we're still alive. The news is filled everyday with people who die unexpectedly. Now I'm not being morbid here, and I pray that nothing untoward happens to any of us -- but I think it's high time we discussed what we each want in case something does happen. Not just me, but each of us.

So I want to talk about what I want -- first if I can't speak for myself, and then if the inevitable happens. Then I want to hear from each of you about what you want on these subjects as well. There's no right or wrong here. It's just important for each of us to know what the rest of us want."

Before the conversation was over, Sally covered all the points in the next section. She asked each family member to do the same. She let everyone know she had completed the formal documentation needed to legally document her wishes. She found out who had and who had not completed documenting their wishes. Being the control freak she is -- Sally then made a note in her calendar for every few weeks to remind the people who didn't put their wishes in writing that this was the best time to do it.

It took a few months, but everyone in the family had advance directives.

What To Include In The Discussion

  • Where THE Book is: If you've put together a book, or similar file that contains information about your wishes and estate planning, let people know where it is located and what's in it. (See The BOOK).
  • Who has access to your Will: Your heirs should know who has access to your Will so they can immediately contact that person if necessary. (See Wills 101). 
  • Your Document Inventory: An easy method for keeping track of your documents and to let your heirs know where the important documents are, is to complete a Document Inventory and let your heirs know where it is.
  • Your List Of Instructions: Where you store this document that helps keep your life organized. (See List Of Instructions).
  • Your funeral plans: Make sure your family knows your funeral wishes and where to find documents relating to any pre-plans you've made. Even if you plan to live longer than Methuselah, you or they should also decide in advance who would be responsible for making the arrangements. (See Funerals 101).
  • What they need to know about what's in your Will. For instance, if your assets are unequally divided among your children, discuss your reasons in advance to help avoid unnecessary family fights.
  • Your wishes for use of your assets: Your Will is generally not the place to communicate anything beyond the facts of your bequests: who gets what. However, if appropriate, discuss with your heirs what you would like them to accomplish with your assets. For example, if you own a business, let them know the principles by which you think it should be guided, as well as the practical aspects of what you think should be done, what employees should be moved into what positions, and the like. See Business Owners.
  • Timing: Give your heirs an idea of when they will receive your assets. (See What Your Heirs Can Expect, Probate).
  • Disposition of Assets: Let your heirs know which assets you think they should keep and why. Suggest to your heirs that they do not make any important decisions about your assets while emotions are strong. If assets are to be sold, let them know what you think they're worth, how you suggest they be sold, and by whom if you have a choice. Estates generally sell assets for less than fair market value because the person who will receive the cash is often not the person who does the sale, and there may be a feeling of a need to rush the sale. Tell your heirs how to work with your personal representative to maximize the proceeds.
  • Life changes: General advice is to wait at least six months before making life-changing decisions. At all costs, quick, emotional decisions should be avoided.