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How To Talk With Family About Your Wishes In Case You Become Incapacitated And Can't Speak For Yourself

What Exactly Should I Talk About?

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Calmly assure your family that the discussion should not be taken as a sign that you are giving up or surrendering in any way. However, at the same time stress that it is very important that you know each other's thoughts and wishes on how things should be handled if certain things happen. Consider starting the conversation with a story about someone else's experience (such as someone you know or someone in the news such as Terri Schiavo) or blame the conversation on your lawyer (such as "While discussing some legal documents, Gerry wanted me to talk with you about end-of-life medical care.") 

If your family doesn't usually deal with what they think of as negative situations, or words that imply things that are too hard to handle, think of words you can use to describe the overall situation. For example, one of our clients stated to his family: "You know, there's a big difference between giving up and letting go. I certainly don't intend to give up or surrender. However, the time may come for me to let go and I may not be in a position to tell you when that time arrives. I want you all to be clear just when I think it will be time for me to let go." Then he went on to explain his wishes.

Consider describing your general attitude rather than specifics. However, if there are particular matters or situations you care about, it will help forestall a family fight if the circumstances ever do arise and it is time to carry out your wishes. (You can discuss specifics with the person you choose as Proxy under your Healthcare Power of Attorney).

Make clear to the people closest to you that the person you name in your Living Will and other advance directives will be the person who should be allowed to make the decisions described in the document. Let them know you have had, or will have, extensive discussions with that person and he or she knows what you want.

If you have executed a Health Care Power Of Attorney, encourage the rest of the family to follow the Proxy's instructions and to encourage the doctors to do the same. 

  • You may want to emphasize that you and the Proxy have discussed your wishes thoroughly and you have complete faith in the Proxy to know and follow your wishes.
  • If there are protestations or disagreements, they will hopefully be brought up when you raise the subject so you can deal with them.
  • If you feel it necessary, you may want to ask each family member to agree to accept the decisions of the Proxy as they would your own.

If you do discuss other family members' desires:

  • Ask for the general principles that the person wants followed.
  • Ask for specifics if the person has thought about them.
  • Who is the person or people to make the decisions?
  • What documents has the person executed? Where is the original? Who has copies?
  • If no documents have been executed, when will it be done? (Preferably, set a deadline.)

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