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5 Steps for Successful End-of-Life Planning Conversations

Jul 08, 2020

Have you ever started talking about some aspect of end-of-life planning with family or friends and heard, “Oh, we don’t need to talk about that yet, dear,” or, “Stop being so morbid!”?

Perhaps you’ve been wanting to talk with someone in your life about planning ahead, but you’re unsure how to even broach the topic. You have ideas in your heart and mind about how your friends and family members are going to react, and these are making you feel too uncomfortable to go there.

End-of-life Planning Conversations Are Powerful Gateways to Connect

Talking about death and dying in a death-phobic and death-denying culture can certainly be a challenge. However, it’s important to remember that end-of-life planning conversations are powerful gateways to connect meaningfully about life and death. They also open the door for end-of-life plans that reflect who and what matter most.

After spending more than ten years leading peace-building programs for Palestinian and Israeli youth, I’m quite adept with making difficult conversations work. Using my experience and some best practices from years of conflict-resolution and communication training, I’ve created a tool for end-of-life planning.

Willow’s 5 Steps for Successful End-of Life Planning Conversations is an interactive, fillable tool to help you start—and keep having—fruitful end-of-life planning conversations. There are five steps to follow:


STEP 1 Set your Intention
Before you navigate your way into an end-of-life planning conversation, it’s important to reflect on what you hope to get from your talk. Setting an intention for yourself and the conversation will make a big difference to how the conversation will go. In this step you consider the impact an end-of-life conversation will have on both of you and the relationship you share.

STEP 2 Identify your End-of-life Concerns
When you anticipate that the conversation will be challenging, before you dive in it helps to simply state your concerns about how the topic will be received. This almost always reduces the tension for all parties, and helps you to figure out what aspect of end-of-life planning you may be worried about, and how to phrase it.

STEP 3 Create the Context
Death and dying is still considered a conversational taboo. One way to bring up an “unpopular” topic, like end-of-life planning or end-of-life care, is by sharing what’s prompting you. Step three guides you to think about what conditions or situations led you to want to plan ahead.

STEP 4 Explain your Motivation
In this step you’ll find a list of positive benefits that may result from having an end-of-life planning conversation, and another list of negative consequences that may arise from not having the conversation. It’s a good idea to check off the ones that resonate, so that you can share them with your person or family caregivers. This can help them better understand why the conversation is necessary for both parties, and how it can help to prepare you both as you move forward.  

STEP 5 Reflect on your Conversation
No matter how well your conversation went or how challenging it was, step 5 is where you’re prompted to reflect on how you feel. Acknowledge what went right and what worked well, so that you can reinforce those elements for the next time you discuss end-of-life planning.

If you’ve had any of those “don’t-even-go-there,” negative experiences talking about end-of-life planning—or any other challenging topic—or you’ve been avoiding these discussions altogether, try out this interactive, fillable tool and breathe a little easier. 


End-of-life planning conversations don’t have to be complicated or awkward. Whether it’s palliative care or quality of life you want to talk about, the best time to begin is now. We hope these 5 steps help you to navigate a positive, productive end-of-life planning conversation, which will benefit everyone involved as you move together through these challenging times. 

No matter how it goes, once you’ve tried it, we’d love to hear from you! Let’s learn from each other’s experiences and make death and dying a more normalized, accepted topic of conversation.


What about you?

How do you want to feel after having the end-of-life planning conversation?

What went right and what would you do differently next time?