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10 Questions Everyone Should Answer about End-of-Life Planning 

How you wish to live the final phase of your life, how you hope to die, and what happens after you die is personal. End of life planning empowers you to think through what you would like during the last stage of your life – such as medical, spiritual, emotional, and financial considerations, as well as what happens after you die.

Thinking about the kind of care you want in the final years, months, and days of life can feel overwhelming. Here are 10 practical questions to get you started.

1. Where would you like to spend your last days?

Some people choose to spend their last days at home, in a hospice house, in a nursing home, or in the hospital. For many people, this decision depends on your personal values, medical needs, social supports, and spiritual preferences. Importantly, you should be able access the care and support you and your loved ones need.

2. When time is short, how would you like your medical team to care for you?

Your medical care at the end-of-life should align with your values and what matters most to you. For some people, this means receiving medical care to optimize comfort at the end of life through Hospice Care. For others, it means continued medical procedures and treatments in conjunction with palliative care to live long enough to reach a particular milestone. Your medical care should always support you in living the last stage of life the way that feels right for you and your loved ones. To help you get started, take our 7-day Advance Care Planning Challenge.

3. What additional supports do you need?

There are a variety of helpful services that can support your and your loved ones at the end of life. This includes hospice care, home health aids, hired help, and community resources such as caregiver support groups and meals on wheels.

4. Are there specific end of life rites or rituals that are important to you?

The last stage of life, for many, is a sacred time marked by religious, cultural, and familial rituals and rites. Communicate your wishes with your loved ones so that they can respect your wishes when the time comes.

5. Who is your Healthcare Agent or Healthcare Proxy?

A healthcare agent or healthcare proxy is an individual who would speak and make medical decisions on your behalf if and only if you were unable to make decisions on your own. Complete your state’s healthcare proxy form, keep a copy, and share a copy with your healthcare proxy and your medical team. Learn more in our 7 Day Advance Care Planning Challenge.

6. Have You Completed a Living Will?

Documenting the type of medical care you would like at end of life is a way to ensure your loved ones and healthcare team know your wishes. This documentation should always occurs in the context of a larger conversation of your wishes and preferences. Get started with our free 7 Day Advance Care Planning Challenge!

7. Do you have a Last Will and Testament?

This is not just for the rich. A Last Will allows you to specify how your valuables and assets will be distributed – be it pets, cars, jewelry, paintings, furniture, books. You can also include instructions, ID’s, and passwords for your social media accounts or digital accounts such as Facebook, Google Drive or Amazon. For parents with children, you will identify a guardian, someone who would care for your children should you die unexpectantly.

For some individuals downloading a form or typing out your wishes, signing and dating it in front of two witnesses (who then also sign it saying that “they believe the person who made the will is of sound mind”) is sufficient. For those with complicated assets, working with a lawyer may be helpful. Your wishes will change over time, so make sure to keep your Last Will and Testament up to date.

8. Do you have an executor or personal representative?

An executor or personal representative is an individual you appoint to take care of everything when you die. They would navigate your financial assets, social media and digital accounts, implement your Will, and communicate with everyone named in your Last Will & Testament. This is a big responsibility so make sure this individual is comfortable with being your executor.

9. Would you like a funeral, memorial or other service?

Some people find it helpful to plan for their funeral, memorial, or other service before dying. Some will organize with a funeral home in advance, to ensure their wishes are honored and to lighten the load just a little bit for their loved ones.

10. How would you like your body to be cared for after death?

Some people will plan in advance for a burial or cremation. While others would like to be organ donors, or would like to donate their bodies for scientific research.

Caitlin Baran M.D. is a Palliative Care physician and Coach with EpioneMD. She completed completed her fellowship in Hospice & Palliative Medicine at the Harvard Interprofessional Palliative Care program. She has worked at academic centers including Massachusetts General Hospital and was an Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Caitlin is humbled to practice Palliative Care, a field of medicine designed to understand who people are and align healthcare choices with their values.

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