Why Young People Need to be Included in End-of-Life Discussions

By Mary Tolan
February 16, 2022

What would you do if your mother or father fell ill and couldn’t make medical decisions? Would your dad want to have his life prolonged if doing so means that he would spend the rest of his life unconscious and dependent upon a machine?

Would you be able to access your mother’s funds to pay for her long-term care if she needed to live in an assisted living facility? Do your parents have specific wishes for their funerals? Do they want to be interred or cremated?

These are a few of the questions that may arise under arduous and emotional circumstances when families do not interact with each other about end-of-life planning.

It’s not a pleasant subject, and many people would prefer to avoid it. However, this can be a grave mistake. When a crisis occurs, adult children may find that they cannot imagine what their mom’s or dad’s wishes might be.

It’s a situation that has arisen with alarming frequency in recent memory during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to striking at the elderly population, COVID has taken the lives of thousands of younger adults. Many of these victims had not given a great deal of thought to their end-of-life choices, leaving their loved ones to make several agonizing choices.

End-of-Life Discussions with Adult Children

Many experts agree that the 40/70 rule is an excellent guideline for when to have end-of-life discussions between parents and adult children. That is, it is wise to have these conversations when the adult children are around 40 years of age or as the parent reaches 70 years of age.

This remains a guiding principle, but there are many indicators that it may be sensible to have such discussions even earlier. Statistics suggest that approximately 15 percent of people who are providing caregiver services to family members are between 18 and 25. This demonstrates a need to include younger adults in discussions and to hold these conversations at earlier life stages.

Making End-of-Life Discussions Easier

It’s difficult to contemplate and discuss the incapacitation or death of a loved one, but there are tips that can smooth the way. For instance, it is sensible to avoid having such a discussion during a holiday, anniversary or birthday celebration when everyone simply wants to enjoy each other’s company. Choose a neutral time instead, and be certain to allow plenty of time so that everyone has an opportunity to express their views.

Make certain that everyone knows the topic of discussion well in advance of the family meeting. This avoids an unpleasant shock when everyone is at last gathered and gives everyone a chance to think about what their end-of-life wishes are.

End-of-life discussions frequently are more complex than many people realize. As an example, most participants will understand that funeral and interment arrangements are going to be discussed, but they may not have considered financial matters. How will the funeral be paid for? Is there a financially durable power of attorney that will make it possible for someone to access funds that may have been set aside for such expenses?

To guide their discussions, and to ensure that important factors aren’t forgotten, many families are turning to the Conversation Starter Kits that were created by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s The Conversation Project. This resource covers various end-of-life topics so families can be certain that they are prepared regardless of what the future holds.

End-of-life planning is not an easy subject, but avoiding it causes far more turmoil in already distressing circumstances. Make this conversation a goal for your family as a profound act of love.