As we begin to reach the end of our life, it’s natural to become more reflective. You might look back over your time on this Earth or wonder how to prepare for your passing. Similarly, as a loved one becomes ill or gets older, there are certain things we should discuss with them.
We’ve gathered some end-of-life questions that you can ask yourself or a family member. This list is a combination of practical questions about getting your affairs in order and questions to help you process this final stage of life.
Questions to ask yourself as you enter a later stage in your life
These questions are ones you'll want to consider as you age so you can plan for your future. Use them as a jumping-off point to think about your end-of-life plans.
1. Is my family going to be taken care of?
For many of us, knowing that our family will be looked after when we pass is a priority. Drawing up concrete plans can help us feel reassured and comforted. Start by speaking to your family about their needs and any provisions you could put in place to make sure they live comfortably. For example, you might leave them financial assets in your will, set up a trust, or take out life insurance.
2. Is my will up-to-date?
Your will is an important legal document that lays out what happens to your assets when you pass away. This includes your money, investments, possessions, and any property you own. You should update your will whenever there’s a change in life circumstances, such as the birth of a child, a marriage, a divorce, or a move from one state to another. You should also check your will at least every 10 years to make sure that it still reflects your wishes and current law.
3. What are my wishes for end-of-life medical care?
In addition to your financial affairs, you’ll also want to consider the kind of medical care you’d like to receive at the end of your life. For example, think about whether you want to receive life-sustaining or palliative care if you become very ill. Once you make these decisions, speaking to your family about your wishes is important. You can also give instructions in a living will or healthcare proxy — an official legal document that directs doctors on your medical care if you become incapacitated.
4. Who will look after my pets when I die?
For many of us, pets are important members of our family, and we want to know they’ll be cared for if we die before them. There are various ways to make sure your pet is looked after, including setting up a pet trust for them or registering with an animal charity that will care for or rehome them. The law treats pets as personal property and so you need to be explicit in your estate plan about what you want to happen with these loved members of your family.
Questions to ask your parents before they pass away
These end-of-life questions to ask your parents are important and will help everyone prepare for the future. Some of these questions will give you a chance to learn more about your parents' lives.
1. Where are your end-of-life documents stored?
When a parent passes away, there are many things to sort out and decide, all while you’re navigating your grief. If you know in advance where their important end-of-life documents are stored, for example, if they have an end-of-life document folder, this can lighten the administrative load when they pass. Find out who they want to handle their affairs, what documents they have in place, and how they can be accessed. Don’t forget to ask about passwords if any of their documents are stored digitally.
2. Who should be included in your care decisions?
Even if your parent has a living will in place, family members may still need to make decisions about their care if they become incapacitated. This can be a source of tension between family members at an already difficult time. If you find out in advance who they would like to be involved in these decisions, it’ll make things easier when the time comes.
3. What was life like for you growing up?
People often regret not asking their parents about their life before they pass away. Have you sat down with your parents and listened to them share stories from their childhood? It can be a lovely way to learn more about their experiences and who they are.
4. What are your happiest memories?
Similarly, talking about joyful memories can help you connect with your parents in their old age. It helps you gain a deeper sense of what was important to them and what they valued in life. And reminiscing together can deepen your bond and create more precious memories before they die.
5. What are your wishes for your children and grandchildren?
Finally, do not miss the opportunity to hear what your parents’ hopes and dreams are for their children and/or grandchildren or the next generation. Be prepared for some more “back in my day” stories, but this conversation can spark a deep connection.
End-of-life questions to ask your spouse
These thought-provoking questions are a good way to learn about your spouse's wishes for their death. Although it can be hard to think about these answers, it's good to know what they want.
1. How do you want the kids to remember you if you pass away?
Thinking about passing away and leaving your children behind is painful. But it can bring comfort to talk about ways your children can remember you and feel connected to you after you’re gone. Perhaps your spouse would like to write them a goodbye letter, organize a memorial for them to visit, or decide a certain day of the year when the family meets up to remember them and do their favorite activity like grilling or hiking.
2. Who will take care of our children if both of us die?
If your children are still young, you need to think about who will become their guardians if both you and your spouse pass away. This is something you should decide together so you’re both comfortable with the choice. That way, you can rest assured that your kids will be well cared for whatever happens.
3. How will we split our assets?
Dividing your financial assets needs to be discussed as a couple. These decisions can be complicated, especially if you’ve married later in life or have a blended family. It’s worth discussing this well in advance and possibly enlisting the help of an estate planning expert.
Thought-provoking questions about aging
When thinking about end-of-life plans, it's good to also think about some deeper questions. This gives you or your loved one a chance to reminisce and contemplate what they'd like to do for the future.
1. How do you want to spend the time you have left?
As you approach the end of your life, consider what’s brought you the most joy in your life and prioritize doing those things. Perhaps this is traveling to new places or simply spending more time with loved ones or in nature. Now is the time to cherish those moments and experiences. You might even want to make a retirement bucket list to complete.
2. What was the best advice you ever received?
Aging can make us pause and think about how we’ve lived our lives. Often, a good piece of advice can shape the course of your life. If there’s a great piece of wisdom you received, now could be the time to reflect on it — and perhaps share it with others.
3. Is there anyone you’d like to reconnect with before you die?
Many reach out to people they’ve lost touch with when they’re nearing the end of their life. Whether there’s an estranged family member or simply an old friend you fell out of touch with, reconnecting with them can bring joy and a comforting sense of closure as you near the end of your life.
4. What would you like people to think of when they remember you?
As well as looking back to the past, the prospect of death can make us think about our future legacy. Thinking about how we’d like to be remembered affects what we do towards the end and if we’d like to put anything in place for people to remember us when we’re gone. This might be donating to a charity that’s close to your heart, writing down the story of your life, or creating an apt memorial for future generations to come and visit.
Planning for end-of-life
Hopefully, these end-of-life discussion questions will help you or your loved one start thinking about the final stage of life. Nearing the end of your life can be overwhelming, but plenty of support is available. If you feel you need in-person support, perhaps a death doula can help you navigate this difficult time. When it comes to the practicalities of getting your affairs in order, our end-of-life planning checklist contains all the important documents you need to arrange.