It’s the most difficult thing for most of us to confront:  planning for the end of our own life.  In fact, a recent survey by Kaiser Health News revealed that only about a third of adults have a living will or health care proxy.  Not surprising, considering that most of us find it extremely stressful to even think about death, let alone plan for it.  Even people with chronic and serious health problems are often unwilling to talk about or to write down their final wishes.

However, health care professionals have promoted end of life planning for years…and for many very good reasons.  A living will spells out your preferences for medical treatment and life-sustaining measures.  A health care proxy names another person (spouse, relative, or friend) to make decisions about your care and under what conditions they are able to do so.  Even though it’s difficult to know what your health will be like in the future, these documents can make final days more comfortable for you and much less stressful for your family.

Supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Aging with Dignity organization in Tallahassee, Florida developed a questionnaire called “Five Wishes,” that makes it much easier for people to specify the person they want to make care decisions for them, the kind of medical treatment that they want (or don’t want) and other important issues.

These tools, combined with the realization that an end of life conversation is essential to your ultimate well-being, go a long way to making that conversation easier to initiate…and to complete.

While conversations about medical wishes is paramount, don’t be afraid to include the personal conversations.  Ask questions about family history and look at old photographs so memories will live on. Talk about your love, specifying what the person has meant to you and what you have meant to them.  And there’s nothing better than talking about the future as well – everything from bucket lists to legacy issues – this is the time to ask all your questions and make your wishes known – before it’s too late.