How to discuss death with family

Tips for approaching a difficult topic

7 min read

Approaching the topics of estate planning and end-of-life with loved ones can feel difficult or awkward at first. You may struggle to think about—let alone talk about—death. You’re certainly not alone if you feel this way. However, normalizing this conversation is critical if you want to prepare your loved ones for the inevitable and ensure everyone is on board with your family vision.

As a society, we typically don’t talk about death, which makes it seem taboo even though it’s an inevitable, natural part of life. By setting an example and talking about death, you can help normalize it. However, you shouldn’t start the conversation without having a strategy first. If you mishandle the discussion, it can feel even more awkward and scare off loved ones from talking further about it. Here are some considerations on how to broach the subject so that it can result in a productive conversation.

Acknowledge death as a fact of life that affects everyone

We are all impacted by death, whether it be the loss of a close loved one, or even death in our surrounding communities. If you avoid the subject completely, you aren’t able to properly process your feelings.

According to expert Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages of grief. Understanding these stages are extremely helpful in allowing you to explore your emotions, as well as validate that whatever you are experiencing is normal. Acknowledging death as a fact of life, and that it affects all of us, is an empowering first step.

Practice talking about estate planning and end-of-life wishes

Next, if you acknowledge and normalize talking about death, you can hold important discussions about your end-of-life wishes, including your estate plans.

By discussing your final wishes with loved ones, it gives them an opportunity to come to terms with them. It also gives your loved ones the space to ask questions and address any concerns. That way, when you eventually do pass away, there will be less risk of conflict or misunderstanding. They will be in peace to grieve their loss rather than being faced with trying to guess at what you would have wanted.

In this sense, estate planning is a powerful tool that allows you to take care of your loved ones long aer you’re gone. When someone passes away without having communicated anything about their wishes regarding final arrangements, family members are le to make their best guesses. Instead, by providing detailed, clear instructions in your estate plan, they can simply execute and implement your vision. During a time of grief and loss, this can bring about much needed clarity and relief.

Create a safe space for discussion

Talking about death is not only healthy, it’s helpful. Everyone struggles with fear and discomfort around the subject of death; many of us aren’t ready or willing to face the reality of our own mortality. That’s why it’s important to create a safe space any time we hold a discussion about estate planning, end-of-life wishes and death in general.

The more you normalize discussing death, the more you can create an open and honest environment that all can benefit from. Any emotion that someone might experience is normal and valid, whether it be anger, disbelief, sadness, denial or even dread. Regardless of what you and your loved ones are feeling, acknowledging and sharing those feelings can make everyone feel less isolated.

Discuss death with your children

As a new parent, there will come a time when you’re forced to talk about death with your child, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel. You may experience the death of a relative or a household pet. Children are also naturally curious and may ask you about death. The way you approach the subject largely depends on the age of your child to ensure that the conversation is age-appropriate. Religious and cultural context may also play a role in how you wish to hold this discussion.

Talking about death can bring up different emotions in your child, so be careful to validate any emotion they may experience. Let them know that death is scary and uncomfortable to you too, but that you accept it as a natural part of the life cycle. That way, they may feel less isolated in their feelings. You may also want to refer to an expert on how to discuss death with your child.

Discuss death with your parents

If your parents haven’t brought up the discussion of their death or estate plan with you, you may have to be the family member who takes leadership on the subject. As an adult child, taking an opportunity to talk to your parents about estate planning is priceless. It is also the perfect bridge that allows you to approach mortality from a practical angle.

Your parents may even feel relieved that they have been invited to discuss their estate plan openly with their loved one. It gives you the opportunity to make sure that everyone is on the same page about how the estate should be handled. You can also do your parents great service by making sure they’ve properly named their beneficiaries, have appointed a trusted Executor or Trustee and have had the chance to leave instructions for the end-of-life wishes.

Discuss death with your siblings

When it comes to planning your own estate, you’ll also want to have those important conversations with your siblings. Brothers or sisters are oen some of the closest and dearest relationships of a lifetime. Because of this, you may need your sibling or siblings to take on an important role in your estate plan. For instance, you might ask a sister to serve as a nominated guardian for your children, or your brother as your estate executor if you were to predecease him. Not only will this give them the opportunity to accept or refuse a role, it can also give you the chance to explain your choices so that no one’s feelings are hurt later on.

Regardless of what you decide, having these open lines of communications can help everyone get on the same page and understand expectations. That way, if anything unexpected were to happen, there will be no surprises when the estate plan goes into effect. If anything, they’ll be relieved and grateful that these conversations were already had.

Although death can feel like an uncomfortable subject to discuss, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have open and transparent conversations about it. Talking about your estate plan, as well as the estate plans of your loved ones, can help everyone feel more protected and give you a greater sense of ease.

Written by Staff Writer, Trust & Will

This content is presented by Trust & Will, a premier online estate planning platform.

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