21 End-of-Life Questions to Ask Yourself or Loved Ones

Updated

Talking about death and end-of-life issues is a very difficult discussion to have with your loved ones. Whether you’re comfortable having these discussions and have no problem going over all the details, your significant other, your children, or your parents may feel squeamish and shy about discussing such a taboo subject. At some point, we will all face death and will have certain end-of-life questions that we wished we would’ve addressed much earlier on. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

This guide will walk you through some of the different stages of life that you or someone you know will likely experience. It covers topics ranging from how to get the most of your end-of-life medical care, planning the details of your funeral, and the end-of-life questions you should be asking yourself regarding your estate plan and distributions of your assets.

Questions About End-of-Life Care

We all hope for complete autonomy in being able to make our own health care decisions affecting us at the end of life. But the reality is that some of us will face an unexpected life-changing event where we’re incapable of making these decisions for ourselves. We’ll be forced to defer the decision-making to our loved ones or to a doctor who may not know us at all.

How can you avoid relying on others to make the decisions on your final wishes when the time comes? The following are some things to consider as you start your end-of-life planning

1.  If you become incapacitated, how would you like to live out your last days?

There are many things to consider regarding the healthcare decisions that you make for yourself, especially when it comes to making your final wishes known to your loved ones and healthcare providers.

Many of us assume that our families know what we would want to happen if we became incapacitated or died suddenly. But the reality may be that they don’t know. 

They might not know if you’d prefer medical professionals to exhaust all life-saving measures, to remain on life support, hooked up to a feeding tube, or given comfort care that hastens your death. Start by reflecting on what your thoughts and beliefs are regarding death and dying.

Then consider the options available to you based on your experiences, religious beliefs, and personal decisions.

2. How do you feel about Death with Dignity?

One of the more serious questions to ask yourself about your healthcare is what you would do if you were faced with a terminal illness or other life-threatening injury or disease.

Would you want to suffer through it until the very end? Or, would you want to discuss options with your doctor about dying on your terms? For some, having control at life’s end is paramount to having others make whatever decisions are in the best interest of their loved ones. 

End-of-Life Questions About a Funeral or Memorial

No one likes to think ahead to their death especially when they’re hoping to live a long and full life. Even with the best laid out plans, life can throw you a curveball from time to time.

People die in unexpected ways every day, and none of us know when or how we'll die. The funeral industry has built a campaign around being prepared for such an event so that your death isn't a burden to your family and loved ones. With all that said, it isn't a bad idea to take the time to plan a memorial service or the details of your funeral.

3. What do you want to be remembered for?

Aside from planning out the when and where’s, another important thing to consider is the legacy that you want to leave behind for others to remember you by. What do you consider your biggest accomplishments in life? Take the time to write out your life’s successes, things that made you proud, and what made life worth living. 

Consider outlining what your biggest failures were and how you overcame them, your dreams, your goals, and how you reached them. This is the story of your life that you can narrate as you see it and lived it.

This isn’t a time to be modest, embarrassed, or shy. If you want others to be aware of your struggles and things that helped you along the way, leave it in writing for others to discover after you're gone so that your legacy lives on.  

4. What are your thoughts on burial vs. cremation?

If you have very specific needs or wishes regarding the final disposition of your body, make sure that you tell someone about it. The best way to do so is to arrange your end-of-life planning.

Planning ahead can include purchasing a funeral plan through a funeral home of your choice. You can invite others to join you as you make these decisions so that they’re aware of what your final wishes are. 

At a funeral home, you can decide to pay for a full-blown funeral service and burial, or you can arrange for cremation followed by a memorial service.  Whatever your choice is, understand that the final decision rests with your next of kin unless you’ve appointed an executor to take charge of these matters.

End-of-Life Questions for Tying Up Loose Ends

It’s possible to go through life without recognizing the need to finalize your affairs before you die. It may be that you’ve been dependent on your significant other to make all major life decisions for you, or that you’ve simply never had to give much thought to these things.

When you’re preparing to die, there are so many things that you must consider before calling it quits. This may be a good time to seek the advice of the older generation ahead of you and prepare a list of questions to ask older adults as you make your final decisions. Some things to consider are as follows:

5. Have I made my estate distribution plans clear?

Many of us are walking around without a will as if we’re never going to die and hoping for the best if we do. This is not the best way for you to tie up loose ends. Your estate plan will not miraculously manifest after your death if you’ve never set one in place.

Talk to your loved ones, your financial adviser, and your lawyer about how you want your estate to be distributed upon death. You will need to have certain documents in place making it clear who will inherit your estate after you die. Documents that make up your estate plan include:

6. What feeds my soul and makes my life worth living?

This question sits outside of the others in that it’s not related to any legal proceedings or medical treatments available to you. This is one of those soul-searching questions for you to consider as you near the end of your life.

Questions that will help get the conversation started in your head are:

  • Did I live my life in the best way possible?
  • Do I have any regrets? If so, what are they?
  • Have I loved freely and received love?
  • Is there anything left to experience on my bucket list?
  • Did I hurt anyone along the way and have failed to make amends?

These are the things that older adults generally consider as they’re faced with their mortality. For some, they are no longer physically able to do much about these things and will die with some regret. Others are a bit more fortunate in that they can go out and live their final days fulfilling their life’s purpose.

You may want to start considering which things on your list are most important to you and start living a life that honors your goals and dreams. 

End-of-Life Questions to Ask Your Parents

Having an end-of-life conversation with your parents is a difficult one to have at any age. But as your parents get older, the inevitable starts to materialize. We must all come to terms with our mortality and eventual death as we get older. As painful as it is to have these talks with those we love, they become necessary as we age or face certain illnesses. The following questions are some basics to ask your parents before it’s too late.

7. Have you considered your end-of-life wishes?

You might be surprised to hear that your parents haven’t given much thought to what they’d like to happen after they’re gone. For several reasons, some people have an aversion to making plans for when they die, leaving it up to their adult children to decide for them.

It can be hard to have these conversations, but don’t let the fear keep you from exploring this topic with your parents. Talking about it isn’t the same as wishing for it to happen. Many people are simply afraid to plan for their death out of fear of speaking it into existence.

8. Do you have an estate plan finalized?

Last wills and more complex estate plans can help avoid headaches and potential litigation at the end of life. It can be helpful to discuss the existence of either with your parents as early as possible. The existence of a will or the other estate plans can prevent potential issues of sudden death, cognitive decline, or mental incapacity.

Reassure them that you don’t have to know what’s in their plans, and you’re just checking that there’s a plan in place. If they have one, make sure that it’s updated to include new additions to the family or make provisions for beneficiaries who have since died.

9. What would you like to happen to your remains?

Talking about death, funerals, burials, and cremations are not the most favored conversations that people want to have. Normalizing having these conversations makes knowing what to do when the time comes easier for everyone involved. You’ll need to understand what your parents’ prefer to happen to their remains, and where they’d like to have their final interment. Things to consider when making these and other final disposition decisions include:

  • Finances
  • Personal thoughts
  • Religious preferences
10. Is there any unfinished business I can help you with?

Elderly parents or those suffering from illness or incapacity might need your help in getting things done before they die. Ask your parents to think about their legacy, such as how they’d like to be remembered, and if there are any loose ends they’d like to tie up. Depending on your relationship with each other, you might want to have this conversation privately without the other parent present. They might find it difficult to open up about things they consider private or want to keep secret from others.

End-of-Life Questions to Ask Your Spouse or Partner

One of the most complicated conversations to have with your spouse or partner is what’ll happen when one of you dies. Although it can be intimidating to have, this conversation is crucial in determining what to do when facing the end of life before the other. It becomes even more so if you have young children living at home. Death planning involves every aspect of your life, from maintaining households, finances, long-term care, and burial expenses. Here are some questions to consider.

11. Who will take care of our children if we both die together?

No one wants to face the possibility of dying together with their spouses leaving young children behind. Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common and happens all the time. Young parents, in particular, tend to overlook this possibility and fail to plan for who’ll take care of their children in the event of their demise. Even if you don’t have children, make the same considerations for elderly parents or pets under your care and responsibility. 

12. Where do you see spending your last days?

You can apply this question to retirement, end of life, or in the event of an unforeseen illness or terminal diagnosis. Some people would rather die in a controlled environment such as a hospital or hospice facility, while others would prefer to die at home.

Talk to your spouse or partner to see what they envision for themselves. Their response might surprise you. In many cases, people prefer going home to die, whatever that may mean to them. Remind yourself to remain open-minded even when hearing preferences that might shock you.

13. How do we split up our assets and estate?

Second or late-in-life marriages may run into added estate planning complications involving extended families, built-up assets before marriage or partnership, and property division. Much like in a divorce, married couples or life partners should have clearly defined financial and asset-distribution plans to avoid unnecessary litigation.

Together, you can go through your individual and combined assets naming beneficiaries where applicable. Make sure to discuss provisions for the maintenance and well-being of any minor children, pets, and anyone else you or your spouse or partner want to include in your plan.

14. Who do you want to include in your medical care decisions?

An essential point of discussion with your spouse or partner is each of your wishes for end-of-life care, whether it happens in advanced age or as a result of injury or illness. You'll want to be specific if you prefer getting care at home or in a nursing facility. You'll also like to discuss each other's viewpoints on dying at home or hospital.

Other things to consider are who gets to decide when to end life-prolonging measures and funeral arrangements. You may want to put an advance medical directive or living will in place to curtail any future disagreements regarding your curative or comfort care. 

End-of-Life Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Asking your doctor tough questions about your prognosis and end-of-life issues may seem intimidating, but it's essential to stay informed during a time of medical crisis. Whether you are young or of advanced age, staying on top of your medical condition is a way to maintain some sense of control over your end-of-life care and treatment.

Even if you're in good health, you'll still want to have a plan in place in the event of an unforeseen circumstance or illness. Consider the following when talking with your doctor.

15. What is my prognosis?

Knowing the difference between a diagnosis and prognosis is vital when having end-of-life discussions with your doctor. The not-so-subtle difference between the two lies in that a diagnosis is the identifying medical condition. At the same time, the prognosis is the doctor’s best guess as to the outcome of any treatment prescribed for you.

Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to help define any medical terms you’re unfamiliar with. Asking your doctor for an accurate representation of your prognosis is your right as a patient and ensuring you’re well-informed is part of their duty to you as healthcare providers.

16. What are my options?

Not everyone will face a life or death prognosis even when confronted with severe medical issues. Make sure to ask your doctor for the full array of healthcare options and treatments available to you. Before deciding what action to take, ask your doctor what they would do if they were in your shoes.

While it is a subjective opinion, it is well-informed and should help you reach your own conclusions about what you want. You may also ask to see any experimental treatments or studies that you can become a part of before making any final decisions.

17. Discuss your fear of dying

Many patients and their family members are interested in what happens next after a terminal illness diagnosis. Still, many are afraid to talk to the doctor about their fears of death. Most people expect their physicians to initiate this dialogue and are disappointed in the event that the conversation never happens.

Don't hesitate to talk to your doctor regarding your fears about dying or considering other important end-of-life issues you need to address. Although many doctors find it challenging to engage in these discussions because it represents a failure on their part to heal the patient, your doctor can still offer you hope, comfort, and peace as you face the end of life. 

18. When should we consider terminating treatment?

Discussing your end-of-life care with your physician should include planning for the end of your life. You may want to ask what happens when treatments are no longer working and how they will determine the appropriate time to end life-saving measures. You and your doctor should agree on how aggressive you want your medical treatment to be and how far they’re willing to go to try and preserve your life.

Consider discussing what medical treatment you are and aren’t ready to undergo and what you consider life-saving measures to be so that there’s no misunderstanding in the care and treatment you receive.

End-of-Life Discussion Questions to Ask a Club, Forum, or Class

Participation in clubs, forums, and classes that allow for the open discussion of end-of-life issues is an excellent way to learn, grow, and get comfortable with talking about death. The more conversation you have centered around taboo topics, the easier it becomes to have these essential conversations with your loved ones.

These forums are possibly some of the best opportunities you'll ever receive to ask anything you've ever wanted to know about death and dying. Take advantage of the ability to learn from others' opinions and experiences by asking some of the following questions.

19. What was the hardest decision you’ve had to make?

You can expand on this question to call for a more precise answer to whatever you want to know regarding someone’s most painful or challenging decisions in the course of their end-of-life planning.

The answers you receive can vary widely depending on each individual participating in the discussion and their particular set of circumstances. Engaging in honest and open conversation is a great way to become familiar with real-life issues affecting others in similar situations as yours. 

20. Do you feel you missed out on any part of life?

This question is another way of asking if someone lives with regret. Often we think we have all the time in the world to accomplish our goals or to experience life. Then suddenly, we realize that life’s passed us by and find ourselves at the end of our lives with many things left to accomplish.

You can gain valuable insight from sharing in other’s experiences and learning from their missteps in life. Not everyone gets an opportunity to live a fully realized life and has to learn to accept their fate and come to terms with their mortality.

21. How do you handle knowing you’re going to die?

This is somewhat of a trick question as we’re all going to die one day. However, it explores the topic of mortality and its effect on the human psyche and emotions. Death and dying are two inescapable parts of life that are often difficult to accept.

Most individuals see themselves as being full of life ahead of them, especially younger people in good health. What many people fail to realize is that death can come knocking at any time and any age. 

Things to Consider at the End of Life

Our time here living on Earth is fleeting. Leading a life worth living and writing each chapter of your book until it comes to a close is a powerful way to honor the life you've been gifted. Your life is yours to live as is death yours to experience. 

We'll all die one day, and when your time comes to an end will you consider it a life well-lived, or will you lie in your deathbed regretting things you could’ve changed but didn’t?

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