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Why it is so important to listen to a loved one’s last wishes

Mature woman discussing her will with her son

We may find it hard to discuss death and end of life planning with parents and vulnerable family members but they often do want to share their thoughts and explain what they would like to include a will. Talking about end of life care, a funeral and who someone wants to benefit after their death does not need to be morbid and having an open discussing can often put people’s mind at rest.

Next time a relative tries to start a conversation about their end of life plans try and listen because it is good to understand what they want and a great relief to know you are doing the right thing for them if the worst happens.

Discussing a Will

If your parents or another family member have asked you to be an executor for them, make sure they have an up-to-date will which is correctly signed and legally binding. You must be named formerly in the will if they want you to act as an executor. While there are lots of DIY will packages there is the potential for misunderstandings and errors so it is often advisable to finalise a will through solicitors – this is usually fairly affordable and sometimes free if you make a charitable donation. In the event of their death, you will need to access a whole range of accounts so make sure that you understand where to find account details and paperwork and that you also know passwords to digital bank, utility and insurance accounts.

Lasting Power of Attorney

Sometimes a family member will also want you to have Lasting power of attorney over their affairs if they become seriously ill or incapacitated before death. A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a legal document which allows you to appoint people (known as ‘attorneys’) to make decisions on your behalf. There are two types of attorney, one for health and welfare decisions and the other for property and financial decisions but you can appoint one person to carry out both roles. You can only make an LPA if you are over 18 and have the mental capacity to make your own decisions. A Lasting Power of Attorney can be organized online through the Office of the Public Guardian.

Living Wills (Advanced Decisions) and Advanced Statements

It is also worth asking if your loved one has a living will in place or an advance statement. ‘An Advance Statement’ gives someone the chance to explain what medical treatment they would like to have, if any, should they be submitted to hospital with serious medical problems and are unconscious or incapable.

Normally you would ask a doctor to sign an ‘Advanced Statement’, as well as the person who is making it, but currently, this may not be possible with doctors surgeries asking people not to come in unless necessary. In the event of serious illness or accident, medical staff must take an ‘Advanced Statement’ into consideration when they are deciding on treatment but they can override a statement if they consider it is not in the person’s interests. An Advance Statement shouldn’t be confused with an Advance Decision or Living Will, which is legally binding, and relates specifically to whether someone wants any life-sustaining treatment – an Advance decision must be signed and witnessed to be valid. You can ask for a copy of someone’s advance statement or living will if they have one but it is also a good idea to ask your family member to keep a copy in the fridge with any medications because is often the first place ambulance and medical staff will look for information on a patient.

 Funeral Plans 

Discussing what someone would like to do for their funeral can be a remarkably uplifting experience. Planning music, flowers, readings etc and knowing whether somebody wants to be buried or cremated is often reassuring and can prevent family arguments later on. People will often set up funeral plans to finance these arrangements so you need to know if one is in place or not.

 Organ Donation

It is worth finding out if your parents or family member would like to donate their organs to someone after their death and whether they have registered their details on the NHS Organ Donation Site.

Organ donation can be a tremendous opportunity to help someone else’s family at a very difficult time for your own family, delivering positive benefits for both sides.