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'We need to talk': Conversation tips and starters

It may be difficult to start a conversation with someone about the possibility of becoming ill or dying. You may find it helpful to mention other people’s situations, a relevant newspaper article that you read or a website that you have come across as a way of kick starting the conversation in a general manner. These conversation starters and tips are intended to encourage you to find the right words and the right time both for you and for those around you.

Top Tips:

Be prepared. Plan the conversation beforehand, and if you find it helpful, write down a few opening statements which you can bring with you to the conversation. Ask yourself some key questions:

  • What is your purpose for having this conversation?
  • What do you hope to achieve?
  • What would be an ideal outcome?

Never make a decision on the spot. This is your money and you have the right to take your time in considering what is best for you. State clearly that you will not make a decision straight away, that you will consider your options and discuss them with your family/friend/financial advisor/solicitor. It is also strongly recommended that you bring a pen and paper with you into the conversation so that you can take notes about what is discussed and what is agreed.

  • “It’s best to make decisions about the future now while I’m able. If I become ill or am not able to make decisions, it will make life easier for all of us”
  • “I want to make sure that you know what I want. It will make life so much easier later on if I’m not able to tell you myself”
  • “I think we should talk about our finances. That way if anything happens to either of us, the other person will know all the details and be able to access all the documents”
  • “I’d like to talk to you about our finances. If something happens, I just want to make sure that you’re in the picture and you can access all the details. I’ve made a list of all the financial information such as bank accounts, savings accounts and so on and  I’ve stored it in [name of place]. That way you can get it if you ever need it to manage our finances”
  • “I’ve decided to set up an Enduring Power of Attorney which would allow you to make decisions on my behalf  if I become unable to do so”
  • “I think it would be a good idea if you knew what I would like to happen if I suddenly became ill. Like what care and treatment I would like. Could we talk about it sometime soon? When would suit you?”
  • “Have you heard about the Think Ahead form? Basically it helps you to think about your wishes for the future and helps you to record them. Why don’t we have a look at it together?”
  • “Why don’t we look at the Think Ahead Form to make a start on putting our wishes in writing?”
University College Dublin (UCD)National Centre for the Protection of Older People (NCPOP)Health Services Executive (HSE)Older People's Empowerment Network (OPEN)
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