How to Talk About Final Wishes with "Difficult" Loved Ones

Family having serious talk at home

Making the decision to preplan for your final wishes can bring you peace of mind. You know that plans are in place and your family won't have to worry about making these decisions for you. You can also prepay for cremation or other final arrangements to remove the financial burden from loved ones in the future.

But these peace-of-mind benefits aren't complete if you haven't discussed your final wishes with relevant loved ones. It's worth approaching that discussion even if you think the person in question will be difficult or will not agree with what you have decided.

Why is it important to talk to your loved ones after preplanning final arrangements?

If no one knows that you planned for your final arrangements, then it's not a guarantee that they'll be carried out. Someone else has to be aware of your wishes and act on them at the time of need.

If you haven't told loved ones or legal representatives about your final wishes, for example, you might not be taken to the correct resting place when the time comes. In many cases, once a deceased person is brought to a specific crematory or funeral home, law may not allow for them to be moved to another location. Ensure that your loved ones know who to call and where you have prearranged for services.

Another reason to tell others about your plans is to ensure your final wishes are carried out. You can work with a cremation or funeral service provider to plan specifics, including memorial services or a final disposition. Letting your family know about these decisions helps ensure your memory is honored in the way you wish.

Finally, letting others know about your plans removes a burden from them. Your family knows they don't have to worry about making these decisions during a time of grief. Stepping up now to make these decisions for yourself also removes the risk that family members may argue over the best way to mourn or celebrate you in the future.

Who should you speak to about final wishes?

Many people like to talk to at least one trusted friend or family member before they make or finalize arrangements. Having someone to discuss options with can be a great support mechanism as you preplan your final arrangements. It's a good idea to choose someone who is supportive of your decisions and only wants to help you make the most educated decision for yourself.

Once you make your decision and preplan cremation or funeral arrangements, it's a good idea to widen the circle. You should tell anyone who may play a role in your final arrangements, including professionals, personal caregivers, and family members.


Ensure that any professional involved in providing services relevant to your final wishes knows what you want. It's a good idea to communicate information in writing so it becomes a matter of record for each person. You can send a hard copy letter or an email, or provide copies of preplanning documentation when appropriate.

Consider talking about your final wishes with the professionals below and anyone else you believe will have an impact on your final arrangements.

  • Lawyers. Let your estate planning attorney know about your final wishes. He or she can help you integrate them appropriately into any legal documents related to your estate. Your family or estate lawyer may also be someone your loved ones turn to in their time of need, so it helps if the attorney can direct your next of kin to information about your preplanned final arrangements.
  • Insurance agents. Whether you're purchasing life insurance or burial insurance, let your insurance agent know about your preplanning. At the time of need, your agent may be able to make things easier for your family.
  • Medical professionals. Part of end-of-life planning may include a health directive or living will. This is the document that lays out your healthcare choices so providers know whether you want certain lifesaving measures if you're unable to communicate those wishes yourself. It's a good idea to have your living will (also called an advance directive) on file with your regular physicians.
  • Funeral director or cremation provider. Talking to a funeral or cremation professional helps you understand your options and best plan for your final wishes.


In some cases, you may have regular caregivers or clinicians in your home. It's important to let these caregivers know about your final wishes because they will likely be on hand during the time of need. They may also be able to communicate some of your wishes to anyone else who is there.

Caregivers include:

  • Medicaid aides, including family who checks in on you regularly, staff at an assisted living community, or medical aides who visit your home.
  • Nurses who visit your home as part of home health or hospice care.
  • Guardians who provide assistance with legal, health, or financial matters.

Immediate Family

Loved ones, including family and close friends, should be include in conversations regarding your final wishes and plans. Many times, people preplan final wishes for the benefit of their family.

It's a good idea to tell all of your close family — that way no one feels left out or surprised when the time comes. Talking about your final arrangements with everyone early further reduces the risks of family disagreements and stresses at the time of need.

While it might be tempting to start with the easiest individuals and work your way to more difficult discussions, it's often better to talk to your closest relatives first. Otherwise, they may hear the information from someone else before you talk to them, and that can make the discussion that much harder.

When possible, start with your spouse or next of kin; this is the person who will likely be responsible for making the bulk of legal decisions during the time of need.

In cases where you think your spouse or next of kin may be the "difficult" family member, you might consider sharing first with someone close who you trust, such as an adult child or sibling. That person can then support you in further discussions with loved ones.

Then consider telling the following people:

Your adult children. In some cases, adult children will play a big role in administering your final arrangements, so it helps if they know exactly what you want. It also removes a burden from them because children often want to do what "mom or dad would have wanted." Your input lets them know they are doing that.

Your siblings. Close brothers and sisters can be an invaluable support during the preplanning process or in discussion with other family members. Since siblings may be close in age, you might find a partner for the preplanning process if you talk to a sister or brother before you go to a cremation planning event or meet with a funeral provider. Your loved one may also be interested in finding out about preplanning final arrangements.

Your parents. Parents may not want to think about what would happen if their child passes away before them, but letting your parents know about your decision can remove some stress from them as well.

Close relatives. You don't have to share your plans with the entire extended family. How widely you discuss your plans depends on you, but close relatives of any type may want to know about them and can provide support for you and your loved ones at the time of need.

Close friends. Close friends can make great support structures and sounding boards when you're preplanning and discussing your decisions with others. You may also be able to vent your frustrations about those discussions with a close friend outside of the family. Choose a friend who will keep discussions confidential and will collaborate effectively with members of your family in the future.

Who else needs to know about my final wishes? If you've appointed anyone outside of these groups as your power of attorney, you will want to inform them of your plans. Your POA may be partly responsible for ensuring your wishes are adhered to at the end of life and beyond, so ensure they understand both the letter and spirit of your final arrangements.

When you approach anyone to discuss your final arrangements, make sure they know why you are making these decisions now. Suddenly talking about final wishes can upset your family and friends if they don't understand the context.

Unless you are dealing with a terminal illness, make sure that your family knows you are making final arrangement decisions to be proactive. Share with them your hope that preplanning will provide peace of mind for everyone and remove potential burdens from them in the future.

Try to stay upbeat and positive; you want family and friends to know that you are serious about your decisions even though you still anticipate living for many more years.

Talking to "difficult" loved ones about your final wishes

It's easy to decide these discussions are too uncomfortable or difficult and put them off. After all, you already did the work in preplanning, which will take a considerable burden off your loved ones in the future. Why should you have to do more work if someone is going to disagree with your decisions?

The truth is that not everyone may like or agree with the decisions you've made about final arrangements. Whether you choose cremation or traditional burial, someone may have an opinion that contradicts with your wishes. Even so, they are your family and should be aware of your final wishes and that you want them to be honored.

When should I discuss my final wishes with my loved ones?

Your final wishes are a big deal for you and your loved ones. Instead of bringing the matter up in passing while everyone is busy with a backyard cookout, child's birthday party, or simple daily chores, plan the discussion for a specific time.

Planning ahead for the talk can also help reduce how difficult it might be. Choose the right time and place, be honest in your discussion, and bring someone supportive of your decisions if necessary.

Where should I discuss my cremation plan with others?

Choose a time and place where your loved ones can fully focus on the conversation. One reason someone might seem difficult in a discussion about your final wishes is that they aren't able to concentrate on everything you're saying. They could miss some of the details, which can lead to misunderstandings.

Select a neutral place, if possible, where you're comfortable. Avoid having the discussion in places or at times when the other are already likely to be upset or stressed, such as in a crowded family room or a busy office.

Some options to consider:

  • Approach the discussion on a leisurely walk on a nice day.
  • If you or your loved one has mobility issues, consider talking on a quiet patio or in a garden sitting area.
  • Take your loved one out to a favorite restaurant and discuss your plans while enjoying a meal. Choose a place that affords some privacy and doesn't have loud music or other barriers to hearing each other.
  • Share a cup of coffee or tea in the morning or evening with your loved one while no one else is around.

Be honest, kind, and firm when discussing your decisions regarding cremation or burial.

Don't try to hedge your decision or hide certain factors about it to make the conversation easier. That's likely to cause more difficulty in the future.

Instead, explain exactly what your decisions are and why. Loved ones who don't agree with your choices are more likely to respect and support them if they believe you made them in an considered, logical manner.

If you're choosing cremation and are worried about your loved one supporting that decision, bring information about cremation to share. Many times, people don't truly understand cremation, and it's fear of the unknown that makes them less supportive of the decision. In some cases, you might even bring a representative from the funeral home or cremation provider you selected to provide in-depth information (such as when you're discussing your plans with a spouse).

While you should stand firm regarding your decision, try to be kind and tactful. Getting upset or defensive may only cause the other person to react in the same manner.

Bring someone for added support when informing loved ones about final arrangement plans. Someone who is close to both you and your loved one, who knows about your decision and is willing to support it, can help in more difficult conversations. You might bring your next of kin, spouse, adult child, or sibling.

Ensure the person you bring knows that they are there for support and comfort. The primary communication should come from you; otherwise, it may give the impression that your support is making the decision on your behalf. When loved ones don't feel like you're making your own decisions, they might decide they need to step in and argue for you.

Try to remember — and remind your support — that you preplanned for a purpose. You wanted to ensure your wishes are honored, have peace of mind about final arrangements, and remove the burden from your family so they are able to properly celebrate your life at the appropriate time. Make sure you convey this to your loved ones so they understand your preplanning is a positive thing.

If you need more information about having a conversation with loved ones about final arrangements, read our guide to talking about final arrangements with loved ones.

Take your time and have meaningful discussions

Whatever you do, don't rush through the process of informing loved ones about your final arrangements. While you want to tell key individuals as soon as possible, you don't have to inform all family members at the same time.

Rushing through these discussions can leave family with questions and misunderstandings, and they may not realize how much thought and work you put into preplanning.

When you begin your discussions with family members, ask the people you talk to not to discuss your plans with anyone else until you've had a chance to meet with everyone you intend to. That helps ensure speculation and misinformation doesn't prejudice anyone to your plans before you even talk to them.

For steps on preplanning for end-of-life arrangements, subscribe to our free, informative email series. Thinking Ahead.

The Neptune Society is the nation's oldest and largest provider of affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan cremation services in advance, we are always available to assist you and your family.

Call 1-800-NEPTUNE (800-637-8863) today or contact us online to learn more.

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