End of life care

Why plan ahead?

If you have a terminal illness, or are approaching the end of your life, it may be a good idea to make advance care plans.

Planning ahead in this way is sometimes called advance care planning. It involves thinking and talking about your wishes for how you are cared for in the final months of your life.

Why should I plan ahead?

Planning ahead can help you receive the care you want, and can also help to make things easier for your partner or relatives when you are nearing the end of life.

Some things, such as telling people you love them or making a "memory box" for someone to remember you by, could help your family and friends in their bereavement after you die. You do not have to do any of these things if you do not want to.

You may sometimes think about what will happen if you become seriously ill or disabled. Would your partner or family know about the kind of care you would like to receive, or where you would like to die? Would they know if you want to be resuscitated (helped to start breathing again, if you stop) or if you want to refuse any kinds of treatment?

These might not be easy topics to think about, but by discussing your wishes with your family, you could be saving them from making difficult decisions on their own later on.

If your partner or relatives know, for example, that you do not want to be resuscitated, they will be able to make this decision when the time comes, and they will know they are helping you to get what you want.

How can I plan ahead?

There is no set way of planning ahead, but there are some useful steps you can take. It may help to read the booklet Planning for your future care produced by the National Council for Palliative Care.

Consider the steps listed here, which may also help you to plan ahead. These are:

  • starting the conversation with your partner, family, carers and health professionals
  • exploring your options, such as where you can choose to be cared for (this will probably involve talking with health professionals and other experts, especially if you have any particular questions or worries)
  • thinking about what your wishes and preferences are
  • refusing specific treatment, if you want to, using a legal document called an advance decision to refuse treatment
  • legally appointing someone, using a lasting power of attorney, to make decisions for you in case you are not able to do so yourself in the future
  • letting people know your wishes, through talking or writing them down, or both

Writing down your wishes and preferences is called a care plan or advance care plan. For an example of a care plan, see the Preferred Priorities for Care (PDF, 63kb) booklet.

As well as thinking about your future care, there are emotional and practical issues you might want to consider, such as:

  • any questions or worries you have about illness and dying that you would like to discuss
  • how you would like your funeral to be
  • making memory boxes, books or videos for your family and friends
  • legal and financial matters, such as making a will or planning for the care of anyone who relies on you, such as your children

You might already have strong feelings about these topics, or may want to think them over, or discuss them with your partner or family. Find ideas on how to start talking about death and dying.

The Dying Matters website has a 15-minute film of Dr Kate Granger talking about her experience of living with terminal cancer and how she has planned ahead for her future care.

Healthtalk.org has videos and written interviews of people talking about planning for the future.

Page last reviewed: 11/09/2014

Next review due: 31/05/2017

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You Only Die Once: Kate Granger’s story

Kate, a specialist registrar in geriatric medicine, has a rare and aggressive form of sarcoma (bone cancer). In this video Kate and her husband Chris discuss their situation with honesty, humour and pragmatism. The video was produced by FlixFilms for the Dying Matters coalition, which aims to help people talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement, and to make plans for the end of life.

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Next review due: 25/05/2019

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