Navigate Up

How to Start the Conversation About Advance Care Planning

Thinking about end of life care can be scary.

Sometimes people think the conversation is only for when you're sick or older. And, many times, our loved ones feel uneasy talking about the subject. But having a conversation about advance care planning is very important.

Even though it's hard, the best time to talk about it is now. It's easier than waiting until you become ill.

Having the time for discussion and reflection can often help families and loved ones understand each other’s views about end of life care.

Tips for Starting the Conversation

  • Use conversation starters: articles, TV shows, movies, or current events.
  • Other triggers include sermons, funerals, and medical checkups. Even talking about the death of someone you know can help get you started.
  • Talk about your values — what makes your life worth living and what you consider quality of life.
  • Approach the conversation wanting to share your wishes before you ask someone else to share their own wishes.
  • Be prepared to have more than one conversation or that the subject may cause an emotional reaction. This is ok.

Examples of Conversation Starters

Sharing your health care wishes with someone else:

  • “I know that this isn’t easy to talk about, but if I get sick or have an accident — and can’t make medical decisions for myself — I'd like to share what would be important to me, so you could be my decision maker.”

Asking someone else their wishes:

  • “I have also been wondering what would be most important to you if you were not able to speak for yourself? Would you want the doctors to try aggressive treatments, even if they wouldn’t cure you, to give you more time? Or would you rather have doctors manage your pain or disease so you feel better but might not live as long? Would you rather be in a hospital or at home? Who would you want to be around you?”
  • “Thinking about getting sick can be scary. If this is too much to talk about right now, could you at least think about these things so that we could discuss them later?”
  • After a movie or news story: “What would you want us to do if you were in this situation?”
  • “While I was in the doctor’s office, I saw a form called the “Pennsylvania Advance Health Care Directive.” Would you be interested in reading it so we could discuss it later?”

Advance Care Planning Resources

For more information, or to talk with someone about advance care planning, contact the UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute at:

Contact Us

200 Lothrop St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-2582
412-647-UPMC (8762)
1-800-533-UPMC (8762)

Submit a question or comment online about your visit to a UPMC facility.

Download the PDF about advance medical planning (link opens a new window). 

For more information about advance directives, download Pennsylvania Advance Health Care Directive (PDF).​

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences | Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA |