How to Prevent Future Family Conflict

When a loved one is dying or experiencing a serious illness, family conflict can easily arise as decisions need to be made in an emotionally charged situation. How can we prevent future family conflict from happening? Much can be learned from those that have gone before you on the same path. When I am out hiking in the wilderness on a long trail, I frequently ask a fellow traveler returning from the trail’s end:

“How much farther?”

“What’s it like?”

“Is it worth it?”

Can we apply this concept to life’s greatest journey, the journey to the end of life? What can we learn from those who have supported loved ones on that journey?

My wife Becky and I hiking in Ecuador in 2019

Potential Sources of Friction

Researchers recently reviewed over 39 studies that explored patient and family caregiver dissention near or at the end of life. They found that family conflict was frequent and shaped by multiple factors[1]:

  • patient and family caregiver differing perceptions of burden
  • patient’s resistance to placing burden on family caregivers
  • family caregiver lack of awareness of patient preferences
  • poor quality of communication between the patient and family caregiver
  • patient and family caregiver lack of knowledge of disease and treatment options
  • patient and family caregiver inadequate coping strategies in the context of advanced illness
  • patient and family caregiver uninformed judgments about life-prolonging treatment vs end of life care

How to Prevent Future Family Conflict

Although these challenges are significant, it’s not all bad news. Prevent future family conflict with early communication to achieve mutual understanding and common expectations. The problem with waiting too long is that it may be too late to have this conversation as patients lose their capacity to communicate as they draw nearer to the end of life or when suddenly incapacitated by serious illness. This speaks to the importance of being proactive and having these family-centered conversations well in advance of the abrupt onset of serious illness or end of life scenarios.

Another important way to prevent future family conflict is to make an Advance Serious Illness Plan (ASIP). By going through this process with your family, you will clarify your values and come to a common set of informed preferences. You then share them with your loved ones and health care team to ensure they know your authentic values and informed treatment preferences. By completing your Advance Serious Illness Plan for free on you will be setting yourself and your loved ones up for a less stressful and conflict-ridden illness experience. Complete your ASIP ASAP!

How to Start the Conversation

Professional help is available if needed to support you and your family through these difficult conversations. Consider watching this video to kickstart the conversation.

For a personal account on how planning, preparations and conversations – or lack thereof – can impact your loved ones, check out this blog.


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To live well, age well, and die well, you need to Plan Well ®