Nightly News   |  December 12, 2012

Starting a conversation as elderly loved ones age

It is difficult for families to talk about death and dying, but by proactively resolving complicated end-of-life issues it’s possible to stave off future financial worries and stress. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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>>> tonight, we want to at least talk about a conversation a lot of families avoid and for good reason. it's a tough topic. because it deals with the end of life . and when there are children involved, especially when families are spread out or don't communicate, there is plenty of room for confusion. our chief medical correspondent dr. nancy snyderman reports on a solution that's working for some people.

>> -- looks like gary cooper .

>> reporter: they fell in love in college, married more than 60 year, they have five children living in four states. and they plan to spend their final years here.

>> what is old?

>> reporter: at lincoln meadows, a spectrum retirement community near denver.

>> i'm going to have my ashes scattered on wolf creek mountains, just like my husband's.

>> reporter: where death and dieing are common topics of conversation.

>> you're old.

>> i know.

>> reporter: at ages 83 and 85, they decided to share their final wishes with family in a series of very frank discussions.

>> this is what's in our will. and we also spent every one of the kids a noterized letter saying what we wanted in the way of care if we got ill.

>> i think when we finally made the decision, we were relieved and i thought the kids were sis visibly the same.

>> reporter: dale susan edmonds is an ordained minister and hospice chaplain who started the website talk early, talk often. incouraging families to address end of life issues before a crisis.

>> i would get this phone call after things had kind of blown up. and almost invariably there would be a, help, we don't know what to do.

>> reporter: the daughter was in the loop every step of the way.

>> it is a huge relief, a huge blessing for us, that we know.

>> reporter: no matter who initiates these talk, experts say start simple. swap contact information with friends and neighbors of older parents so there's someone to check in with if concerns come up. next, organize and share copies of legal documents. things like will, advanced health directives, financial statements and power of attorney . finally, update plans and paperwork as situations arise.

>> it shows a lot of respect also for those who are going to be left behind.

>> reporter: having candid conversations about death can be a road map for the rest of your life.

>> well, we both want to die in our sleep the same night.

>> reporter: not always easy, but an essential part of creating peace of mind for families. dr. nancy snyderman , nbc news, new york.

>>> we have more on the web, including the helpful resources