Frequently Asked Questions

What is "What Matters: Caring Conversations About End of Life"? 
What Matters is a program of the Jewish community of New York that encourages individuals to engage in advance care planning. Through one-on-one meetings and group workshops, the program helps them thoughtfully consider and document their end-of-life healthcare preferences and choose an appropriate healthcare agent/proxy. Trained and certified facilitators guide individuals through the process and encourage them to discuss their wishes with family members, loved ones, and physicians, with opportunities to engage Jewish values as part of the process.

Why should I participate in What Matters?
Many people do not have an agent/proxy, or they may have designated an agent/proxy without really considering how their goals and values might affect their future healthcare choices. This lack of clarity can lead to confusion and conflict that can be devastating in a medical crisis and create additional hardship for loved ones. Having these conversations now will help to ensure that your healthcare wishes are known and honored should difficult decision-making be necessary in the future.

Who should participate in the What Matters conversations?
Anyone over the age of 18 can benefit from participating in this process, and should designate a healthcare proxy and have an advance care directive. Participants may choose to bring their designated healthcare agent to meet with a What Matters facilitator to help explain their role. Some participants bring family members or friends to these meetings to help express their wishes, clarify decisions, and answer questions.

How long will the What Matters facilitated conversation take?
An individual conversation with a facilitator typically takes under an hour. What Matters sites also offer group sessions with several participants. Many individuals choose to return for a follow-up, facilitator-guided conversation after more reflection and conversations with loved ones and/or healthcare professionals. What is most important is to begin now and take the time needed to understand, reflect, discuss, and make an informed and personal advance care plan.

What if I do not have an advance directive?
When an individual lacks the capacity to make medical treatment decisions, and does not have an advance directive that appoints a healthcare agent, New York State sets forth the order of priority that must be followed for selecting a family member or friend to make medical treatment decisions for them.

Are advance care directive forms the same in every state?
No. Forms and rules can vary from state to state, so please check the guidelines and forms for your state. (Find State Advance Care Directives here). If you spend a significant amount of time in another state, you may wish to complete forms for more than one location.

How is advance care planning a Jewish process?
Jewish sources teach that life is sacred and that engaging in conversation leads to deeper understanding. Advance care planning and ethical wills can help clarify values that are essential to shaping end of life decision-making. Judaism has diverse perspectives on advance care planning and healthcare decision-making, and What Matters has developed several resources to guide individuals in their exploration. Sage Voices is a series of videos that feature a diverse group of rabbis and religious leaders speaking about end-of-life issues and Jewish tradition. The What Matters Jewish Resource Sheet provides additional information on this topic.

What is a Jewish Ethical Will?
An Ethical Will is a vehicle for articulating individual values and considering your legacy by exploring essential questions in ways that can be shared with your family and loved ones: "What values do I really want to live by?" "Do these values guide my important decisions?" and "What do I wish to leave behind?" Ethical wills discuss non-tangible assets, like favorite stories, life lessons, and blessings for the future, and can be communicated through the written word, audio, video, and other creative formats. The Jewish Ethical Wills Project provides resources to guide individuals through this process within the embrace of Jewish wisdom and tradition.

How do I get more information or make an appointment to meet with a What Matters facilitator?

There are currently many sites participating in the What Matters program, including several synagogues and other organizations in which you may already be a member. Multiple trained facilitators are located at each site. If you would like to schedule a first conversation or request more information, please contact one of the sites directly, or write to us at


Important Terms to Know

What is Advance Care Planning (ACP)?
Advance care planning is the process of understanding possible future healthcare decisions; considering what you might want for yourself, taking into account your personal, cultural, religious, and/or spiritual values; talking about these choices with your doctors and people close to you; and making a plan for dealing with future possible healthcare situations. Advance care planning is important at any age.

What is an Advance Directive (AD)?
An advance directive is a document that expresses your goals, values, and preferences for healthcare, and the actions that should be taken if you are no longer able to make such decisions because of illness or incapacity.

What is a Health Care Proxy Form?
A health care proxy form is a type of advance care directive that allows you to designate someone to make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot make such decisions for yourself. What Matters encourages all adults 18 years and over to complete this legally recognized form, share copies of the health care proxy form with loved ones and physicians, and carry the health care proxy wallet card, available through What Matters facilitators, at all times. You can find the New York State health care proxy form on the state's Department of Health website.  

What is a Healthcare Agent/Proxy?
A healthcare agent (also referred to as the healthcare proxy) is the person who is legally designated to make your healthcare decisions if you cannot make them yourself.

What is a Living Will?
A living will is another type of advance care directive that lists the specific medical interventions you would or would not want under various circumstances.

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