Death is not something we like to think about but the sooner you start to get yourself organised for death, the better it is for you and your family.
I have recently found this out the hard way. A family member passed away a few months ago. This person was well into their 80s, and what we'd call 'old school' which included a considerable reluctance to talk to family about death, funeral arrangements and financial matters. I understand this may be a generational issue, but boy, did it make things difficult when the person passed. We didn't even know what sort of funeral the person wanted which was very distressing to us, as we had no way of knowing if we were doing the right thing. In the end, our decisions were driven by finance, which was a horrible position to be in, and not one I want to inflict on my family.
Being the wrong side of 55, this experience has got me thinking about how well prepared I am for old age, sickness and death, especially in relation to the responsibilities it brings to my own family. I have spoken to my kids about what sort of funeral service I want. And I keep talking about updating my Will, but that's about all I have done.
So, based on my experiences of the last few months, here are a couple of tips that I suggest you start to think about and do to prepare for your own death. This will make life so much easier for your family at a time that they will be particularly stressed and upset.
1. Have an up to date Will
This is not rocket science and there really is no excuse not to have one in place, even if you are in your 20s/30s. If you cannot afford to get a solicitor to put one together, you will find your state Office of the Public Advocate will be able to help, or you can write a home made Will.
Your Will will include financial matters, and gives you the opportunity to make specific requests, for example, what you want done to your body (gifted to the local medical school?) and funeral arrangements. Leaving clear instructions is a favour to your family because, let's face it, you won't be any the wiser on the day!
2. Have your affairs organised and up to date
One of the things that I found very time consuming following death of our family member was trying to work out their financial affairs. For example, what bank accounts were current....what insurance policies were in place...where birth and marriage certificates were kept...and so on.
I think the big favour you can do for your loved ones is to keep all your documentation up together and up to date so that family know where to find stuff, and your executor/s can carry out their duties with the least amount of hassle as possible after your death.
I have put all my documentation in a file and printed out a master document with all the details I can think of, from the password to my lap top (which I'll have to remember to keep updated) to my log-ins to my bank account. So if the worse comes to the worse and I get knocked off my bicycle this afternoon, my kids will know exactly what accounts/insurance/mortgage/superannuation/property contracts etc I have, and how to access them. I have even listed all my bills and utilities.
The other thing I have on my list of to-dos is set up my enduring power of attorney.
3. Talk to your family about your death
The problem with many of the older generation is that talking about death is not the done thing. I have tried to talk to my parents about their deaths and funeral arrangement etc, which sounds very cold I know. But to this day, I don't know what they want, or how I'll need to manage their financial affairs. This is particularly tricky if one parent dies, and the other parent is not capable of organising their affairs.
My kids know how I want to die and what sort of funeral I want because we talk about death fairly regularly, especially as I have got older, and I will document request in my Will which I am about to update. The other thing I have just done is gone through my master document with all my personal details on with the kids. They are not keen on the conversation at the moment but one day, they'll be grateful that I am as organised as I am.
There are heaps of resources online and in the community that will help you ask the right questions about death and how to prepare including:
- Advanced care planning for when you are very sick or ill and cannot speak for your self: https://www.advancecareplanning.org.au
- Dying to know day - list of resources and links: https://www.dyingtoknowday.org/the-big-list
- Dying to talk -starting the conversation with family and friends: https://dyingtotalk.org.au/discussion-starter/
- Finding out about Power of Attorney: https://www.australia.gov.au/content/powers-of-attorney
How are you preparing for death?