There were traditionally three certainties for humans – life, death and taxes.
Given recent insights into the workings of global multinational companies and some of our very rich citizens, it may be that only life and death are certainties these days. On the matter of the two certainties, we are very happy to talk about life and living, less inclined to articulate death and dying.
However, according to those whose life it is to talk about death, like end of life guide Helen Roberts, “the more we talk about it, the better off we are.”
“Many people don’t want to think about it but I think it’s important to get people to talk about [death] when they’re well.”
Helen runs Graceful Dying, a business devoted to providing people with support and information around death. She’s seen a lot of it during 30 years of nursing experience, most in paediatric intensive care nursing.
“Some people actually don’t care what happens after their death but it can be useful to give some direction to your family,” she says. “It’s sometimes all a bit late when you’re crook or you have a sudden death. Then people get left in the lurch.”
Recording essential information in one central location is a way to ease loved ones’ distress. It may sound morose, but a bit of forward planning goes a long way, especially in a time of high emotion and grief. We don’t know when we’re going to die, but we can be prepared for the financial, legal and practical issues that ensue. Create a death book, folder or file containing the relevant information about you so your spouse or children can access it if needed.
Here are a few tips on what information to gather and how to store it.
Compile an advanced care directive
Advance care planning helps plan your medical care in advance. It outlines what a person wants if they can no longer communicate anymore due to illness or injury.
“Get the forms and have a conversation about what you want at the end of your life,” Helen says. “If you have a major stroke, you’re in a motor vehicle accident or you’re injured and end up in intensive care on a ventilator… do you still want to be resuscitated? Those kinds of decisions. Then you nominate who would act on your behalf.”
Each state has different laws around advanced medical planning. Visit Palliative Care Australia or Advance Care Directives for more information.
Appoint a Power of Attorney
Power of Attorney enables you to appoint a person of your choice to manage your assets and financial affairs if you are unable to do so due to illness, an accident or your absence.
If you have an illness or accident which affects your ability to make your own decisions the opportunity to choose who you want as your substitute decision maker may be lost.
It is important to give consideration to having these legal tools in place before they are needed.
Get your will in order
Don’t wait until you’re ill to sort out your will. This important document officially records who will receive your assets after you die. It also outlines guardianship plans for any children. It can be compiled at any age.
“I’m 54 and healthy but have a will and an advanced care directive,” Helen says. “I’ve given instructions to my family about whether I want to be buried or cremated or stay at home for some time after death. Those kinds of things.”
It needs to be prepared and written in the right way to be legally valid. Consult a lawyer for the most up-to-date information. If you don’t have a will when you pass, you are said to have “died intestate” and assets are distributed to family members according to law. This can get messy. Save potential legal chaos and do it properly. Make sure family members also know the details of your lawyer so they know who to contact if required.
If you leave it to chance The Public Advocate acts as guardian for a person with a mental incapacity and delegates the day-to-day responsibility for decision making. Don’t leave it to chance. Sort out that will and Power of Attorney now.
Organ and tissue donation
Again, this can be difficult for some people to think about, let alone discuss but recording your wishes can save your loved ones some agonising decisions if you pass away unexpectedly. After all, no one knows what’s going on in your head and heart better than you do.
Join the Australian Organ Donor Register to leave your family in no doubt of your decision.
Few people particularly want to think about their final shebang but at least giving your funeral some thought means you’ll leave this world the way that you want.
The options are staggering. There’s traditional burial, cremation, natural burial, dying at home and home vigils, and choosing an eventual resting site to name a few.
Gather your financial and legal adviser details, trusts, insurance policies, investment details (shares and funds), superannuation, information about bills, mobile phone accounts, health and medical details, important email addresses, usernames, passwords, bank and credit card details, Medicare and Centrelink essentials, drivers’ licence, passport, birth, marriage and death certificates, home and contents documents, and details of any loans. Phew!
It’s a lot to think about but imagine a loved one trying to wrangle all that information and not knowing where to start.
Store it all safely
Don’t merely scribble your personal details in a journal and leave in your office desk’s top drawer.
In this digital age, there are many ways to securely store personal information. The New York Times piece Navigating the Logistics of Death Ahead of Time lists a series of planning and document storage websites devoted to information storage ahead of death. They include Everplan and AfterSteps.com.
“Nothing is stopping you from using free options like Dropbox,” New York Times writer Tara Siegel Bernard says. “Though you’ll have to let your survivors know how to get inside. There are also storage-focused options like SecureSafe.”
In Australia, My Health Record is a great place to store medical records online. If you simply must store your info in old school print form, make sure you lock your collection of passwords and financial records in a safe accessible by the person you trust most.
Get on with life
If it all sounds like a lot of hard work, it is, but once you’ve done it, you can breathe a bit deeper and move through the rest of life with a weight off your shoulders. Go forth and live the stress-free life you imagined.
At Advice SA we provide strategic financial advice that addresses the total spectrum of maximising and protecting your wealth.. Call us to find out what’s possible for you.
Mark Bastiaans is an Authorised Representative #296627 of Guideway Financial Services Pty Ltd ABN 46 156 498 538 AFSL 420367.
The information provided above contains general advice that does not take into account your financial situation, specific needs or objectives and is not intended to be personal financial advice and should not be relied upon without written advice from Guideway Financial Services Pty Ltd.