In this series I look at some of the important elements we need to put in place to ensure that life’s events do not take us by surprise. And also how we can put measures in place to protect those we love in case we cannot be there to do so ourselves.
I last posted on this subject in August 2014 when we had just finished with my mother’s estate and returned to Madrid.. Doesn’t time fly!
I lived with my mother most of the last four years of her life, and would often be entertained by the discussions on a Friday morning between her and her friends of a similar age. Forget coffee. They arrived at midday for double gin with a splash of tonic, a large sherry and a double and whisky and water. Then it was a quick dash ( I exaggerate) with three wheel walking aids, across the cobbles to the pub around the corner for a senior’s lunch with another drinkie…
Anyway.. the subject of wills came up recently as we had to make new ones on our return to Ireland. Our Spanish/English versions were out of date as you are supposed to have wills for the country of residence or where your assets are held. Ours were supposed to be International, but we did not want to take the risk..In most countries I am afraid that if you do not make your own arrangements for the disbursement of your estate, the government will make them for you. And take years doing it!
Anyway here in Ireland and the UK, provided everything is in joint accounts between husband and wife, and there are no children, it is a simple process. However, if a couple both die at the same time, the estate needs an executor and provisions made for the distribution of assets.
Who will go through your underwear drawer?
There are also some personal things to take into account. Who do you want going through your personal things, like your underwear drawer? Who do you want to leave your sentimental and possibly family related belongings? Who do you want to have your hard-earned money? All that is in our wills including my nomination for underwear duty.
Talking about death can be a taboo subject even though it is going to happen to us all without exception at some point following our birth. If we are fortunate that will not be until we have lived a rich life full of love, companionship and laughter. However, in my experience it is a subject that most of us choose to ignore or put off discussing until we are much older or sometimes when events have overtaken us.
For example it is estimated that around 27 million adults in the UK do not have a will. That is nearly half the adult population. There are various reasons for this including people who feel that they have nothing of value to leave, but worryingly there are also parents in their 20’s and 30’s who are not making provision for their children or property should anything happen to one or both of them.
Making a will these days is very straightforward, need not be expensive and copies can be left with responsible individuals or a solicitor to make sure your wishes are carried out. I will put a link to advice on the subject at the end of the post. We downloaded our will forms from a recognised and legal site here in Ireland for a fraction of the cost of what a solicitor would charge. However, as I mentioned, without children it is fairly straightforward for us.
There are other documents that you can have drawn up that will cover your health and your assets should you be incapacitated and I have also covered them briefly and added links.
When I was on radio I put together a programme on the subject and sat down and interviewed several 80 to 90 year old men and women about their thoughts on dying.
So what constitutes the fear of dying?
From those in their 80’s and 90’s that I asked the question of, these were some of the answers.
- Fear of being in pain.
- Dying alone and not found for a long time.
- Being taken to hospital and not coming home again like so many of their friends.
- Even when not religious, fear of what actually might be in the afterlife.
- If religious, would all their ‘sins’ in life be taken into account?
- Worry about who will be going through their personal belongings and treasures.
- Worry about their pets and who will look after them.
- Their funeral
- Meeting loved ones on the ‘other’ side and not being forgiven for moving on.
- Being forgotten by family and friends.
This is just a selection and I am afraid that those of us that were brought up in the ‘hell and damnation’ school of religion are even more conscious of 4, 5 and 9! Interestingly, most of the other fears could be allayed with some simple paperwork.
If you have an elderly relative, you may have come across some of these fears, rational or irrational, and it can be very distressing for them and for you. There are certainly some processes that you can put in place to overcome some of the practical concerns of being alone and vulnerable, either as a family or with outside help. However it is important that others issues are addressed in the form of legally binding documents.
It is important to make these provisions when you are a great deal younger than your 70’s or 80’s and there are natural life events that provide that opportunity – Getting married, having children, buying property or moving abroad for example. It is not just the material side of our lives which should be addressed but also our own personal wishes about issues such as our health and how we would like to be remembered by friends and family when we die.
My mother went to lots of funerals by the time she was in her 90’s and chose a service that she liked in particular, leaving instructions of how she wished hers to be conducted. She also made a will after my father died at 80 and she signed a DNR at the time of a hip replacement in her mid-80’s entirely of her own volition.
As far as religion was concerned she was pragmatic but she had communion at home every couple of weeks in the last year, although it was actually more of an excuse for a visit and a sherry! It did bring her comfort, although towards the end we still had discussions about what she felt might be stumbling blocks in getting into any heaven there might be. Human transgressions that we all make and had no place being given such power at that point.
It is hard watching someone you love going through the final stages of their life. However, it is also a great deal harder if you are the one making the decisions, particularly in relation to life and death. I was fortunate to be at both my father’s and mother’s sides when they died peacefully along with other family members as we promised they would not be alone. My mother died at home overlooking her garden surrounded by her treasures and she went to her funeral in her favourite pink jacket and pearls….
We think that if we tell our family and friends our wishes that they will be carried out but you do need to have a formal and legal document to make sure that they have a right to honour your requests.
If you are a parent you should make a will however young you may be. Find people that you trust who agree to look after your children and bring them up as their own. Make financial provision for the children and the disposal of your assets. Make your wishes known about your own funeral or cremation. Leave this and any letters to those you love with a solicitor as well as whomever you have chosen to be your executor.
If you lose your partner and have had a combined will then make sure you have one drawn up for yourself as soon as possible.
If you have pets then leave provision in the will for them and find a person who is willing to take them for you. You can also leave personal items to various family members that you know they will treasure.
And, everyone should consider drawing up a ‘Living Will’ detailing how you wish to be treated in case of illness or incapacity. Do you wish to be resuscitated if you have a terminal illness which might lead to further pain and suffering? Who do you wish to be responsible for your health decisions if you are not able to do so?
You can also draw up a ‘Power of Attorney’ and nominate one of your children, family member or solicitor to manage your estate should you be incapacitated. Someone you trust to take care of your personal belongings, home, finances, pets or children etc.
There have been a couple of occasions when I almost found out for myself what was on the other side. It also made me realise that I should make sure that my wishes were clearly laid out so that those I loved were able to move forward with their lives with the minimum of worry and stress.
Here are some links that you might find useful and I am sure that wherever you live in the world there are similar provisions in place.
I hope that you have found this useful and that you will make sure that you have made provisions that reflect your wishes of how your belongings and assets are divided amongst your family and friends.