As with so many people across the world, we recently had to deal and must still deal, with the unexpected death of a loved one. As financial advisors, we must assist clients to make sure that their estate planning and financial affairs are in order but when reality hits close to home. We are again reminded that we cannot plan or forecast how long we are going to live and of the importance of proper estate planning and how emotions can play havoc when a loved one dies.
As humans, we expect to reach a ripe old age. In modern life, it is unusual to die before the age of 70 or even 75. People attaining the age of well above 80 is becoming the order of the day and age 100 is reached regularly in modern society. Although genetics play a role in everyone’s life expectancy there are many factors that throw curveballs at all of us. Factors like lifestyle, disease, pandemics i.e. Covid, accidents and many more can, and do, take loved ones away unexpectedly.
Please make sure that your wishes are clear and made known to the important people in your life before your passing. Do it today, don’t delay it because you just don’t know when it will be your time to leave this life.
Let’s face it, it is not pleasant to sit, plan and discuss your death with others. We don’t wake up in the morning and jump with joy and announce to the world, “Today I am going to tell the world how I wish to be treated and who must get what when I die”. As humans, we celebrate the birth of a child, and we mourn the death of a loved one. In both cases, we must be there in support of the respective families.
There aren’t many guarantees in life, but death is one of them. We are all going to die, we just don’t know when. We must prepare as best we can to inform the people we leave behind how we want our mortal remains to be dealt with and how we wish our life on earth to be celebrated and remembered.
In life, children are supposed to bury their parents. The trauma around a death and a burial become much more traumatic and sad when a parent must bury a child…
I do not want to elaborate on the technicalities of drafting a will. In this article, I want to focus on the “soft issues” (if one can call it that) around the death, burial and handling of mortal remains. The following should be considered and made known to your loved ones:
Firstly, and most importantly, let all relevant people which may include family and friends know where your latest will is and who your nominated executor is. Provide contact details of all relevant parties. The burial of a deceased takes place in most cases before an executor has been appointed by the Master. It is therefore important to let people know exactly how you wish to be treated and handled after your death. Deal with the following:
- Indicate if you wish to be buried or cremated.
- Specify where you wish to be buried or where your ashes should be scattered or kept. Be specific, don’t leave anything to chance.
- What format must your burial follow? Must it have a strong religious theme or a more mainstream “celebration of life” theme?
- Do you have a preference on who should lead the ceremony?
- Do you want a big broadly broadcasted funeral or an intimate ceremony only attended by close friends and relatives?
- Is there anyone that you do not want to attend your funeral?
- What music must be played, if any, and important what must not be played.
- Must there be an “after burial celebration” or a quiet time of personal mourning?
- Indicate a budget. Specify a coffin, must it be expensive and luxurious or plain and modest? If you would like a tombstone provide guidance as far as cost, size and design are concerned. Grieving families tend to forget about costs while they are in an emotional state and overspending can easily occur.
- Let your family know if you have a funeral plan and where the document is kept and who the administrator is. The same applies to group benefits.
- Draw up a list of your assets and liabilities. Keep it updated and make a note of all your debtors and creditors. Indicate where documents are kept.
- If all your personal documents and financial affairs are stored on a computer or in the cloud, let your family or a trusted friend know where your passwords can be found.
- Draw up a living will should you not wish to be kept alive artificially when you enter a phase of suffering and imminent death. Although a living will is not enforceable, it takes away the responsibility from the family to make the decision if life support should be discontinued or not.
The above does not have to be contained in a will. A mere letter of wishes or an instruction to one’s loved ones will suffice. Don’t leave any doubt in the minds of your family members and don’t “leave it up to them” to decide how your burial and saying goodbye should be done. That is not fair on them.
When a loved one passes away the remaining family endures much trauma, emotions, and heartache. It is our responsibility to lighten these difficult times and not let the emotions of the people left behind and who are responsible to lay us to rest spiral out of control because we either did not deem it necessary or because we just did not want to deal with this morbid topic.
Life is real and we will die. When that happens, let’s make sure that we have left sufficient instructions to ease the burden on our loved ones. Let them mourn without the additional burden of having to deal with so much without a clear indication of what you would have liked….
To all those people who have lost loved ones recently, may you find peace and tranquillity soon.