Tackling your Death Documents

*** Time for this post?  Reading… 3 minutes. Completing documents… unknown and worth every minute. Dancing… as long as you want!

Quick! Do your near and dear know where your mother was born? Or your father’s full name exactly as it is on his birth certificate?

They should…because the funeral home will ask for these details (unless you’ve prearranged your funeral and already given them the information).

Do your kids know if you or your spouse ever received Family Allowances or the Child Tax Credit?

They should know that too…because the government will want the answer when your family applies for the Canada Pension Plan Death Benefit.

Who knew?!!

Not me, until I began getting all my paperwork ducks in a row.

Apparently, funeral homes are required to submit information about your lineage when registering your death with the provincial government. I have no idea why the federal government needs to know about Family Allowance cheques I received half a century ago…and I didn’t ask.

But you can be sure I wrote down the answers to those tricky questions and gave them to my kids.

Here’s a blank copy with space to fill in your answers to questions that might be tricky for others. Click on the thumbnail below for a PDF version or here to download the Word File.

Preventing overwhelm…

We all know there are documents we should have in place before we die—not just one, but about half a dozen. Where to start?!! 

First thing…

Here’s a checklist.

Print it and put a checkmark beside the documents you’ve already completed.

Then

Look at the unchecked items and focus on the one closest to the top. Beside that item, write down the first thing you’ll do to get it underway. Give your yourself a completion date for that first step. Then do it.

If you feel stuck, review my blogs on the various documents.

Cost of a basic will
Wills…getting down to business
Wills…without the mumbo jumbo
Power of Attorney (at the end of this blog)
Personal Directive
Supported Decision-Making
Paper Trail
Last Wishes

Rinse and repeat…

You may find that you have more than one document on the go at the same time because you’re waiting for something—your appointment with the lawyer, a chance to get to your safety deposit box and check on an item in there, an opportunity to discuss your personal directive with your children before arranging to have your signature witnessed, etc.

The key is to keep things moving and tick off items as they are completed. When you check off the last one, do a happy dance!

Snoopy Happy Dance from David Innes on Vimeo.

The business of dying involves more than paperwork…

***Time for this post?  Reading… 1 minute. Viewing…17 minutes. Thinking about it…as long as it takes.

My last few posts have been about several major documents that we should put in place well before we’re at the end of life. But dealing with mortality includes more than signing documents. Important as paperwork is, the human aspect of death is equally significant.

Key points…

When you make your personal (advance) directive, be sure your family is on board. This doesn’t mean they have to agree with what you want. The question to ask them is… Will you honour what I want?

Kit Jackson mentions a small book called Hard Choices for Loving People. I haven’t read it. Here’s where you can find out more.

Five things to say at the bedside of a dying person…

  1. Thank you.
  2. I love you.
  3. Please forgive me.
  4. I forgive you.
  5. Goodbye.

That more or less says it all, I think.

The Last of your Death Documents

***Time for this post?  Reading…10 minutes. Listening…2 minutes. Implementing…one bit at a time.

I’ve recently written about Wills, Power of Attorney, and Personal Directives. All are essential because they cover differing aspects of managing our affairs before and after death.

These documents are not necessarily quick and easy to make. It would be understandable if you’re feeling that it’s an onerous task to put things in order for your eventual demise!

Sorry! There are three more documents to consider—your Last Wishes Letter, Paper Trail, and a Supported Decision-Making Authorization. These aren’t legally required, but will ease things for you and your family in a variety of ways.

This post gives you the essential information you need to make each of them happen. They don’t all need to be done at once, but after reading this you will have in the back of your mind what is required to get each of them completed when you are ready to do it.

Supported Decision-Making…

Here’s how the Alberta government describes supported decision-making

Even if an adult is capable of making decisions, there may be times when they need someone to help make non-financial decisions. This is called supported decision-making.

A supporter’s help is often needed when the adult is ill, has mild disabilities, doesn’t speak English well, or is facing a complex decision.

A supporter helps communicate the adult’s questions, concerns and decisions by talking to their service providers, who could include doctors, pharmacists, care centres, and employers.

A supporter has the legal authority to access the adult’s personal information like medical records and to help the adult think through decisions.

Click on the image below for a printable version of a supported decision-making form. As you will see, it allows you to appoint up to three people to provide support for you when you need it.

Witnessing the form

This form is a do-it-yourself process but it requires witnessing. The witness does not need to know or approve of what is in the document. He or she is there to simply watch you sign. The instruction sheet the came with my form says the “witness cannot be one of your supporters.” It is also understood that a witness must be the age of majority.

That’s how it is in Alberta, Canada. Elsewhere, you might find something similar. It’s worth checking. This kind of assistance can make your elder-hood easier.

Last Wishes Letter. Why?

Your Will is all business. It ensures distribution of your material possessions and financial assets after you’ve died. But there is no “touchy-feely” quality to it. A Will does not provide any means of specifying how you want your body handled after you’ve left it, who you would like notified of your passing, and how you want to be memorialized.

The solution is for you to create a Last Wishes Letter. This is not a legal document, but rather a means of “speaking” to your family. In fact, you may want to literally speak to them by going over it with them while you’re still alive.

Getting down to it…

The contents of your Last Wishes Letter are entirely up to you. The following guidelines will help you get started.

~~ Your body…

Think about things like funeral, cremation, or body donation? Do you care where the ashes are spread? Open or closed casket? Do you have a preferred funeral home? Have you pre-paid for services? Is there a family burial plot? Do you want your funeral at home? What would that involve?

~~ Memorialization…

Do you envision a large funeral service in a religious building? A memorial service at the funeral home? What music do you want…or not want? Is your community of friends scattered across the country or the world, making either of those options impractical? What are the key facts you’d like included in your obituary? Have you written your own obituary to ensure accuracy of details? Do you want a tree planted in your name? A plaque on a wall at the cemetery where your urn is buried or your ashes scattered? Do you care?

~~ Special items and clarifications…

Taffy & Dolly

Dolly is one of the antiques I will be passing on to my two granddaughters. She was a gift from Santa Claus in the early 1950s. Recently, my sister sent Taffy, same vintage, to live at my house. Taffy is a gift, as long as she stays in my family. However, if my granddaughters don’t want her at inheritance time, Karen has asked that Taffy be returned…a fair and important request.

Why is this important? If Karen’s request is overlooked, that could cause hard feelings which might become irreparable. Most of us can think of examples from our own families where something like this has happened.

So here’s what I did… I printed the above photo on a letter-sized sheet of paper, leaving room around it for notations. I clearly indicated which doll was which, identifying the one that belongs to my sister. Then I wrote the details of our arrangement on the page. I have sent a copy to Karen, gave a copy to both my kids, and put the original page in my death documents file. I think I’ve covered all the bases and left no room for hard feelings!

Most of us have things that we’ve promised to people—a cherished item, a sum of money, forgiveness of a loan, or who knows what else. If you want to make sure things happen as you intended, then put the details in writing and share copies with everyone who should know about it.

~~ A personal message…

What you say, or don’t say, in your Last Wishes Letter is entirely up to you. “Goodbye. I love you. I am so proud of who you’ve become” is enough.

But if you want to say more and don’t know where to start, do a web search for “legacy letters” or “ethical wills.” You’ll find many websites to help you. I particularly like this description by Bill Zimmerman

Every parent or adult should consider passing down to a beloved child a written legacy, or letters, focusing on all the important things which they have learned in their lives. Such legacy letters strengthen that child’s ability to survive in life and deal with all the good and bad things to be experienced in years to come. These legacy letters might include family values, lessons learned, memories, and hopes or dreams for that child. Such legacy notes also convey the wisdom that a parent or relative has acquired and which would be helpful for a child to know.

Legacy letters let you determine how you want to be remembered.

…you can start your own legacy letter by answering three short questions:

  1. How do you want to be remembered?
  2. What’s something you’ve learned from your parents?
  3. What challenges have you overcome?


Click on the image above for a printable template for your Last Wishes Letter with spaces for jotting down some rough notes. When the rough outline is done, you can type it out, handwrite the whole thing, dictate your thoughts onto a video, or format it however you like. And, if you happen to die at the rough-note stage, your family will still have some idea of what you wanted them to know.

Paper Trail…

Like your Will, the Paper Trail is all business. It contains particulars about your legal and financial affairs, including location of documents such as land titles, birth certificate, divorce papers, and anything else that will help your executor more easily wind up your affairs. Your Paper Trail is also a good place to record pertinent health information such as healthcare numbers, where you get prescriptions filled, name of your health practitioners with contact information. This will be helpful for your agent if your Personal Directive must be brought into effect because of a deteriorated mental state.

Click on the image below for a printable fill-in-the-blanks version. To download the Word file of this Paper Trail document, click here.

It has been a lot to take in these past few weeks. You can’t do it all at once. Take a breath and start somewhere, with one small thing…

Please note: Laws vary between provinces, states, and countries. I’m using information from where I live to illustrate principles, but you will need to check the details in your jurisdiction. The Internet is a good place to start.

Personal Directive. Why bother?

*** Time for this post?  Reading… 12 minutes. Viewing…13 minutes well spent. Doing the work…take the time while you have it.

A Personal Directive (Advance Directive, Health Care Directive, Living Will) is an important piece of your paperwork. It’s the legal document in which you state your wishes for your personal care and medical treatment…or non-treatment. It only comes into effect if you are found to lack capacity to make personal decisions for yourself.

You need a Personal Directive as well as your Power of Attorney. Although both of them come into effect when you’ve lost your mental capacity to decide for yourself, the Power of Attorney can only address your financial matters. So a Personal Directive is necessary to give authority to someone you trust to make your personal decisions.

It’s about directing how you want your life to conclude…

Jim McDermott is a medical doctor who has seen plenty of life and death. In a compelling TEDx talk, he reminds us of the importance of initiating conversations about how we wish to pass when the time comes. He encourages us to think and act on our own convictions while we can, putting our wishes in writing so they are known by all who will be caring for us.

As Dr. McDermott says, you go to the trouble of documenting your wishes for…
  1. Yourself… so you go in the best possible way.
  2. Your loved ones… to clarify your wishes and prevent emotionally upsetting disputes about what is best.
  3. Your doctors…to free them from their ethic of prolonging life at all cost.
  4. Your wallet…to prevent unproductive expenditures on treatments that make very little difference in the long run.

Making an Advance Care Plan…

Putting your wishes in writing isn’t easy—he’s right about that!

For me, my Personal Directive was challenging because it took a while to find helpful information about how to do it. Not because there wasn’t information, but because it was written by medical people and government officials. The resulting booklets were confusingly clinical. They did nothing to help me think about what life might bring when I’m old and frail…or what I think should happen in such circumstances. Nor did they help me gain a sense of when I would be ready to say “enough is enough.”

Dying with Dignity…

Then I discovered Dying with Dignity Canada, an organization committed to improving our quality of dying, protecting end-of-life rights, and helping Canadians avoid unwanted suffering.

Dying with Dignity has a booklet that is incredibly useful. It walks you through the thinking process by asking a series of questions about what you would want in various scenarios. Here’s an example:

You have congestive heart failure. You are always short of breath. Your swollen ankles make walking difficult. But your mind is still sharp and you enjoy time with family and friends. One day you have a severe heart attack and your heart stops beating. Do you want 911 called and CPR started?

[  ]  Yes

[  ]  No

[  ]  I am uncertain

Their questions helped clarify my thinking. But they take it one step further, and recommend also using the questions to initiate conversation with those who will be in charge of decisions about you. To do this, they suggest giving a blank copy of the questionnaire to your agents and family members to answer the way they think you did. Comparing their answers to yours shows the discrepancies, giving you a chance to discuss and clarify your wishes. In so many cases, this sort of conversation is the missing piece in end-of-life preparations. The questionnaire process facilitates it beautifully.

You can find their planning document at the Dying with Dignity website. If you live in Canada, scroll to the bottom to find the version tailored to your province’s legal requirements. If you live elsewhere in the world, pick any province and use the booklet for the thinking process. Then do some research to learn about the legalities and appropriate forms where you live.

Some practical information…

  • A Living Will or Personal Directive does not apply to your financial decisions. It only applies to personal decisions—those about where you will live and what sort of medical care you will agree to have in various circumstances.
  • You make your Personal Directive while you are still mentally sound. In it, you specify what you want to happen to you in the time before death, and appoint someone, known as your agent, to speak on your behalf when you cannot.
  • It is a legal document that comes into effect when you have been deemed incapable of acting on your own behalf.
  • When making your Personal Directive, be sure to check the legal requirements where you live. In Alberta, a Personal Directive is optional and voluntary. However, when one is made, it must meet certain prescribed conditions to be legally valid.
  • To be legally binding, a Personal Directive must be signed, dated, and witnessed. A lawyer can do it for you, but that is not necessary as long as you research the legal requirements and follow them carefully.
  • Your Personal Directive is not written in stone. You can change your mind and write a new directive at any time. Since it does not require assistance of a lawyer, it won’t cost anything except your trouble in arranging for someone to witness your signature.

  • In Alberta, a witness MAY NOT be the person you named as your agent, the spouse or partner of the person you named as your agent, your own spouse/partner, or anyone under the age of 18 (the age of majority).
  • The witness is not required to read your document or approve its contents. The witness is there to actually see you sign the paper. That means you must complete the document except for your signature before meeting with the witness. You sign first, and then the witness signs. If ever asked, your witness would be able to swear that he or she saw you sign the document.
  • Before meeting with the witness, make several copies of the unsigned but complete directive form. Both you and the witness sign each of the copies. this means that you and your agents each have a document with original signatures, which will be helpful when they need to use it.
  • Once your Personal Directive is signed and witnessed, you may want to make copies and send them to your family. This is not legally required but will help ensure there are no misunderstandings about what you want. You may also wish to leave copies with your doctor, lawyer, and/or clergyman.

Another angle to consider…

Dementia presents a unique situation because it can take 5 to 20 years for the end of life to arrive. You might want to give thought to the kind of medical care you would want at various stages if you were to develop worsening dementia.

I recently discovered an excellent health directive for dementia with clear and direct explanations. It was developed by Dr. Barak Gaster, a medical doctor who teaches resident physicians in the clinic at the Memory and Brain Wellness Center, University of Washington. He knows a lot about the ramifications of dementia.

His Dementia Directive Form  is available free. I have just made my choices, signed and dated it, and attached it to my main Personal Directive. If you don’t yet have your Personal Directive completed, at least do the dementia directive and file it with copies of your Will and Power of Attorney. (More about what to do with all your documents at another time.)

For more about Dr. Gaster and why he thinks this is important, check out this article in the New York Times. In part, he says…

The standard advance directives tend to focus on things like a ‘permanent coma’ or a ‘persistent vegetative state,’” Dr. Gaster said. “Most of the time, they apply to a person with less than six months to live. Although it’s a terminal disease, dementia often intensifies slowly, over many years. The point at which dementia patients can no longer direct their own care isn’t predictable or obvious.

That just gives you the flavour of what a dementia directive is about. It’s worth considering.

PS I just printed the graphic with the stars and attached it to the front of my directive because I felt the document was still lacking in the spirit of what I want. I think this does it! If you’d like to print the page I used, click on the image below.

PPS Laws vary between provinces, states, and countries. I’m using information from where I live to illustrate principles, but you will need to check the details in your jurisdiction. The Internet is a good place to start.

Death Documents — The Full Picture

*** Time for this post?  Reading…5 minutes. Listening…4 minutes. Smiling…for as long as you can!

You’ve made your Will.

That’s a good thing.

Maybe you’ve asked the lawyer to prepare your Power of Attorney at the same time.

Even better.

But there’s more to consider…

Your Will and Power of Attorney direct what happens to your money and belongings.  But what about you, your person, your being?

After you’ve died, what do you want done with your body? How do you want to be memorialized? Who do you want notified of your passing? Who will know what you want? No one, unless you tell them.That’s why you should write a Last Wishes Letter.

As you age, what if you are no longer able to live alone in your home?  Where do you want to be cared for? Suppose you are very ill and in the hospital. Do you want to stay there or be moved to a hospice? Do you want medical staff to use heroic measures to prolong your life…or not? Who will make these personal decisions for you when you can’t? How will they know what to do? These are serious questions for those looking after you. You make it a lot easier for them if you’ve documented your wishes in a Personal Directive, sometimes called a Living Will, Advance Directive, or Health Care Directive)

Here’s one more scenario. Suppose, as you age, you are still mentally competent but medical appointments and information have become daunting at the same time as your medical conditions are becoming more complicated. You’d like your adult children to be able to speak to your doctor to clarify. Because of strict privacy laws these days, doctors are not at liberty to divulge information about you to anyone, not even family, unless you have completed a Supported Decision-Making Authorization.

The full picture…

So…that makes a total of five documents. Some apply when you are alive, others only after you have died. Each is important in its own sphere of influence. Here’s the full picture. Click here for a printable version.

All except your Last Wishes Letter are legal documents, but only the Will and Power of Attorney require visiting a lawyer. The Personal Directive and Supported Decision-Making Authorization  must be witnessed, but you can fill out the forms yourself and arrange to have your signature witnessed.

More about these remaining documents over the next couple weeks. In the meantime, while you digest and assimilate this big picture,  here’s something to lift your spirits…

Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music. The idea for this project came from a belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. You can listen to many more of their Songs Around The World on their website.

Next week…Personal Directives. If there are questions you’d like addressed, leave them in the comment box below so I can include the answers next week.

Please note: Laws vary between provinces, states, and countries. I’m using information from where I live to illustrate principles, but you will need to check the details in your jurisdiction. The Internet is a good place to start.

Wills…without the mumbo jumbo

*** Time for this post? Reading… 13 minutes. Longer than usual but it will save you time in the long run.

Although a hand-written will is legal in a few places, and you can always buy will forms and fill in the blanks, there’s plenty of room for error when you do it yourself—especially if your situation is in any way complicated. That’s why it’s recommended that you see a lawyer for both your Will and Power of Attorney.

The prospect of visiting a lawyer can be intimidating—sometimes because of fear of the cost (see here for clarification and reassurance), and usually because of a lack of familiarity with the terms and procedures. This post is meant to help you feel more comfortable about consulting a lawyer to draw up your documents.

Terminology…

You—the person making the Will—are known as the testator. Your estate consists of the assets you have acquired. A beneficiary is someone who inherits something from your estate. A bequest is what you leave to your beneficiaries via the terms of your will.

In your will, you designate an executor (executrix is sometimes still used as the feminine form of the word) to look after administering the Will following your death. You can think of this person as a business manager who ensures your affairs are properly wrapped up and the estate is dispersed to the beneficiaries.

Once the executor has completed the necessary steps, an application for grant of probate will be submitted to the government. Probate means proving the will. It is a legal procedure for verifying that the person named in the will has died, that the will is valid, and that the executor is confirmed. This is required before property may be sold or transferred, and before a financial institution may release funds that belonged to the deceased.

If you are supporting minor children, guardians should be named to act as substitute parents until the children are of legal age and can live independently. If you are responsible for a dependant adult, a guardian should be named for that person.

Wordcloud Wills

Things to think about…

If you’ve done your thinking in advance, the appointment with your lawyer can be efficient and relatively painless. I’ve outlined the four main areas below.

Give them due thought, but don’t get stuck. You’re paying the lawyer for advice, so outline your dilemma and let the lawyer offer his or her perspective. A professional point of view might be all you need to see things clearly and come to a decision about what works best for you.

#1—Decide on an executor to look after settling your estate.

  • You’ll want to choose someone who is reliable and trustworthy as well as capable. Since the executor will be looking after your business affairs, it helps to select someone who is comfortable with paperwork and dealing with professionals. Your executor may hire an accountant and a lawyer to do most of the work but would need to be able to liaise effectively with them.
  • When you decide on an executor, make sure that person agrees before naming him or her in the will. This is important because someone named as an executor may decline if unable or unwilling to accept the role. If that were to happen, the court would appoint an administrator. The work would be done, but at greater expense to the estate, so avoid this complication.
  • A beneficiary may be an executor. In fact, spouses and partners frequently appoint each other, with an alternate in case they both die at the same time.
  • The executor may live outside the province, but this makes things more complicated in settling the estate.

#2—If you have minor children, decide on guardians and get their agreement.

  • Guardians are substitute parents, and there are many factors to think about, from shared values to geographical location. Appointing guardians is generally the most difficult decision because often there is no easy and clear-cut choice. The most constructive thing you can do is sort through all the factors to make the best decision you can.
  • If you leave this decision unmade, the courts will do it. You have no guarantee their decision would be what you’d want, and at that point you won’t be able to do anything about it.
  • Do not default on the decision of guardianship because you believe that your children’s godparents will automatically become their guardians. This is not the case. Godparents are appointed under the authority of the church for the purpose of ensuring the child gets a proper religious upbringing in that particular faith. The court is a separate system and requires you to specify your choice for guardians in your will. However, there is nothing to stop you from naming the people who are the godparents to also be your child’s legal guardians, if that would best suit your situation.

#3—Prepare a net worth statement.

A net worth statement is a snapshot of your financial worth at one point in time. With this information, both you and your lawyer will be clear about what you’ll be passing along to those you leave behind.

  • Assets are what you own. They can include personal belongings, car, house, cash, and investments of all types. Make a list of your assets, assign each a dollar value according to how much you could sell it for today, and add them together to find the total value of your assets.
  • Liabilities are what you owe. They include all your debts—the outstanding balance on your credit cards and outstanding loans of all types (student, personal, car, home equity, mortgage, line of credit, consolidation, and loans from family members or friends). Calculate the total amount that you owe.
  • It is important to understand that debts must be paid from the estate before the beneficiaries get anything. You might say in your Will that you leave $100,000 to someone, but if that money has to go to paying off an outstanding loan, they won’t get anything.

#4—Decide on your beneficiaries and what they will inherit.

  • By and large, you can leave whatever you own to whomever you want.
  • However, you cannot legally disinherit dependents. This is for good reason—they are your responsibility. If you could disinherit dependents, the welfare system would have to care for them, which is an unfair burden on society.
  • Generally speaking, lawyers will advise you to word your bequests broadly to avoid the need for frequent revision of your Will. An example of a broad statement is the stipulation that “…my estate be divided equally among my three children, as named below…”
  • If there are sentimental items you have promised to specific people, you can handle this informally by putting a name label on the bottom and taking photos or creating a list of such items and advising those involved, including the executor. The value of such bequests would be counted as part of the person’s share of the estate.

Signing a Will

Limitations of a Will…

A Will gives your family instructions about your wishes for disposition of what you have accumulated and only comes into effect after you’ve died.

Yet it is quite possible you’ll need someone to look after certain things while you are still alive.

Here is a very real example. If I were alive but incapable of living on my own and directing my affairs, my condominium would have to be sold to generate funds for placing me in a more suitable environment. The hassle-free way of ensuring this is for me to assign authority to my adult children while I am still competent. This authority is known as a Power of Attorney.

Power of Attorney…

Before visiting your lawyer, decide who you want to appoint to look after your financial affairs when you can’t. It’s also a good idea to name an alternate in case the first person is not able or available.

An Enduring Power of Attorney is set up in advance to take effect if you become mentally incapable. My Power of Attorney specifies that it only comes into effect when it has been determined that I am mentally incompetent, and it identifies how that determination will be made.

Mental incapacity is not the only time you may want to give someone power of attorney over your financial affairs. One of my sons, for example, took some of his post-secondary education overseas. The first year we hadn’t thought about how he would deal with matters such as student loans, certain educational applications, and other matters requiring his signature. It was much easier the next year when I had power of attorney. However, I was keenly aware of the high degree of trust that had been placed in me. As the lawyer pointed out when we signed the document, my son was legally bound by my signature, as if it were his own, for the period of time the arrangement was in place. This power of attorney—for a specific purpose or time period—is called an Immediate Power of Attorney.

Your Will and Power of Attorney are meant to make life easier for the people you care about. Think about it now...while you can.

Next week we’ll take a step back and look at the big picture.

Please note: Laws vary between provinces, states, and countries. I’m using information from where I live to illustrate principles, but you will need to check the details in your jurisdiction. The Internet is a good place to start.

Wills…getting down to business

*** Time for this post?  Reading… 7 minutes. Implementing… however long it takes to make the call that gets the ball rolling.

Most of us cringe when we think about making our wills.

Such a pain!  Don’t even want to think about it.  I know that I should…and I will do it… one of these days.

“One of these days” doesn’t come for all of us.

Some die suddenly and the family is left scrambling to find out what is where.

Others find themselves very ill, debilitated, and in the hospital—with family members delicately trying to find out if there is a will without appearing to hope the person will die so they can get their inheritance.

Not a pretty sight, and not what any of us would want if we were thinking rationally.

Interesting thing about death, though…

The topic of dying tends to evoke irrational responses. Here are a few reasons for this. What would you add?

  • Trauma from a childhood experience involving the death of a family member, friend, or beloved pet.
  • Fear of offending a dying person by bringing up the topic.
  • Fear of sounding greedy or insensitive if you are an adult child wondering about what your parent’s wishes are and where they are recorded.

Most of us have emotional reactions to the reality and logistics of death. One way or another, our emotional blocks interfere with our ability to act reasonably and responsibly. Often we cope by avoiding talking or even thinking about all death-related things.

Discovering your own hangups and releasing them paves the way for you to have productive conversations around dying, whether you’re the child or the parent. In my experience, emotional blocks often respond to energy psychology modalities such as NLP and the Emotion Code.

Why bother?

Making a will is a lot of effort, especially if you have to jump over emotional hurdles before getting started. And then  when you do get down to business, there are several important decisions waiting to be made.

Maybe it isn’t worth the trouble to make your will. You’ll die some day, whether or not you have a will.

What happens when there isn’t a will?

The government is prepared for those in the died-without-a-will group. Here’s how I explained it in Conscious Spending, Conscious Life:

Someone who dies without a valid will is said to have died intestate. When that happens, the Wills and Succession Act describes how the distribution of your belongings is determined.

Essentially, it sets out an order of distribution based on the family tree, starting with the closest relatives—spouse or partner, then children. If there are none, it goes to parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts/uncles and so on, in a prescribed order.

If no relatives are found within two years, the estate is turned over to the Alberta government and held under the Unclaimed Personal Property and Vested Property Act. Should no valid heir come forward within 10 years, the property belongs to the government.

If there is no will, and minor children are left without parents, the court appoints a guardian for them. The court’s main concern is the welfare of the children, and it will choose from among suitable family members, unless there are none. In this case, the children would be placed in a foster home.

Reading this, you might think that everything’s looked after under the legislation, so there’s no need to make a will. On the surface, that could appear to be true.

Why not just let the government handle it, then?

For one thing, it’s usually more complicated and expensive to process an estate when there isn’t a will. That means it’ll take more of your money and someone’s time to do the job.

For another thing,  you can’t be sure that the specified succession pattern will suit your situation. And laws usually don’t allow adjustment to individual circumstances.

Modern lives are complicated and unique— A person is separated from a spouse (although not divorced) and living with another partner. There are families with children from different mothers or fathers. There are childless single people who want their estate left to a charity rather than their siblings. If it were possible to imagine all the scenarios that might arise during your life, you might be able to guess if the legislation would work in your favour or not.

But given all the unknowns, it’s probably easier to just bite the bullet and make your will so that you can have things your way…even after you die.

No motivation yet?

Does completing your death documents still seem like something that you should do rather than something you want to?

“Shoulds” are weak motivators because the direction and expectation is coming from a source outside of you. We need to find our own reasons, especially for tasks that aren’t any fun and may require us to make difficult decisions.

What if you had a mind shift?

A mind shift is simply a change of perspective. And often that’s the best way for us to unleash our motivation.

We all know that it’s a good idea to have certain documents in place when we die because we live in a culture that’s organized around these documents.

But if we don’t have them, we still die.

Dying without a will won’t cause any problems for you. You won’t be the one who has to deal with the laws pertaining to dead people and their belongings. Picking up the pieces will fall to those you leave behind.

If your will is still on your to-do list, find a lawyer. Make the appointment. Next week I’ll tell you how to prepare yourself for the meeting.

Please note: Laws vary between provinces, states, and countries. I’m using information from where I live to illustrate principles, but you will need to check the details in your jurisdiction. The Internet is a good place to start.

Putting Your House in Order

***Time for this blog? Reading…7 minutes. Activating…up to you.

In my last blog, I talked about dealing with your things. Given today’s title, you may have anticipated ideas about sorting and distributing your possessions before you die. I will address that, but not yet. Today I want to discuss a less tangible, more abstract aspect of putting your house in order.

The paperwork…

No one’s favorite topic, I know. But if we don’t do it when we can—long before the end is in sight—we will leave a stressful mess behind.

Dealing with that mess will be much more challenging than clearing out your physical stuff. When it comes to belongings, your kids can bring in a junk removal service and have everything gone in a day so they can get your house on the market.

But…

If you don’t have your documents in place, they won’t be able to sell the house you own. That is a legal process and you must have given them the authority to act on your behalf. Without your authorization, they will have to jump through hoops to be allowed to handle your affairs. Settling your estate will cost extra time, trouble, and money.

Documents you need in place… 

How can you ensure that your survivors are able to sell your house, pay your outstanding Visa bill, and manage your investments until they legally inherit the estate? That is the role of your Will—to give authority to someone you name to wrap up your financial affairs after you’ve died. In your will, you specify how you want your estate distributed. The person who you name, known as the executor, is in charge of making it so.

And what if…

Suppose you aren’t yet dead but need your family to take over managing your financial affairs. This is a realistic possibility, given the increasing rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia these days. 

How are assets managed and bills paid in a situation where you’re physically or mentally impaired? You can’t do it, but nor can your executor because the will only comes into effect after you have died. And your bank will not allow family members to march in and take over your accounts, even if they arrive with a compelling story about your inability to do it.

On one hand, that is reassuring. But this rigorous protection of your assets works against you if you haven’t prepared for someone to take over your affairs when you are alive but incapable. That is why you need to draw up a Power of Attorney while you are still mentally sound. For all of us, this means doing it sooner rather than later.

The place to start…

There is other paperwork you need, but start with your Will and Power of Attorney. If you’ve completed these documents and recently reviewed them to be sure they are still current, you get a gold star!

If you haven’t tackled your paperwork yet, here’s a good question to ask yourself…

Why not?

What is stopping you?

Awareness is the first step toward getting these documents written. Never underestimate the motivating power of awareness. Once you know what’s standing in your way, you can do something about it and get on with the task at hand.

Often it is unconscious, unspoken beliefs that sabotage our best intentions. There are many ways to release or adjust unconstructive beliefs once we know what they are. This previous blog points you to several of those modalities.

Sometimes it is our assumptions that trip us up. Don’t we all know that “lawyers charge hundreds of dollars an hour”? The problem with assumptions is that we treat them as fact—and that stops us from finding out what the situation really is. So we become immobilized by incomplete information. If that’s your stumbling block, maybe this information will help…

  • In a quick search of “Calgary lawyers fee for wills,” I saw that lawyers are typically charging a flat fee rather than an hourly rate. For you, this means you’ll know how much the end product will cost. There are no surprises, and you can shop around to compare fees and what you get for them. The Internet has been a game-changer in this process.
  • Among the seven lawyers’ websites I looked at, flat fees for a simple will range from $400-$600. If you have complicated family relationships and/or finances, it will take more time and thus cost more. You would find that out in your initial meeting and should be given an estimate of the cost in your particular situation. You can decide then if you want to proceed or get another opinion. By the way, it is entirely your right to assess the lawyer at your first meeting and move on if you feel you can’t work with that person.
  • Ideally, a couple prepares their wills together and the documents mirror each other. Fees reflect this by charging couples less than double the amount for one person. Examples from my research, with the couples fee in brackets: $400 ($500); $500 ($750); $600 ($900).
  • Some lawyers offer a package deal for preparing your Will, Power of Attorney, and Personal Directive (Living Will). One example was $900 ($1200). Side note: It is not required that your Personal Directive (Living Will) be made by a lawyer. You can fill out the appropriate forms yourself and sign them in the presence of a witness. More about this another time.

The paperwork required to prepare for death is no one's favourite topic. But if we don't do it when we can—long before the end is in sight—we will leave a stressful mess behind. #death #dying

If this exploration reveals any insights you’d like to share… or questions you want to ask… please do so in the comment box below.

Please note: Laws vary between provinces, states, and countries. I’m using information from where I live to illustrate principles, but you will need to check the details in your jurisdiction. The Internet is a good resource for this.

What to do with your things?!!

*** Time for this post? Reading…3 minutes. Mind shifting…in an instant, if you decide it will.

We’re at the time of year when people are making New Year’s resolutions—or thinking they should be. I’ve never found New Year’s resolutions to be effective. Here’s why.

But the energy of the new year does seem to propel us toward change. It stirs up all the things on the mental to-do lists lurking in the back of our minds—the big and impossible-seeming jobs like losing 40 pounds, getting our personal papers in order, purging our house of all the excess.

Our brain spits out this list of onerous scenarios for what we “should do” and leaves us feeling discouraged or, worse yet, inept when we inevitably cannot muster the energy to make them happen.

Downsizing is not a constructive concept…

As we get older and anticipate departing from this world, our lifetime of accumulated objects can feel onerous, a burden, too much to manage and maintain.

“Downsizing” is a popular term among elders these days. I think, though, that it is not a helpful concept. Downsizing puts the emphasis on quantity, on getting rid of things. It causes us to feel guilty or inept for having acquired these items in the first place and then stored them for all these years. 

Downsizing is not a constructive concept. It paralyzes rather than motivates us. We need a mind shift...
Mind shift…

What if, instead of focusing on what we will get rid of, we look for the treasures in what we have. The point is to keep the treasures and move the rest along in appropriate ways.

Accept that we all have kept some junk—something that has outlived its usefulness to anyone. If you don’t want to use a chipped teapot or a saucepan that doesn’t sit flat on the burner, why would anyone else? Yet there it is, lurking in your storage room, haunting you every time you open the door.

If you can’t think of a use for it…

Forgive yourself for harbouring it all these years, say goodbye respectfully, and let it go.

Another time we’ll talk about approaches and logistics for lightening your load of excess things. For now, I encourage you to repeat this mantra daily if you’re intimidated by a “big sort” awaiting you…

Mind Shift