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
 

Ages & Stages

*** Time for this post? Reading…3 minutes.  Listening…5 minutes. Reflecting…as much as you want.

Being at the leading edge of the baby boom, I’ve arrived at the age where I’m considered old. I know this because cashiers now ask—without hesitation—if I qualify for the seniors’ discount!

So I’ve been thinking about aging, and paying attention to how it’s showing up in my daily life. I’ve noticed that I do less in a day. I’m not as strong as I was. But mostly, I care about different things than I used to.

Yet some things don’t change…

Allegedly, the music we hear around the age of sixteen sticks with us. I heard this a few years ago but haven’t been able to find the study that demonstrated it. However, I’m prepared to believe the theory because it’s true for me. Each year when I listen to my “only-CD-I’ll-ever-want-to-listen-to-at-Christmas,” there are certain songs I put on repeat. They were popular in the early 1960s, when I was in my mid-teens.

See what’s on this CD, published in 1988

I like this album because it features the original performers, and some of the songs are from the era when I was about sixteen. Here are the three that I invariably put on repeat…


“Jingle Bell Rock,” released in the late fall of 1957, was a “big hit and was being played and danced to on American Bandstand by mid-December of that year.” I was at an impressionable age by the time it made its way to rural Alberta in 1961.


Brenda Lee was thirteen years old when she recorded “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” “By the song’s 50th anniversary in 2008, her original version of it had sold over 25 million copies, including about 700,000 digital copies, making it the 4th most digital downloads sold of any Christmas single.” Apparently, I’m not the only one it stuck with!


Burl Ives sang “Holly Jolly Christmas” for many years. In this rendition, he’s clearly at a different stage of life than when he first sang it in the 1964 Christmas special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Burl Ives officially retired from show business on his 80th birthday in 1989, although he continued to do frequent benefit performances at his own request until he died in 1995.

So now I’m curious…

What songs from an earlier stage of life have stuck with you? Let’s give each other some interesting things to remember as another year winds down.

The Ultimate Gift

**Time for this post?  Reading…10 minutes. Thinking time…none to lots.

There are only a few ways for your survivors to deal with your body when you’ve left it. A body can be kept intact and buried. It can be disintegrated—by fire or by alkaline water (the latter permitted in only some jurisdictions at this time). And…

There is a third way—donation to medical education.

I had never thought of doing this until last summer when I began researching conscious dying. Two things I learned from widely different sources came together and, suddenly, body donation seemed like a possibility.

In her TEDx talk, Rochelle Martin gave us four action steps. The last one was to choose in death what we value in life. That hovered in the back of my mind…

Then I was reading about body donation and learned that it’s a widely held myth that donated bodies are used for research and therefore must somehow be medically unique. Truth is, cadavers are used primarily for education—a practical way that medical students can learn how the body works and practice surgical techniques before being faced with a real live patient.

This knowledge, coupled with the fact that I’ve always valued practical education, got me looking further to see what’s involved in body donation and if I would qualify.

Exploring the possibility…

I figured my best bet for finding information was at a local university with a medical school. The University of Calgary website does indeed have all the information I needed to assess whether body donation is for me.

Then, for purposes of more general research on the topic, I searched five other Canadian universities to get a sense of the similarities and differences in body donation programs across the country.

What I learned…

“Body Donation Program” is the usual term, but both the University of Alberta and Newfoundland’s Memorial University refer to theirs as the Anatomical Gifts Program, and the University of Western Ontario calls it a Body Bequeathal Program,

They all deal with bodies from a limited geographic area because of the urgency for transferring bodies quickly, usually within 48 to 72 hours. Bodies for donation must not be embalmed.

Programs typically cover the cost of body transportation to their facility if it is within their prescribed area, and they deal with the body when it has served its purpose. At the University of Western Ontario,

Body bequeathal is the donation of one’s whole body after death. …the entire body is used for study and once the learning is complete, the cremated remains are returned to the family or interred by Western University in London, Ontario.

Respect and appreciation for the gift…

They all emphasize respect and value for bodies that are donated. This statement from the University of Alberta Anatomical Gifts Program is typical:

Anatomical gifts are used for teaching courses in human anatomy to medical, dental and allied health professional students. The course helps to familiarize students with anatomical relationships in the body that are essential for understanding the progression and treatment of human diseases.

Anatomical donations are regarded by the medical community as precious gifts to medical education. Donors and their families can be assured their contribution is greatly appreciated by both students and faculty. All anatomical donations are treated with utmost respect.

And the donor’s identity is not revealed, as the program brochure from McGill University explains:

Body donation is an anonymous gesture. Personal identification of the body is used by and accessible to only the Director and Administrator of the Body Donor Program. Researchers, technicians, and students working with the bodies do not have access to identification information.

Donation parameters…

None of the universities will accept bodies which have had organs removed. The University of Calgary says:

Our program strongly supports all individuals who chose to donate their organs, and we encourage all those interested to register for both programs. At the time of death the acceptance decision will be made by each program based on eligibility criteria. The removal of internal organs and tissues (excluding cornea & sclera from the eyes) makes your body unsuitable for our educational needs.

Even if they have accepted a signed statement of intent to donate, all programs reserve the right to make a final determination about the suitability of a body depending on its condition at time of death. The following list of exclusions from the University of British Columbia is similar to most. They will not take a body with:

– Infectious diseases (e.g. HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B or C)

– Severe antibiotic resistant infections (e.g. MRSA, VRE)

– Obesity

– Extensive bodily trauma/open wounds/recent surgery

– Suicide or traumatic death

– Autopsy or Coroner’s case

– Delay in notification of death

– Most organ donations (except corneal transplant)

– Other conditions at the discretion of the body program

Spoiler alert: This means you must have a Plan B for body disposition.

Exploring body donation for yourself…

As you can see, general principles are the same but details will differ between institutions. If you’re considering body donation, here are some guidelines for checking it out.

  1. Do a web search for the closest university that has a medical school, Insert your university name in the blank:   _________________ body donation.
  2. Read through their information pages. Pay particular attention to eligibility requirements such as minimum age and body size.
  3. If you meet these criteria, look for details about their application process—application form, consent form, family notification form, etc.
  4. If you decide to go ahead, discuss your intention with your family. Some universities will not take the donation if your family contests it, even if you had filled out the form.
  5. Complete the appropriate forms and submit them as directed. Remember that you can rescind this bequest at any time.
  6. Investigate alternative body disposal arrangements in case the condition of your body at death makes it unsuitable for donation. In that case, your family is responsible for body disposition.
  7. Put all your actions and decisions in writing and give them to your next of kin and the executor of your will. Several of the universities recommend that you also advise your family doctor that to you have made arrangements for body donation.

Disposition of our body is a personal decision for each of us. We all have deep-seated reasons why one method or another is unappealing or downright repulsive. There is no right and wrong here. The point is that we need to be aware of the options so we can choose what suits us best given what’s available where we live. It’s an important step toward dying in peace.

Gifting from Your Treasures

**Time for this post?  Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…2 minutes. Unearthing your treasures…up to you.

In 1994, Stephen Covey co-authored First Things First: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy. There are many concepts in that book that informed my thinking, but it was the subtitle that really stuck with me. Here’s how he explained it:

There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfillment. The essence of these needs is captured in the phrase “to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.”

The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economic well-being, health.

The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved.

The need to learn is our mental need to develop and to grow.

And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution.

For an expanded description, go here. Or you might enjoy this two-minute visual experience.

To leave a legacy…

I was about forty-eight when I read First Things First. I didn’t really understand the legacy part. Now, twenty-four years later, I get it. I’ve reached the stage of life when leaving a legacy becomes the focus. When the horizon seems near, we think about leaving a mark, about being remembered when we are gone.

Often we think of a person’s legacy as a large body of work that keeps them in our awareness long after their death. Think of Wayne Dyer, Elvis Presley, Jane Austen. But being remembered is not reserved just for famous people. We all live in association with others, and the connections we foster in our daily lives become a significant part of our legacy.

A legacy of experiences…

My dear friend Norma was a dietitian and professional home economist, passionate about her profession and her family. When Norma’s granddaughter Katie spoke at her memorial service, it was clear that cooking with Gran was a significant experience. Katie recalled standing on a stool at the kitchen counter, learning what goes into cakes and cookies, and practising how to measure accurately. Today she bakes in a gourmet doughnut shop and is complimented by her employers for her depth of knowledge. Norma was a kind, generous, and quietly determined person. I imagine Katie learned a lot more than baking techniques in the time she spent with her Gran.

Sometimes these memories stay top-of-mind, but often they fade over time. Most families have photos of good times and seminal experiences. As our children move through middle age, I think it’s constructive to reconnect them with who they were when they were young and hopeful. We can do this by sorting through the family photos and sharing the treasures.
Gifting Ideas

A legacy of material possessions…

For many people, financial inheritance comes to mind when they hear the word legacy. Money is one of the physical things we leave behind, but not the only one. Most of us have a combination of family heirlooms and our own precious objects with stories of how we acquired them.

The stories are an important part of the objects, yet they are lost when we don’t make a conscious effort to pass them along. Without the stories, our belongings become just old things.
giftinh Ideas

A legacy of what you know…

How many of us have said, “I wish I knew how Mom made _____________. I found the recipe when I cleaned out her kitchen, but it doesn’t turn out the same when I make it.”
A few years ago, it hit me that my family would put “fudge” in the blank. I learned the principles of sugar crystallization in a food science lab at university, then developed and refined my fudge-making method over the years. I use the recipe from the lab book, which is the same as almost any basic fudge recipe.

The magic is in the unwritten techniques such as washing down undissolved crystals with a pastry brush while the mixture is cooking, transferring the cooked sugar syrup to a clean bowl, cooling until barely lukewarm, and having a strong stirring arm. All of these support the formation of fine crystals. The result is, my family will tell you, the smoothest most-gorgeous fudge you will ever find, says she in all modesty 🙂

Everyone has these recipes. Think about it and I’m sure you’ll come up with at least a few of yours that can’t be duplicated without extra instructions. Maybe it’s something you learned from you mom and it has never been written down. Which reminds me, I must get my mom’s potato salad recipe down on paper with the particular methods that make it like no other. My kids ask me to bring it to family meals, and they will be disappointed if they can’t reproduce the unique texture and flavour when I’m no longer here to do it.

Sharing our treasures…

Here’s my share. Click on the snowman to find out how to make the fudge that’s in the tin. You’ll get a copy of the recipe sheet (maybe more properly called a booklet!) that I prepared a few years ago so my kids can make fudge as I know it.

So…what treasures do you have to share? Not just recipes, but anything that came to mind as you read this blog. Delight and inspire us by leaving your shares in the comment box.

Seize the opportunity…

**Time for this post? Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…5 minutes. Implementation…undoubtedly the hardest part.

Seize what opportunity?

I’m thinking of the holiday advantage of having family members all together at some time during the season.

And do what with that opportunity?

Use it as a chance to talk about your wishes for body disposition when you are no longer using it. Or—if you are an adult child of living parents—it’s a chance for you to find out what they want.

What would I talk about?

Continue reading

Eco-friendly Cremation

**Time for this post? Reading…10 minutes. Viewing…24 minutes. Assimilation…up to you.

Last week I wrote about green burial, and what options are available where I live. Today we’ll take a look at cremation from a similar perspective.

Cremation is inherently more environmentally friendly than burial because it does not require land and doesn’t leave toxic formaldehyde leaching into the soil.

Even so, cremation is not a perfect solution.  It is done at temperatures of 1400-1800°F for 45-90 minutes. This consumes large quantities of fuel, releasing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. There are toxic emissions from lacquers and glues in the containers that are incinerated with the body. Toxic mercury vapours from amalgam fillings also come out of the smokestack. According to sevenponds.com Continue reading

Natural Burial

**Time for this post?  Reading…10  minutes. Listening…2 minutes. Investigating…up to you.

I taught a course in consumer issues for many years. Early on, I recognized that there’s a difference between information and access. In other words, it’s one thing to know about something you’d like to have, it’s another to be able to get it.

This is true with natural burials, as I discovered when I began asking about what’s available where I live. What follows is not a definitive treatise on green burial. It’s a working paper to give some direction to your own thinking and investigating if a natural funeral appeals to you.

I live in Calgary, a Canadian city of 1.2 million people. I gathered information from staff at one of the city-run cemeteries as well as an alternative funeral director. I also did some reading to discover the key aspects of a green burial. Here’s what I learned.

The greenest of green…

The Natural Burial Association describes it like this: Continue reading

Do you find it depressing?

**Time for this post?  Reading…3 minutes. Video…12 minutes. Thinking…up to you.

Now that I’ve started thinking about the ins and outs of dying, I find myself in conversations about what I’m learning and considering.

Last week, I had one of those conversations with a long-time friend. We discussed my developing ideas about donating my body to medical education and writing my own obituary. As we were wrapping up, Barb said, “Do you find it depressing, all this planning for dying?” That’s a fair question, especially given our cultural denial of death.

My answer: “Not at all.”

Continue reading