Footwear too cool to dispose of.

***  Time for this post? Reading…7 minutes. Thinking about why you keep what you do…optional.

I know people who feel they must purge their living and storage spaces before they die. Their intention is to make it easier for their family to wrap up their affairs. What a shame!

True, it might help the family dispatch the estate efficiently. But what will they miss out on?

My take on that…

I think there’s something to be gained when others go through what we leave behind. They may learn things about us that they didn’t know, remember long-forgotten events, and gain perspective on who we were.

The way I see it, this is part of our legacy—and we are shortchanging our survivors if we leave a stripped-down version of our life.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for leaving an unholy mess. Like Margareta Magnusson, I think I should take responsibility for what I keep. And part of what I want to keep is those things that illustrate my history. For example…

Footwear too cool to dispose of…

When my kids clean out my place, they’ll find a couple boxes of shoes that have never been on my feet. They’re from my days as a wardrobe designer for community theatre productions.

Shoes were a challenge on a low budget, especially for period shows. I did a lot fo sourcing in thrift stores. When I saw something unique, that I’d be unlikely to find again when it was needed, I made the purchase on speculation. Most of them cost $1, or half that on a sale day.

What my family will find in the boxes…

For those who love shoes like I do, here’s a closeup look…

These women’s shoes remind me of what grownups wore when I was a child.The black rain boots and oxfords were used in two shows. Probably no one noticed but me, because they were subtle additions to the costumes. But to me, they were like icing on a cake—the finishing touch that makes it special.

The two shoes in the next photo make my heart sing, and I was very happy to find they were useful more than once.

The red sling-backs are my absolute favourite. I think it’s because the six-year-old that still lives in me thought they were soooooo elegant when she saw them in magazine pictures. Of course, no one she knew ever wore anything that stylish!

Anyway, I keep these out of the box, on display so she can enjoy them daily. (If I had room, I’d keep all the shoes on display. But I don’t, so that’s why my kids will find the boxes. Now that I think of it, I’m going to put a copy of this post in the box, so they’ll know why I kept such things.)

The men’s shoes also have stories. Like the red shoes, brown leather slippers were never worn by people I knew, automatically making them intriguingly exotic in my mind.

The felt boots behind them, just like those my Grandpa wore, were perfect in “Of Mice and Men.”

I created the spectator shoes for “Guys and Dolls” by painting light shoe dye on the main part of basic black brogues. A small touch, but soul-satisfying!

These two pairs of oxfords are custom-made shoes that would never fit anyone but the intended wearer.  The pair on the left is the narrowest pair of men’s shoes I have ever seen! It’s hard to convey in a photo. The shoe is size 11, and only 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide. That’s 25% narrower than the average width for a size 11 shoe.

The pair on the right is HUGE, which is why I set them on a ruler. To the toe cap, minus the protruding sole, it is 13 1/2 inches (34.3 cm) long. North American shoe size charts go up to size 17, which is 13″ (33 cm) long. At 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) longer than that, this pair of shoes is size 18.

Other things they’ll find in my storage room…

  • Archive of my work ~ Printed materials I produced over the years, including books, pamphlets, food photos, and project proposals. They saw bits and pieces of these things as they were growing up, but this gives them a big picture of the body of my work.
  • Memorabilia of my kids ~  Artwork, cards they gave me, notes sent when they were away, and miscellaneous bits. I think that discovering these will connect them with their younger selves and reinforce how special they are to me.
  • Empty boxes, because you never know when you’ll need them. And besides, they’ll be useful when they pack up my things to move them on.
  • Milk jugs filled with water, which could be essential in an emergency. A bit of a nuisance for them to dispose of, but water can easily be poured out and the empty jugs can go into my recycling.
  • Some junk, but not too much.

What are you storing?

Things with stories? Things you think your family might want? Stuff-and-junk? What will your family learn about you as they go through it? What will they learn about themselves? Please share…

What not to do when decluttering…

*** Time for this post?  Reading…3 minutes.  Viewing…8 minutes. Figuring it out…I don’t know. What do you think?

Decluttering weighs heavy on many minds—and a lot of us get stuck there. In spite of the good advice from organizing experts like Marie Kondo and Margareta Magnusson.

There’s a lot of decision-making involved in clutter clearing—first in determining what stays and what goes; then in working out how and where to store what remains. It can be overwhelming. It often is.

Laura Moore is a home organization coach and move manager who comes at her work from an emotional-behavioural perspective. She says clutter clearing is not about the stuff, it’s about you. And she has insightful ways of helping people get past what’s stopping them. She says she’s sometimes called a “clutter therapist” because her clients “feel better soon, even with a lot of work ahead of them when organizing, right-sizing (downsizing) or moving.”

Key thoughts…

If you’re having to force yourself to do the job, you are not ready. In that case, the first thing to do is figure out how you can do it to feel relatively good. Aim for ease and enjoyment.

Putter through your clutter. That’s much more effective than attacking it.

Be realistic in your expectations about how much you can do in an hour. Remember to include prep time and cleanup time when planning to declutter.

When you don’t know what to do…

Remember that you don’t know what to do…yet. And you can figure it out.

  • Slow down.
  • Think.
  • Pay attention to your feelings.
  • Figure it out.

More from Laura Moore…

Her YouTube channel has many short segments you might find helpful if you’re grappling with the decisions that decluttering requires. Here are a few samples…

Next week, I’ll wrap up this clutter clearing series with my take on all of it. See you then!

Swedish Death Cleaning

*** Time for this post?  Reading…7 minutes. Viewing…10 minutes. Thinking about letting go…who knows?

Living as we do in a culture of excess, the concept of clutter clearing is familiar to most North Americans. The first time I really thought about it was when I read Karen Kingston‘s little book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui in 1999. Feng Shui, a traditional Chinese concept, deals with energy. According to the description on amazon, 

 Kingston reminds us that clutter is stuck energy that keeps you stuck in undesirable life patterns. Therefore, you can “sort out your life by sorting out your junk.” Kingston covers the reasons we keep things as well as the amazing stories of people who have cleared their clutter away.

In the years since it was published, there have been many more books about clutter clearing.

But…death cleaning?

Yes, death cleaning. Swedes have done it for years, and now the rest of us are learning about it from The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson.

The cover states it’s an international bestseller, and that’s not surprising. Aging adults are contemplating how to leave this planet gracefully. And their adult children are wondering how to tactfully encourage their parents to clean up their mess before they depart.

[tweetshare tweet=”Don’t collect things you don’t want. Someone will have to take care of it some day. ~ Margareta Magnusson” username=”LauranaRayne”]

The book is peppered with Margareta’s charmingly sensible Swedish philosophy and family stories. These combine to make interesting and motivating reading as we take on the age-old problem of cleaning up after ourselves. As you would expect, she shares advice about how to get started, some of the systems that can help you get things out of the house, and ways to better organize what you’re keeping.

“Death cleaning is not a sad thing,” says Magnusson. “I want it to be joyful and interesting. It can be that. And people should start early. If your things are in order, then you don’t have to waste time looking for them.”

Who is Margareta Magnusson?

She’s an accomplished artist, mother of five and grandmother of eight, who gained much life experience through seventeen moves within Sweden and abroad. I find her realistic, thoughtful, and down-to-earth. See for yourself in her short video about döstädning (death cleaning).

Margareta Magnusson is “between 80 and 100,” and the value I found in her book is that she talks about issues unique to being in the late stage of life.

If you don’t read anything else, look at the section called “How to discuss the topic of death cleaning.” This is equally valuable for aging adults and adult children. As she points out, children are in a tough spot because they see the amount their parents have accumulated and know that dealing with it is going to fall to them if their parents don’t look after it while they can.

Suggestions for adult children…

She offers sensible advice to adult children, including sample questions to get the conversation going in a gentle way.

  • You have so many nice things, have you thought about what you want to do with it all later on?
  • Could life be easier and less tiring if we got rid of some of the stuff that you have collected over the years?
  • Is there anything we can do together in a slow way so that there won’t be too many things to handle later?

My only quibble is her choice of words. “Stuff” and “get rid of” carry a judgmental tone and could be off-putting to the owner of those things. It may be a cultural thing. It may just be a translation choice if the book was written in Swedish. But I think the questions are sound, and the language can easily be adjusted.

She goes on to say…

Old people often have a problem with their balance. Rugs, stacks of books on the floor, and all items lying about the house can be safety hazards. Perhaps this can be a way to start your discussion: Ask about the rugs. Are they really safe?

Perhaps this is where tact is still important, to ask these questions in as gentle and caring a way as you can.

It is possible that the first few times you ask, your parents may want to avoid the topic, Or change the subject. But it is important to open the discussion. If you were unable to get them to talk with you, then leave them to think and return a few weeks or a few months later and ask again, perhaps in a slightly different way.

Letting go…

There are many aspects to taking responsibility for our possessions and cleaning up our space. Marie Kondo (see last week’s post) teaches us how to decide what to keep by testing each item to see if it sparks joy in us. For items that don’t, we are advised to thank them and let them go.

What she doesn’t address is the difficulty of letting go. Some objects have emotional hooks in them, and these prevent us from letting them go even when we know there’s no joy in having them. Who doesn’t have at least a few things we don’t want to use but can’t get them out of the house?

The experience of Swedish death cleaning…

The main question to help you let go of things…

  • Will anyone be happier if I save it?

Emotional hooks keep us from dealing with some objects, so they get tucked out of sight and ignored.

  1. Find those out-of-sight items.
  2. Identify what’s holding you back from letting them go.
  3. Take appropriate action.

I think Margareta Magnusson would say, “Do something!” I agree.

But hers is not the only approach that’s helpful to elders cleaning up after themselves. Next week: Laura Moore on what NOT to do when decluttering or downsizing.

Keep what you love.

***Time for this post?  Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…2 minutes. Sifting and sorting…as much as you want to.

Last week I wrote about knowing when enough is enough. That post was about medical treatments at the end of life. However, the concept of “enough” also applies to our possessions, and that’s what I’m addressing today.

In either case, determining what is enough—and what is excess—challenges us to think about our values, what’s important to us, what we cherish.

What to keep?

In an earlier post about what to do with your things, I suggested a 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. …Another time we’ll talk about approaches and logistics for lightening your load of excess things.

Well…now is that time!

Curating my surroundings has been high on my mind recently. It started when I had to clear everything except six large pieces of furniture out of my living room and dining room so the ceiling and two walls could be repainted. Because the picture hooks were removed and filled in, I started thinking about how to arrange art and accessories in different ways. That gave me ideas for tweaking the furniture arrangement. Before I put anything back, I assessed what would stay in the space. My criterion was “Does this say something about me?” And the result is perfect for me!

Sifting and sorting…

I have a long-standing interest in the idea of knowing ourselves to shape our environment. My first aha moment came more than twenty years ago, before clutter clearing and downsizing were in our vocabulary. I was living for a few months at Schumacher College, a centre of transformative learning for ecological and social change in the south of England.

I know! I’ll keep only what I can care for exquisitely.

So said Jeanne, who had spent a week grappling with what was, for her, a very big problem. Too much stuff, accumulated in the six years she had spent in the same flat. A gypsy at heart, she’d lived most of her adult life in a caravan (travel trailer). She felt weighed down and didn’t know how to sift and sort her things. When the solution hit her, it was clear—keep only what she could care for exquisitely.

The current version of the same principle is expressed beautifully in Marie Kondo’s books, in which she talks about keeping what sparks joy and thanking our things as we let them go.

Marie Kondo is Japanese, and these attitudes are embedded in her culture. Not so for Westerners, who are generally less tuned in to invisible energy. The following video gives a flavour of Marie Kondo and her approach, starting with a demonstration of what it feels like in your body when something “sparks joy.”  You also get to see her signature method for folding clothes, which includes an energy compnent.

Despite finding it odd when she talks about showing respect for your space, feeling how your belongings affect your energy, and putting love into your clothes as you fold them, North Americans embraced Marie Kondo’s Netflix series (January 2019).

In Spark Joy, her most recent book, she offers a lot of practical tips in addition to explaining the rationale behind her approach. Below are a few key ideas, but I recommend reading her book to get the whole picture. It’s a quick read and available in most libraries.

A few Marie Kondo principles and tips…

Having spent most of my life looking at things of every description, including those in my clients’ homes, I have discovered three common elements involved in attraction: the actual beauty of the object itself (innate attraction), the amount of love that has been poured into it (acquired attraction), and the amount of history or significance it has accrued (experiential value).

  • Tidy by category, not by room. Categories are clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, sentimental items (includes photos). Bring all items from a category into one room and sort them all at once.
  • Tidy in the order listed in the previous point. Clothes are the easiest and you can gain experience by starting with them. Sentimental items have the most attachments so it works best if you tackle them at the end.
  • Finish discarding first, before you organize what remains.
  • When tidying papers, a “pending box” is essential for all papers requiring action (bills, letters, etc). Put them in it as you find them and forge ahead with the main job of tidying. Your papers will be safe there until you can get to them.
  • “As with clothing, you must begin by taking every single book off the shelves and piling them on the floor. Then take them in your hands and keep only those that spark joy. Whatever you do, don’t start reading them.”
  • “If you have too many books to choose all at once, sort them by categories, such as general (for reading), practical (references, cookbooks), visual (coffee-table books) and magazines, and do the joy check for each category.”
  • Tidy before moving. Note for elders who may be anticipating moving to smaller quarters: This is very good advice.
  • Do not keep something because “it might come in handy.” It never will. (I plead guilty, and she is mostly right. But I’ve been vindicated once or twice!)
  • If you have trouble telling if something sparks joy for you, compare it to other items in the same category. Find your top 3 in the pile in 3 minutes. This will help you hone in on what it feels like when something sparks joy in you.
  • “I’m convinced that things that have been loved and cherished acquire elegance and character. When we surround ourselves only with things that spark joy and shower them with love, we can transform our home into a space filled with precious artifacts, our very own art museum.”

For more of Marie Kondo, I suggest this delightful interview for further insights into her approach. Of course, she isn’t the only person with advice about dealing with your belongings.

Next week: Swedish death cleaning. See you then!

Managing your completed death documents…

You’ve ticked off the items on your checklist.

You’ve done a happy dance.

And now you have a pile of important papers sitting on your desk. Several are original signed documents. Leaving them there doesn’t seem prudent.

What to do with your documents?

These three principles will help you decide what makes sense.

1  Safety 

Your documents should be stored where they are safe from fire, theft, or simply being misplaced.

2  Accessibility

Your documents should be easily accessed by your executor (as named in your Will), by your Attorney* (as named in your Power of Attorney), by your agent (as named in your Personal Directive, Living Will) and your supporters (as named in your Supported Decision-Making Authorization).  *The use of “attorney” in this context does not mean your lawyer. It refers to the person(s) you have designated to handle your financial affairs when you can’t.

3  Information

All relevant people should have copies and know where the originals are stored. If this involves combinations, passwords or keys, they should have that information too.

Things to think about…

Your Will ~ After you’ve died, the executor needs a working copy to begin wrapping up your affairs. The signed original is required when the application for Letters Probate is made. Where should you store it? Here are some things to consider…

  • The lawyer who drew up your Will may be able to store it for you.
  • A safety deposit box in your bank is another possibility. However, don’t put it there until you check with the bank about conditions under which they can release the will. The law generally requires that a safety deposit box be sealed until probate is granted. Yet the executor needs the original Will to submit with the application to obtain probate, and you don’t want it locked up in a bank where you can’t get it out. Your bank may allow supervised removal of the Will immediately after death. But make sure this is the case before storing it there.
  • The executor may be required to prove he or she is the named person by producing a photocopy of the Will along with photo identification,  Therefore, it’s crucial to make sure that each of your executors has a copy of your Will.
  • You might be able to handle the accessibility issue by registering your executors as co-signers on your safety deposit box. Of course, that could mean they will have access to the box even when you are alive. Best thing is to discuss this idea with your banker, explaining what you are trying to achieve.
  • Wherever you store your Will, provide your executor(s) with a copy—and note at the top where the original is stored. If that is a safety deposit box, also note where the key is kept. If the executor does not have a key, there is a substantial charge to drill open the box.
  • If you keep your Will in a fireproof, non-portable safe at home, make sure more than one family member has the combination or knows where the key is.

Your Power of Attorney ~ Your Power of Attorney document is needed when you are unable to look after your financial affairs. Instead of making photocopies of a single signed original, your lawyer may recommend that you sign an original for each of your attorneys for their convenience in having a signed original with them whenever they go to an institution to act on your behalf. In addition, you need a signed original that you will store in a safe, accessible place.

Distribution…

Signed documents

  1. Anyone named as your representative in a document should have either a copy or an original of it.
  2. If it’s  a photocopy, note on the top where the original is stored and provided access information in a way that keeps it secure—i.e. don’t put the combination to your home safe on the top of the photocopy!
  3. In some cases, a signed original is convenient for your representative to have. This applies to the Power of Attorney, Personal Directive, and Supported Decision-Making Authorization. Ask your lawyer if this is possible for the Power of Attorney. For the other two, make the number of copies you’ll need and have both you and your witness sign all of them.

Unsigned, self-generated documents

Some of the documents I recommend are not required by law but are helpful to your survivors. They include your Paper Trail, Last Wishes Letter, encrypted file of passwords and other sensitive information, and health history.

The principle here s to distribute them so they are not just stored in one place.  This ensures both safety and accessibility.

Access is particularly important because some of the information will be needed immediately after death—your last wishes about disposition of your body, for example, and what sort of funeral arrangements you want or don’t want. Even if you have given your family verbal instructions, it’s best to have it in writing because people remember conversations differently at the best of times, and even more so when under stress.

Review and update …

[tweetshare tweet=”Divorce doesn’t automatically cancel your Will. Marriage does in many places. There are unintended consequences in both cases. The take-away—revise your Will when you experience any major life change.” username=”LauranaRayne”]Major life changes should trigger an update.

  • Divorce  To many people’s surprise, divorce doesn’t automatically cancel your Will. As you might imagine, this can lead to unintended consequences.
  • Marriage On the other hand, marriage automatically revokes your Will in some jurisdictions. When you think about it, this makes sense because, once  married, a person has different obligations. A new Will should be made as soon as possible after marriage. If it isn’t, the person will die without a Will and the estate will be handled under intestacy legislation, which often results in things not happening the way you would have wanted.
  • Your children have married, you have grandchildren This may change your list of beneficiaries and how you want your assets to be distributed.

Schedule a yearly review.

I learned this good habit from my friend Diane, who has mastered the art of staying on top of things and keeping them in order. I’ve taken a page from her book, and am now reviewing my documents at the beginning of each new year.

Sometimes I’ve had very few revisions. But last year I had cataract surgery, switched to a new optometrist, and decided to donate my body to medical education.

The relevant changes have been incorporated into my documents, I’ve put revised copies in my file, and have given a set to each of my kids to replace the previous version. It feels like a big accomplishment!

So… when yours are all distributed, pat yourself on the back and give yourself 17 points for…

Good work!

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.

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.

[tweetshare tweet=”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.” username=”LauranaRayne”]

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.

[tweetshare tweet=”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” username=”LauranaRayne”]

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.