***Time for this post? Reading…2 minutes.
Sometimes our wishes and desires don’t come true. We are all going to be there when it happens…
*** 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*** 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.
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.
The topic of dying tends to evoke irrational responses. Here are a few reasons for this. What would you add?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
***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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
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.
*** 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.
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.
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.
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…
*** 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.
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.
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.
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.
**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.
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.
“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.
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.
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)
– 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.
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.
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.
**Time for this post? Reading…8 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
**Time for this post? Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…5 minutes. Implementation…undoubtedly the hardest part.
I’m thinking of the holiday advantage of having family members all together at some time during the season.
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.
**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