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Caring for a dying relative

4 May

A coffin with a flower arrangement in a morgue

Caring for a dying relative


This is a very hard subject.  We don’t like to think about ourselves or our loved ones dying, but it is nevertheless an important subject.


If our loved one dies instantly, it is a huge shock, especially if we have not been expecting it.  If you have not had a conversation, then the next stage is commonly a state of shock before you can move into a more active mode of sorting out the arrangements.  This state of shock can last varying amounts of time, we are all different and how we deal with grief is different.


The death needs to be registered, the funeral arranged and then afterwards the estate can start to be sorted out.


If our loved one dies fairly quickly, this may give us an opportunity to say goodbye, to thank them for being in our lives and to let them know that they can go, if that is the right thing to say to them.  Saying thank you and goodbye is something we do for us, for them too of course, but letting them know that it is OK to go is something we do for them and a bit for us.  How we do that and whether we can do that will be different, sometimes we are not ready to let our loved ones go, especially if they are still young and we think that they have not finished their lives.  We can then have a little time to process the situation and try to emotionally deal with it.  And we cling to hope.


If our loved one dyes a lingering death, then we have that time to say thank you and goodbye and assure them that it is OK to go (assuming that it is).  We are upset and then process how we feel about it, however we cannot live on the adrenalin that this heightened state of anxiety will give us, so we get slightly used to it.  During this period of waiting, our loved one might rally, so we are given hope, perhaps only a glimmer or maybe a shining light, but we have hope.  And then they deteriorate and our hope dies.  If they have a fluctuating presentation, we can cycle through these emotions of despair and hope and we start living slightly on edge all the time, just waiting and not knowing.  This is very hard to watch as we see our loved one slowly slip away.


What happens if our loved one experiences a painful death?  Pain is something most of us fear.  We often wish we could trade places with a loved one in pain, but we can’t.  We can hold their hand, talk to them, feed them, play them music and lots of other things to try to comfort them and us, but we cannot take their pain.  Pain can be managed with drugs, but often it cannot be eliminated, watching a loved one in pain, whether or not they are dying is a horrible experience for both them and us.  I have been involved with many families when they are dealing with a loved one dying and a “peaceful” death is preferable, even though the death is often dreaded.


There is a finality with death, our relationship is forever changed, we can still love them, just not in person.  Death may be the time we stop and grieve, but if we are involved in sorting out their affairs, we may keep ourselves busy with that and not grieve and it is only when that is over that we do finally stop and grieve, which can come as a huge shock to anyone not expecting it, particularly since the death was some time before.  Greif takes time, but we can get over it and move on with our lives.


If during any of these stages we need help, friends and family may be around, but if we are faced with administration, legal or advocacy issues, I am here to help.  And I understand.

Wills and succession for business owners

2 Feb

shutterstock_35222761 (229)

Wills in relation to business owners


If you are a sole trader, partner or director in a business, think about what if something serious happened to you and you died, what would you like to happen in respect of your business?


Some of the issues are the same as if something happened, but you are still alive.  Will the business continue?  How will it continue?  Is it to be sold?  Does it need to be sold to particular people or can it be sold on the open market?  How will the value be maximised?


The next thing to do is look at your business agreement and see what, if anything it says about those circumstances, as there may already be a clause covering those circumstances.  If there isn’t a clause or if you don’t like what it says, the next thing to do is talk to your partners / directors and discuss changing the agreement, if that is possible.


Think about the dynamics of the people who are left behind, do they get on and will they work together to achieve the outcome that you want?  Families often row and after the death of a family member can be a time when small niggles become full blown knock down fights!


You can put a clause in your Will in relation to any business assets that you own.  Wills are for individuals and the financial assets that they own at the date of their death.  You will need to consider whether the clause in your Will is going to work in relation to your business agreement.  You should think very carefully about who you appoint as your Executor and can they delegate the running of your business or will they run it themselves.  Are you essential for the business, so without you it will collapse?  Whatever the situation is currently, do you want that situation to be in place if you were to die tomorrow, if not, then you should consider what changes need to take place to ensure that your business is in a robust condition.


After you have gone, you need to think about how those who survive you will manage, such as, does your spouse / partner need the income from the business?


One very important step to take is to have a conversation with your family about what you want to happen.  They will always be upset, but it can be very helpful in their grieving process to know that they are fulfilling your wishes, but if they don’t know what your wishes are, they cannot fulfil them!


How to prepare for the future – part 4

4 Aug

shutterstock_35222761 (229)

How to prepare for the future part 4


When I gave my talk at the #BigConversation, I discussed creating a Will, Powers of Attorney, having a discussion and then getting your paperwork in order.


Filing is usually no-one’s favourite job, but it is necessary.  It doesn’t matter what system for keeping your records in order, just as long as it is clear.


In your conversations with your family members, if you want, you can tell them as much as you like.  You can tell them how much money you have and where it all is held along with other information such as who your pension providers are etc.  The choice is entirely yours. If you choose not to tell them, then they will need to know where to find the information and therefore perhaps that is all you tell them.


It is useful to keep your paperwork in some kind of logical manner, so that when the person dealing with it (Executor or Attorney) finds it, they will be able to understand the picture of your finances fairly easily.  You may want to also have a file of obsolete paperwork, so that they can know what is no longer current, just in case they knew about it before, but mark it old obsolete paperwork, so that they will realise that!


It is not a good idea to leave your telephone banking and/or internet passwords with your paperwork, which is just for you.  If your Attorney or Executor needs to access your account, they can do that in their own right.  Using your access masquerades them as you and that is not how they are acting, you have given them authority in their own right.  That way their actions are traceable and they can be asked to be accountable for their actions.  The other issue is the risk associated with leaving your passwords around, as anyone could come along and access your account if they found it, so your are at risk of theft.


If you choose to leave your paperwork in a mess, then it takes hours to find everything, go through it, work out what is current and deal with it.  It might also include lots of wasted letters or it could mean that whoever is looking after you has to instigate an asset search.  Speaking from personal experience, when I have dealt with messy affairs, it takes hours and a lot of space on a very big table, it is frustrating and if the person has appointed a professional, will cost lots of money that it didn’t need to.


It may be boring, but get your paperwork in order, it will make life lots easier for you and for anyone helping you!

How to prepare for the future – part 3

21 Jul

shutterstock_26053477 (22) - Copy - Copy

How to prepare for the future part 3


Having already said that you should make a Will and create Lasting Powers of Attorney, the next thing to do is sit down with your family and have that conversation about what you want in the future.


Lots of families find this hard, they don’t want to talk about that difficult stuff, when you might be unwell, dying or after you have died.  Usually once the first conversation takes place, it makes it easier for the next one to take place, as this can become a theme that you may come back to if things change in your life.  This does not mean that you will keep having this conversation all the time, it might only crop up rarely, but it is not something to shy away from.


Getting started can be hard, so the easiest way to start is to pick the most important topic to you, is it unwellness or death?  Then think about what that means for you and what is important to you about that subject, this can be the starting point.  Find out from your family how they think about it and what is important for them.  You may know exactly what music you want at your funeral for example, but if they would hate it and it would do nothing but upset them, then perhaps you might rethink or they might have to.


Having tackled one of these subjects, it will then make it easier to talk about the other one and what is important to you and them about it.


This conversation needs to be in a place where all parties feel safe to say how they feel.  And there can be no judgement; there are no right answers or wrong ones for that matter.  It maybe that this is particularly difficult and the conversation could elicit emotions you or they were not expecting, which may means tears or anger for example.


To get you started you can always find out if there is a death café near by and go along to that, so that you can get that conversation going.  There are many around, if you follow the #BigConversation.


Once you and your family have had this discussion, it will become a plan for what should happen when the worst happens.  You may not become ill, but everyone dies, so sooner or later this will happen to you and your family.  And it will be devastating for the survivors, which is as it should be.  But when that devastation hits, at least your family will know what to do, they will know what you want and following your plans and discussions will provide them with the comfort that they know they are doing what you discussed.  And before that happens, you have the comfort of know that this is what will happen.


The scars of bereavement take a while to heal, but knowing that you are doing what the deceased wanted goes a long way to helping those scars heal and the survivors move on and have loving positive memories of their relationship with you.

How to prepare for the future – part 1

23 Jun

Envelope with Last Will and Testament

How to prepare for the future


I was asked recently to talk about what are the 5 top tips for preparing for aging and any potential decline in wellbeing that that might bring.  And the answer is more straightforward than that, as I came up with a top 4!


The 4 things are:

  1. Make a Will
  2. Create Lasting Powers of Attorney
  3. Have a conversation with your family
  4. File your paperwork & keep it organised


So starting with making a Will, why is this so important?  It allows you to choose where your belongings go.  Even if you don’t own lots of things of value, people still want to be able to remember you when you have gone and to have a memento of someone who has died is a lovely way to do that.


It allows you to appoint Executors, who are the people or person who will make sure your wishes happen, they are the people dealing with the paperwork.  They can also be beneficiaries, but they don’t have to be, the 2 separate roles are different.


As well as appointing Executors, if you have children under the age of 18, you can appoint Guardians for those children.  In the event of the death of a parent, the other parent with parental responsibility will primarily become the carer, unless there is reason not to allow that to happen and the Family Court can intervene.  The Family Court will take into account the best interests of the child, which will include any appointment of Guardians in the Will.  Not all cases end up in the Court if the matter is uncontested by the various parties involved, it should be the destination of last resort for a dispute.


On top of Executors and Guardians, you can make a funeral wish, which is simple terms is whether or not you want to be cremated or buried, but can include much more detail if you want.  I have had entire memorial service directions, including who will read which passage and a hymn list.  It doesn’t have to be in that detail, but if you have a wish, let your family know, so that they can carry it out, it is usually comforting to them to carry out your wishes as a last act of love for you.


The final part is leaving your estate, ie all your assets, to whoever you want, possibly including family, friends and charity.  If you have people who are reliant upon you, then it is best to leave them something, otherwise they can make a claim on your estate, but other than that, you are free to leave your estate to whomsoever you like.  Most people leave it to their family or part of their family and if you are going to disinherit a member of your family, it is helpful to give information as to why, to help to rebut any claim they may make.  Family disputes are completely normal, most families don’t get on, it is only about the degree with which that happens!  So when these disputes become so difficult that the only way to deal with them is via lawyers, whilst the lawyers will love it, the family is losing money!  You cannot stop someone from disputing a Will, the best that you can do is limit their chance of success, which will hopefully reduce the cost of litigation.


So if you want to prepare for the future, make a Will, as long as you are over the age of 18, there is no time when it is too early, but there can be a time when it is too late!

The Big Conversation

24 Mar

Coffin in morque

The Big Conversation


The first thing to say is WE ALL DIE!


In the last few years I’ve seen a number of talks / conferences called “the big conversation”, to get people talking on the subject of death and dying – dying matters!


There are plenty of people who find this subject hard to cope with and don’t want to talk about it and yes, it can be difficult, those people are right when they find it uncomfortable, but just because it is difficult doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it.


Why is it important?


It is useful if we know what is going to happen, we wouldn’t run a business and not talk about future planning?  We wouldn’t enter a new relationship and talk about the future?  We wouldn’t buy a new house without imagining our new life in that house? So why do we go through life and are reluctant to talk about death?  Even the word has issues, there are so many different phrases for it, falling off your perch, passing on, going to heaven / hell etc.


So what is going to happen?  The truth is we often don’t know, although we all know that ultimately we will die, we don’t know when, where and in what circumstances, we just know at some point it is going to happen.


Thinking about it at any age / time / circumstance is a useful exercise from time to time.  The people who get left behind need to know what they are expected to do, so give them a clue.  Instructions can contain as much or a little detail as you want and they can change, it isn’t written in stone.  It might be the music at the funeral, the inscription for the service, instructions as to what to do with your personal possessions in detail that isn’t in your Will.  Those people who survive then have a focus, they cannot prevent you dying, but they can do that for you (whatever that is!).


And for those who are passing it, they know that firstly those that are left have some tools to support them, they know what to do and have had an opportunity to ask some questions and raise their own concerns (which may surprise you).  You can also know that you have done what you can and have peace of mind.


But since we often don’t know when, where and in what circumstance we will die, planning is key, to cover as many possible eventualities as you can.  So the obvious things are: make a Will, make a funeral plan, create Lasting Powers of Attorney, speak to a financial advisor and get your affairs in order, file your paperwork, so that it is easy to find, think about those that are left behind and how they will cope in the first few hours / days / weeks / months and ongoing into the future and make sure they if they need taking care of, this is in place as far as it is possible to put in place.


And the big thing, have a conversation, perhaps only once every year or few years, but make sure that it is a subject that it is OK to talk about.  Not just “if you ever need to talk, I’m here”, rarely are those offers taken up!  It is a conversation that starts with “I’ve been thinking and I want to talk to you about dying and I want to let you know what I have done and what I would like you to do and I want to hear your thoughts”.


Yes, it can be a tough conversation, but when you revisit it, it will be easier next time!

What happens if you die when you are getting divorced?

10 Dec

A coffin with a flower arrangement in a morgue

What happens if you die when you are getting divorced?


If you have a Will, then until decree absolute is granted, you are still considered married, even if you have decree nisi.  If you are legally considered married and your Will gives a benefit to your spouse, then they will inherit that gift.  So if you are part way through divorcing them, they may get far more than you would give them in the divorce process.


If you haven’t got a Will, then your estate is subject to the rules of intestacy, which will potentially benefit a number of relatives (depending on the size of the estate), but principally it will be your spouse.  Again, they may get more from your death than they would get from the divorce.  And to cover the point about the incentive around you dying, if they are proven to have killed you, then the rules around murder to not allow them to benefit from their criminal act, so the good news is that there is no incentive for them to kill you!


Once you have got decree absolute, if you have a Will then the Will is read as though your now divorced spouse has predeceased you, so they will no longer benefit.  If you don’t have a Will, after decree absolute, you also don’t have a spouse, so there is a priority list of family members who will inherit.


If you get married either again or for the first time, unless you made a Will in contemplation of marriage, then your Will is revoked by the marriage and you are left with the rules of intestacy, which benefits principally your spouse and potentially other family members depending upon the size of the estate.


So the key message is MAKE A WILL, it will stop your spouse getting more than you want if you are in the process of divorcing.  It will allow you to make choices about who you do want to inherit, which if you aren’t divorcing may be your spouse, but might not.


Wills can be a series of documents, as your life develops and your circumstances change, but you will only get what you want, if you continuously update it as your circumstances change.  If there is a significant change in either your assets or your family you should review the terms of your Will, to make sure that it still works for you and if it doesn’t see a solicitor and create a new one.