Tag Archives: Death

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.

The Big Conversation – Dying Matters!

16 Feb

A coffin with a flower arrangement in a morgue



There are a number of different organisations that are involved in this subject of talking about dying.  We live in a death phobic society, we rarely see real dead bodies, just fake ones in movies.  When a neighbour dies, they are not laid out in the dining room for the neighbourhood to come and pay their respects or anything like that anymore!  We avoid using the word “death”, there are lots of other sayings: “fallen off their perch”, “gone to the other side”, “passed on” etc.


And yet, this is something that eventually we will all do, yet we don’t talk about it much.  Lots of families find this a very difficult and uncomfortable conversation, but often once that first barrier is broken, of starting the conversation, the whole thing becomes much easier.


It is entirely understandable that people want to focus on living and therefore want to talk about living, about the exciting things they want to do with their life, the place they want to go on holiday this year or just what’s for dinner!  But it is still worth having a conversation, perhaps once a year or every other year about what you want to happen as you are dying and after you have died.


What sort of end of life treatment do you want?  Who will make those end of life decisions if you can’t?  What do you want to happen if you have a 50% chance of survival?  But what about a 70% survival chance or a 10% chance.  And what does “survival” really mean?  What is it about your life and lifestyle that is important to you?


And once you have died, what sort of funeral do you want?  Who do you want to be there?  Do any of these decisions matter or do you want your family to make some or all these decisions?  Is your family going to hold a wake, should there be a theme?  How do you want to be remembered?


In legal terms, this also leads into the making of a Will, which I have blogged about before.


Your family will be sad that you have died (hopefully) and one of the important ways that they are comforted in their grieving process is to be able to fulfil your wishes.  They can only do that if they know what your wishes are.  And they will only know what your wishes are if you have had a #BigConversation with them!

How to prepare for the future – part 2

7 Jul

Senior businessman showing a document

How to prepare for the future – part 2


Following on from the Big Conversation I spoke at in May 2016, it is important to take action on the things that were discussed.  This does not mean that your life becomes obsessed by your dying, as there is a risk that you will forget to live.  If you have one conversation a year with your family about it and all of the others tens / hundreds / thousands of conversations you have are about living, truly living, then this is likely to be enough for your family to know your wishes, as long as the one conversation has enough detail on your wishes.


So part 2 is all about creating Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA), which will allow someone else to make decisions for you, if you need to have them made, when you are no longer able to do that for yourself.  There are two kinds, one dealing with finance and the other covering health and welfare, so I will take those in turn.


The Property and Financial Affairs LPA covers all financial assets that you own, not just the big stuff, but all the little stuff as well, such as your jewellery, photos, furniture and clothes.  It of course covers your money and house.  If you retain mental capacity, but become too physically frail to sort out your finances, then you can allow your attorneys to act for you.  During this time, their actions should be limited to your directions and they should not make their own decisions for you, they can do that when you lose capacity.  So it is worthwhile that if you have a particular view about your finances, that you tell your family.  Also the things that people row about is often the little things, such as a particular picture, piece of jewellery, chair or table!  So if you know where those things are to go, then make your wishes clear, it will save a lot of worry, hassle and conflict!


Also if you want to stay in your own home for example, if you become unwell, then let your attorneys know, have the conversation around the risks of you becoming unwell and not receiving 24 hour care, but 4 visits a day!  If you don’t mind going into care, then tell your attorneys the kind of home you want to go in to.


The Health and Welfare LPA can only be used once you have lost capacity to make your own decisions.  The generically important decisions tend to be end of life decisions and where you live, which means whether or not you go into care and if so, which care home you go into.  But it includes all medical decisions and all social care decisions, which includes what you wear, what you eat, what social activities you can participate in and as such have a huge impact on your life.  So if you have a view about any of these, then tell your attorneys.


Both kinds of LPAs need to be registered at the Office of the Public Guardian at a cost of £110 per LPA (subject to means tested exceptions) and registration can take 8-10 weeks depending on how busy the OPG are.

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!

The Death Conference – Part 4

30 Apr

Coffin in morque

The Death Conference – my talks


Following on from my earlier blogs, I was very honoured to be asked to Wendy Coulton’s “Elephant in the Room” event at Plymouth Central Library on North Hill on 27 & 28 March 2015.


The purpose of the conference was to get the conversation going about death, that death and dying is part of life, and that we should talk about it more or even at all in some cases.


Wendy asked me to speak twice, so after discussion with her, we agreed that I would split up my talks into pre-death and post-death legal issues.


So what did I say in my post-death talk.  I gave a run through of what would happen in a straightforward situation and then started to look at what makes the circumstances more complicated.  Starting with a Coroner’s Inquest, they can be for all sorts of reasons, but locally amongst the reasons can be death related to working in the Dockyard, as there was asbestos in the Dockyard in the past.  Or it can be because of an unexplained death, so if someone dies from an illness and they have not seen their GP or other medical practitioner then the death is considered “unexplained”.  Sometimes they can be death with via a post mortem, but on occasions, so Inquests require a hearing and this is a chance for the family to be heard.  I would suggest that legal advice is sought in that circumstance.   The Coroner issues “Fact of Death” certificates, which are not the same as Death Certificates, which is some cases does not hold up the administration of the estate, but in other cases it does, as some assets will not pay out unless there is a cause of death.


If the estate is contested in some way, that will cause the administration of the estate to be held up whilst the dispute is resolved.  Some of these claims are about “sorting out a deal”, so if one party is at a financial disadvantage and needs money, the may be in a weak bargaining position and end up settling for less than they might otherwise have got.  This is where the litigator will help to sort out the end result.


There are a number of reasons why an estate could be contested, which includes challenging the Will, because for examples someone claims that it is a fraud or because they claim that the testator lacked capacity when they created / signed the Will.  There are also legal challenges of “want of knowledge and approval”, which is linked to lack of capacity and it is also linked to “undue influence”, another potential challenge.  Undue influence is hard to prove, as suggesting something to someone and that person thinks the suggestion is a good idea is very different from doing something against your will, as the person suggesting it is so overwhelming in their insistence that it is a good idea.  It is for this reason that undue influence claims are more often won on want of knowledge and approval than undue influence, which is hard to prove.


The next way that an estate can be challenged is by a claim for “reasonable financial provision” by a financial dependent.  There are 2 categories of claimant, a spouse and everyone else.  The amount that a person should leave to their spouse is different level of support than anyone else, so there is a higher standard to support for them.  Anyone else can include children, but an important category of person is the partner they live with, but have not married, without a Will, the rules of intestacy would not benefit a partner, even though they live like a spouse, which leaves the surviving partner having to make a claim against the deceased estate.


Intestacy can cause issues, but not always, sometimes the rules work out and might be what the deceased would have wanted or almost what they would have wanted, but not always and beneficiaries can row.


My key message at the talk, was that sometime these things happen, but try not to let them happen as it is in this scenario that the lawyers get rich!!

The Death Conference – Part 3

17 Apr


The Death Conference – my talks


Following on from my earlier blogs, I was thrilled to be asked to Wendy Coulton’s “Elephant in the Room” event at Plymouth Central Library on North Hill on 27 & 28 March 2015.


The purpose of the conference was to get the conversation going about death, that it is part of life, and that we should talk about it.


Wendy asked me to speak twice, so after discussion with her, we agreed that I would split up my talks into pre-death and post-death legal issues.


So what did I say in my post-death talk.  The first point that I made was not to panic, it is a distressing time for families, they are shocked and bereaved and they don’t know what to do in the first few hours and days.


So first things first, get the funeral sorted, and in order to do that the family will need to register the death and find out if there is a Will and if there is, to find out if there is a funeral clause in the Will.


The next thing, find the Will & work out who the Executors are, check any insurance policies to see what effect the death of the policy holder will have, if any and work out if there are any cashflow issues.


Then you can start to deal with the administration of the estate, which in simple terms, is gathering the financial information to obtain the Grant of Probate and completing all the necessary paperwork, including the Oath and IHT form.  Then gather in the financial assets and pay any liabilities and the final stage is to distribute the estate in accordance with the terms of the Will or intestacy.


There are things that can make a simple estate, as described above more complicated and that includes: Inheritance Tax issues, contested estates, claims against the estate and coroner’s inquests.  Any foreign element can also make things more complicated, whether the deceased was not a national of England & Wales or if they owned assets in another jurisdiction, such as a holiday home in France or Spain!  Homemade Wills can have flaws in them, the drafting is easy to get wrong.  Any unclear terms in the Will can cause issues, so “my children” does not include step children, but does include children from an earlier marriage, is this what you want,  if your Will was professionally drafted, then there may be a claim against the Will drafter.  For any of these issues, seek help!


There were lots of questions at the talk, as these issues affect lots of people.  If they knew what they left behind, they may take steps to make sure that they don’t leave their loved ones with a mess to sort out.


Thank you Wendy for getting this important conversation started.

The Death Conference – Part 2

9 Apr


The Death Conference – my talks


Following on from my earlier blog, I was very honoured to be asked to speak at Wendy Coulton’s “Elephant in the Room” event at Plymouth Central Library on 27 & 28 March 2015.


The conference was aimed at getting the conversation going that death is part of life, which it is not a taboo subject and it is fine that we talk about it.


Wendy asked me to speak twice, so after discussion with her, we agreed that I would split up my talks into pre-death and post-death legal issues.


So what did I say in my pre-death talk?  It was about talking with the family, getting some preparation done, which in the end makes it easier for anyone grieving and left behind afterwards.


I split the talk up into dealing with the situation if you have mental capacity to make decisions and if you don’t.  So if you have mental capacity, create Lasting Powers of Attorney, so that your family and loved ones can take care of you if you ever lose mental capacity.  And don’t forget to make a Health and Welfare Lasting Powers of Attorney, all too often people worry about their money, but not themselves.  LPA for Property and Financial Affairs allows someone to make decisions about your financial assets, which is important; you still need to get your bills paid.  But don’t forget about an LPA for Health and Welfare, this allows someone to make medical and social care decisions for you at a time when you cannot make them for yourself.


As well as Powers of Attorney, make a Will, so that your estate can pass to wherever you want it to go after you have died.  And the final message was to leave your estate in order.  If you have paperwork, keep up with your filing, keep it all in one place, let you family know where your paperwork is and if you are willing to share some details, let them know some information about your estate, such as which bank you use.  If you don’t want to share that information, just let them know where they can find that out.


If you are unlucky enough to lose mental capacity before your arrangements have been made, then your family will need to apply to the Court of Protection for a deputyship order, so that they can manage your affairs on your behalf.  This is a much more complicated process than creating LPA and much more expensive, with ongoing costs, however it is not impossible and therefore the message is that although it is best to make arrangements, if you haven’t the situation can still be managed.


Thank you Wendy for getting this important conversation started.