We are all going to die yet talking about dying is for many people a subject to be avoided. I know of a family whose elderly mother had been in a nursing home for over ten years. When she passed away in her late 90’s with no plans or funds in place for her funeral, there was ‘suddenly’ a dilemma of how the costs were going to be paid.
How can we take these steps of finding appropriate nursing care without also planning for the future practicalities around death and end of life care?
Many nursing homes request funeral information as part of their registration requirements, forcing families to indicate a funeral director for staff to contact when the time comes that one is needed.
All funeral directors offer a complimentary pre-planning service that allows individuals and families to fill in the necessary funeral documents in advance, to record wishes clearly and to also have the option of putting funds aside to cover the planned funeral costs via third party funeral bonds or insurance.
With respect, the process is not unlike going to a travel agent and planning the details for a trip, filling in the visa applications and making bookings, choosing accommodation and arranging payment. Then closer to the departure time, tidying the house, getting the mail or pets attended to and packing ready for the trip; booking the taxi for the airport and saying goodbye to friends, family and colleagues in preparation for heading off.
Imagine knowing you are going on a trip but not doing anything at all to plan for it, leaving it to when the time comes to leave before making any preparations to go.
Funeral directors are there to help individuals and families with travel arrangements ranging from the grand tour to the no frills.
Put a funeral director into an airport lounge in their uniform and they will often be mistaken for airline staff. And in a way, this is just what they are, looking after arrangements for the body’s final departure, providing space for families and friends to gather to see them off and offering support as needed.
The more we can begin to see preparing and planning for death as normal and not morbid or somehow inviting death in or hastening its approach, the less stress and trauma there is when the time does come.
Any investment of time, thought or conversation that goes into planning for end of life, including starting a conversation within your family and friendship groups through to putting things into place with a funeral director for the funeral and disposal of the body, pays off with the great support it offers, as any plan does, simply by being there ready to action when needed.
In the absence of pre-planning, when death occurs there is an unknown-ness about what to do and what happens next. In this uncertainty, there is also the vulnerability that comes with being in unfamiliar territory, further exacerbated by the emotions and stresses that can accompany death.
It makes absolute sense to prepare in a very pragmatic way for death - to put things in place for when the time comes is to exercise our responsibility rather than leaving it up to others to take responsibility for sorting things out for us.
To make a start today: -
- Talk about what you want to have happen to your body after death with families and friends.
- Make pre-arrangements with a funeral director or just call them to find out more about what happens and what options there are and the costs involved.
- Put money aside to cover your funeral costs.
- Appoint an executor, which is a person to look after your will and deal with your affairs in accordance with your wishes when you die.
- Make a will. To die without a will is to leave your affairs in the hands of the state and this is a long and drawn out process of administration that can be easily avoided by having a will. You don’t have to go to a lawyer to make a will – there are will kits available on line. Take some time to do some research or ask a family member or friend to help with the process.
- Have all your affairs and commitments clearly documented and kept together in the one place – funeral pre-arrangements, funeral funds, will, deeds, bank accounts, share portfolios, insurances, memberships, subscriptions, licences, birth and marriage certificates, passport, Medicare and health professional details (doctor’s, dentist, specialists), gas, electricity, phone, email and other online accounts and passwords.
- Start sorting out your belongings. For many of us this involves sorting through cupboards, drawers, garages and storage units full of the gatherings of a lifetime, held onto for one reason or another. To go through these stored and stashed belongings, discarding and disposing of what is no longer needed, is a huge support for the family and friends after your death.
- Make it as easy as possible for whoever is executor, to look after closing your estate and finalising your affairs after you have died.
It is a gift that taking responsibly for ourselves and our affairs with consideration for those we leave behind, keeps on giving long after we are gone.
Adrienne H., Funeral Director, Australia