Taking responsibility for end of life or incapacity is not something I’ve paid attention to beyond arranging a free will in which I stated that my estate was to be divided equally between my children, and sending a copy to my brother. That would have been over thirty years ago, and I’ve paid scant attention to the matter ever since. Why have I procrastinated for so long you well may ask!
Is this because of an assumption that my ‘estate’ will be modest and therefore I’m absolved of the responsibility of organising my affairs in advance? And possibly because the discomfort of facing the possibility that if I am rendered incapable someone will need to make decisions on my behalf?
Or is there a hint of perverse reaction to the way my parents took great care and responsibility in regards to leaving their financial and earthly goods affairs in order as they had seen families argue and left with irreparable hurt as a result of parental negligence of their affairs.
My father was most concerned that he did not leave a burden for my mother to deal with. As a trained accountant, he would generously offer his services to friends, family and people in need, and would have to untangle the mess created by incomplete taxation returns and sloppy bookkeeping, especially around investment in shares. He would see widows spending a small fortune on accountancy fees unless he was able to step in and put things in order to minimise the accountant’s work beforehand.
When he died, there was a smooth hand-over because of the preparations he had made. My mother had generous funds in an account in her name, and he had made investments in her name only so that she was financially well cared for in the interim between his death and the completion of the probate process. He explained his bookkeeping system to me, though it was always understood that my brother would assist my mother in her affairs.
My mother ensured that both his and her wishes for a funeral were written down and recorded with their preferred funeral director, and money was put in a bank account in my mother’s name to cover the funeral costs. My father was an unwell man, but saw humour in the fact that should she die before him he would be without funds!
Completing the funeral arrangements, something my Dad was not keen on doing, was a great process because as far back as I remember he had always claimed he would be buried — he had suffered horrific burn injuries in the war and could not countenance the thought of a send-off by fire. Yet in the funeral directive he clearly requested cremation, and we all talked about the preferred crematorium and visited it whilst he still had the capability to be up and about.
My mother verbally updates the directive she wrote as circumstances change. She’s also verbally made it clear that she does not want her life to be prolonged with drugs if she is no longer cognitively able and is without quality of life.
The point is that both my parents gave me the blueprint for taking responsibility, even to the point of de-cluttering the home so there’s less for the kids to deal with.
My mother’s biggest fear is that she will become a burden for others. And I have always reacted to that, ever so slightly, but it is there. The last thing I want is for her to suffer or lose touch with reality, but ‘I don’t want to be a burden’ feels like it’s coming from a belief that as an old person one is not of equal value to others. And yet her presence is enormously valuable in my life.
So now I’m getting down to the nub of my past procrastination in getting affairs in order. Factors at play are:
- There’s plenty of time – I’m 67 and in good health, what’s the urgency? The false belief that old age or serious illness are the only things we die from, when in fact sudden or accidental death or lack of capacity is a fact of life.
- Denial. Not truly and deeply pondering death and its inevitability, therefore avoiding seriously considering all preparations. We all want to die gently in our sleep in old age, but what if that does not happen?
- Not seeing that we should have our affairs in order at all times, knowing that our responsibility in this life includes responsibility for what we leave behind when we die.
- Forgetting that factors around our demise are forever evolving. Ethical issues around medical discoveries and other factors, such as permission to close our social media accounts, are arising all the time, so this needs to be a living document.
I am okay with the fact of death, but it feels that the worldly level of responsibility of getting my affairs in order is an important step that I have been avoiding.
Laying down documents that offer clear direction in the event of my demise or incapacity can be seen as an act of loving responsibility for self and our loved ones and others who may be affected by the situation.
Anne H., Australia