What would your family do in the event of my death?
Have you asked yourself the question “What would your family do in the event of my death?”
Why then do so many people not adequately prepare for the possibility of their own untimely death?
Discover what you need to prepare and organise for your loved ones in the event of your own death?
What do you need to do and how best can you prepare and plan for your own death? To start with you will need to consider;
- what are the essential legal documents you need to have?
- what other important information you need to organise that most people overlook?
- where and how to store these documents?
By the end of this article, you’ll have detailed information concerning:
- the documents you need to have organised, and
- how to store these essential documents so they can be conveniently and easily accessed when needed by your loved ones in case of emergencies.
It’s not something you want to think about but planning to reduce the stress for your loved ones in the event of my death is important. You can make the lives of your surviving family much easier by making sure your essential paperwork is organised.
So, how do you prepare for your own death?
It’s up to you to decide if you will leave your loved one’s struggling or arguing over making funeral arrangements as they don’t know your wishes!
The information that you leave your family before you die can help them during their most traumatic and emotional times. So, both document and tell your family what you want to happen when you die. Think of this as an act of love.
What you need to know regarding planning for the End of Life, whether it’s happening in months, years, or decades. Start your planning today and don’t use any of these 7 excuses to avoid End of Life Planning.
Getting Affairs in order for your death
My father died 20 years ago, and I can still remember the chaos. It overwhelmed me with a range of emotions ranging from sadness, anger and, disbelief. I didn’t know what I was expected to do when I was confronted with the death of a parent.
Father always took care of the family money matters and he never talked about the financial aspects with my mother nor was she interested in the details.
You hate to look on the positive side of death but on reflection I was so grateful to my father for his pre-planning. He had organised his affairs well and in a logical order. It made coping with this situation from both my mothers’ and my perspective so much easier.
He had ensured we were aware that he had made plans and the location of his End-of-Life documents. Once we located them, there was a sense of relief. We understood with certainty that the decisions, we as a family were making were the correct ones. The confidence of having the written instructions from my father was invaluable for my peace of mind. We had his guidance to assist us to respond to this terrible, heart wrenching and traumatic event.
Since my father’s death, I have seen first-hand through my friends the many issues that arise within families who have prickly family relationships.
If your family do not get along, you need to organise your Will as a matter of urgency. This will help reduce or prevent the escalation of issues that can result in bitter arguments between siblings which may last for years.
Many people believe it’s too difficult or ghoulish to think about, much less plan for your death. Confusion, exhaustion, and terror are the norm in the wake of enormous loss that death brings. Planning for your death helps reduce your family’s stress when they’re at their most emotional.
Estate Planning Checklist
When planning for your death we use the term Estate Planning. Estate Planning is the overall term encompassing:
- organising and managing the disposal or distribution of your assets and possession,
- the legal rights to your various personal property and then
- paying off your debts or liabilities that you have incurred during your life.
Your Estate Planning should include planning for two areas being:
- how you will be cared for medically and financially if you’re ill or incapacitated and unable to decide yourself, and
- what happens to your possessions after your death?
Estate Planning is also associated with minimizing the impact of various government taxes when your assets are transferred to someone else by;
- Testamentary Trusts
- Power of Attorney
Estate Planning is important to ensure your family knows what your wishes are for your estate. No matter what the size or value of your estate, it will avoid leaving behind potential hassles.
What legal things to do before you die?
Let’s start with taking care of what happens after you die, starting with your Last Will and Testament. A Will is often the first thing most people consider organising when they think of End-of-Life documents. Although 52% of the adult Australian population has not prepared a Will.
Remember, death doesn’t discriminate by age or any other factors.
Execute a Last Will and Testament
Having a valid Will often make sure your property will go to the people you want to have your property after your death. Although your Will can be changed and challenged if not prepared correctly!
Remember, if you do not make a Will, you will leave everything up to your state’s intestacy laws. These laws will apply if you die without a Will. You should not assume that the government would distribute your assets as you would have.
For further legal information, you need to seek the advice of your solicitor or the Public Trustee in your state or territory.
Guardianship of Children
If you have young children, you can nominate a person to be their legal guardian. Also, to administer the assets you have left the children in your Will. The guardian will take legal guardianship of your dependent children if something happens to both you and your partner.
Similarly, you can make provisions for the care of your beloved pets in a Will as well.
Put in place a Power of Attorney
Appointing someone to act as your Power of Attorney gives them the authority to look after your affairs on your behalf in specific circumstances.
The 3 common forms of a Power of Attorney are:
- A general Power of Attorney
- Enduring Power of Attorney, and
- A Medical Power of Attorney
Powers of Attorney depends on which Australian state or territory you live in. A Power of Attorney expires when you die, and the control of your finance’s transfers to the executor of your estate as set out in your Will.
Setting up a Trust
If you have a lot of assets or have complicated family circumstances, you may use a Trust to hold your assets. The 2 most common forms of Trusts are:
- Family Trust which can be created while you are still living, or a
- Testamentary Trust created by instructions listed in your Will to protect your assets. This Trust only comes into existence after your death.
End of Life Planning
It is important to be proactive when it concerns End of Life Planning.
Deciding about your End of Life before it forces you to confront the issues is ideal. It allows you the ability to think about;
- what your choices can be, and
- what you would want your loved ones to do if you became seriously ill or incapacitated (as in a coma).
Especially, when it relates to the type of medical intervention, you may or may not wish to receive.
Complete a Living Will or Advance Care Directive
An Advance Care Directive or Living Will is a legal document in which you name a person that will communicate with medical personnel about your medical treatment preferences. This is necessary if you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to communicate your medical preferences yourself.
An example of a medical directive is that you may not want to have a certain procedure carried out as part of the lifesaving treatment on you, for example – you may not want to be kept alive artificially through a mechanical ventilator or with feeding tubes.
You can nominate a person who could make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable too. A formal, Enduring Guardianship ensures the person you want to decide on your behalf if you are in a coma can do so. Without legal interference from other related family members.
Like the Powers of Attorney, when you nominate a person you will need to complete the relevant form for your state or territory forms these usually differ between each state.
To help motivate you to act in making sure you have the required documents in place consider:
Financial Checklist Before Death
Involve your partner in your finances ……..
One thing I have learnt from the death of my father is if your partner is not involved with the finances, try to get them involved. Introduce them to your accountant, financial planner, or lawyer you use to help manage your affairs.
If something unexpected were to happen to you, your partner should at least have a basic idea of what assets and liabilities you have. Your partner needs to know who to talk to help them manage the financial and legal aspects of your estate.
As my father did for my mother, he left detailed instructions on how to access their joint assets such as a bank and investment account.
Preparing for death financially
It might be emotionally challenging to consider and inconvenient to do. If something happened to you, having your financial affairs in order will make a difficult time much less stressful for your loved ones.
“Make sure your partner can access your bank accounts when you die”
You need to consider;
- If the accounts are only in your name how would your partner access the money to cover the expense of your funeral?
- Review your assets and consider if you have any property assets solely in your name or whether they are in both of your names?
- If any properties, you own are in both of your names control would pass directly onto your partner if you died. Otherwise, the property/s will be included as being part of your estate and would need to be specifically mentioned in your Will.
Superannuation death benefit payments
Many superannuation funds offer insurance cover. Review your policies to make sure you have made a binding death benefit nomination.
Remember, binding beneficiary nominations are only valid for 3 years at a time. These legally binding nominations allow you to nominate your partner to receive your superannuation benefit if you died.
This becomes important if you separated from your partner or if your children are now adults. If you have not nominated a beneficiary, your current partner may not automatically receive the monies you thought, they would!
What documents should you have before you die?
Ask yourself “Will your loved ones be able to locate your important information or know how to handle your affairs or what your final wishes are?”
If you answered no, or not sure then I suggest that you continue reading. The most important practical tip
I have learnt from my father’s pre-planning was to gather the important documents and contact information altogether and in a safe place. This made it much easier for us to locate them when we needed to.
Gather important documents and contact information
What are the most important documents and paperwork you can organise now?
The following is a list of important documents and contact information that you should compile. This is the next step in your Estate Planning and is an important step to prepare for an emergency or your sudden death.
The various official documents you should include are:
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates of other family members
- Adoption papers (if relevant)
- Wedding and Divorce Certificates (if applicable)
- Citizenship papers
- Military records
- Will (and where the original is kept)
- Power of Attorney and Enduring Guardianship.
- Advance Healthcare Directive (also called a Living Will)
- Bank and term deposit account information
- Investment documents (securities, share certificates, bonds)
- Life insurance policies and superannuation accounts
- Medical insurance details
- Pensioner concession and social security information
- Home and contents insurance
- Property or home mortgage deeds
- Vehicle registration
Contact information must include the names, address and telephone numbers or email addresses of your:
- Solicitor or attorney
- The executor of your Will
- Family or treating doctor or other medical professionals
- Insurance broker or financial planner
- Medicare card numbers
- Any pre-paid funeral arrangements
These documents are an important part of your Estate Planning. The information will be vital for your family to access in an emergency or upon your death.
Emotional Will or Legacy Statements
Writing an Emotional Wills and Legacy Letters is how you can document your life experiences, values, and opinions to share with family and friends.
Emotional Wills and Legacy Letters are not legal documents like your Will or Advance Care Directive. They are a means to express the love and gratitude you have for those important people in your life.
You don’t want to leave important things left unsaid. Your emotional Will or Legacy Letter could be stories, experiences, beliefs and future hopes and wishes you have for your surviving loved ones. They are a gift for future generations to be passed on as your legacy.
Digital accounts after death
You need to consider the increasing importance of the digital world that we now live in.
How would you want your digital assets and accounts to be handled in the event of your death?
This is an important consideration when it relates to your;
- online bank accounts,
- investments and superannuation,
- shopping accounts,
- social media accounts,
- streaming services,
- various subscriptions services and memberships, and
- cloud storage accounts.
These will give your family access. In addition, it will aid your executor to close services you don’t want around after your death or make sure you will be digitally memorialized.
Preparing for death
My Funeral Wishes
If you prefer an individually themed funeral or memorial service, it’s best to put your wishes in writing and let your family know.
Pre-planning your funeral reduces the dilemmas and headache for your loved ones attempting to plan what they think you would have wanted. Instead, it makes sure you get what you wished for.
End of Life Conversations
Planning for your death allows you to have your wishes become a reality. Not relying on what your family think you may want. This only occurs if you plan for it when you can. Contrary to the views of some people preparing for your death won’t bring on or hasten your death any faster.
Having an End of Life conversation with your loved ones will lessen the burden placed upon the family you have left behind after your death. There will be less turmoil for your loved ones if they don’t have to guess what your final wishes were. It will avoid many of the End of Life planning mistakes.
The focus of this conversation is to make sure your loved ones know your wishes to assist you to have a good death. The conversation is a way to make sure your family are aware of your specific wishes so they can be implemented, Including the treatment preferences and care that you want when the time arrives.
These End-of-Life conversations do not replace the legal paperwork of Advance Care Directives and Wills. Your End of Life conversation should make it clearer to your immediate family on what you want regarding your final wishes.
Never underestimate the value of having this end of life conversation with immediate family. To learn more about the 7 steps on how to begin an End-of-Life conversation read our article How to start an End of Life conversation.
How to organise your “In Case of Emergency or Death Documents”
You can set up either a hardcopy or electronic versions of your Emergency or Death folders to store your documents. For the electronic versions, you can use Google Spreadsheets or a Microsoft Word or Excel document to store the relevant information. This would allow it to be easily shared.
Once you have gathered your important documents the question that many of us ask ourselves is:
- how best to organise and store these important documents and
- how and who will need to access them?
practical tips to gathering your important documents include:
- I recommend that you should keep both a hard copy and an electronic copy of these documents.
- make copies and store the original hardcopy of the documents in a safe place in a fireproof safe or a fireproof box inside a lockable filing cabinet at home.
- You could store the information in a safety deposit box at your bank.
- Keep the electronic copy in a secure data file encrypted on an external storage device and/or uploaded to a cloud account.
- Do not include passwords or other access details that only you or a trusted family member should know with the data.
- Ensure that at least one person you trust knows the location of these documents. To enable access to this information if an emergency occurs or upon your death.
- The person you nominated to be the trustee of your estate usually knows the location.
- Set up a filing system and list your assets, liabilities, insurance policies and other financial information.
The files should include a range of relevant details including:
- the financial institution, account number, name of the account
- policy provider, policy number, the date the policy started and when it expires
- any other information that is needed to verify you or your account.
- good practice is to include the latest account statement for these documents in the file.
- don’t forget to include financial products where you receive correspondence by email.
Keep everything current
Once you have organised your estate plan and any other relevant documentation, don’t just file it away in that safe place and forget about it.
Review your plans when a major life event occurs such as the death of a loved one, or any nominated beneficiary dies, major family fallouts or retirement.
Otherwise, review it yearly at a set date such as at Easter or on your birthday. You need to make sure the documents like your Will or Advance Health Directives still reflect what your wishes and intentions are.
Remember, in Australia you need to update your superannuation death benefit payments and binding nominations every three years.
What you need to know and do when I die
“The more End of life planning you have done the less emotional and financial mess you will leave behind for your loved ones to sort out!”
End of Life Planning is thinking about your future and putting your wishes, instructions and information in place. So that your choices are known and acted on by your loved ones. If you cannot express these choices or able to make decisions later in life if you are involved in
- an unexpected accident,
- becoming gravely ill
- develop a chronic health condition, or
- suffer the early signs of dementia that affects your memory and your decision-making abilities.
Talking to your family, having discussions with your doctor and legal and financial professionals of what is important to you is vital.
Having your paperwork in order is part of your End of Life Planning.
Make sure you have:
- the various legal and financial documents completed
- any other paperwork and information that may be required, and
- make sure you have stored them in a safe and secure place. Either in a hard-copy, digitally or a combination of both.
This will enable your family to gain access to them as required. Feel confident that your loved ones will know what to do in the event of my death.
I will forever be grateful for my father’s pre-planning and guidance over the years. As with so many things father led by example in showing me what I needed to know.
Often before I realized what I needed to know.