Sunday, April 3, 2011

Getting a Grip on Life and Death

Families are interesting creatures aren't they? Whether large or small, traditional or otherwise, there are many many versions of the "nuclear" family. When I was young I naively thought my family was perfect. As I grew up, moved out and expanded my horizons I discovered that many families, including my own, have cracked foundations. My wise mother told me that most people like to give the impression that their's is a happy family but that we don't know what really goes on behind closed doors. 

While helping my niece and nephew yesterday to deal with the mess left behind after their father's recent death I learned a few important facts that I thought I'd pass along. While we can never be totally prepared for the death of a loved one or totally come to grips with our own mortality there are some things that we can do to make things easier for those that are left behind.  My niece and nephew have had to deal with so much fallout from their father's death that I don't think they've been able to fully grieve yet. 

So here are a few tips to help your loved ones cope in case of an unexpected loss:

  • insure your debts so your loved ones aren't left holding the bag for money you owe, especially on large debts like lines of credit, mortgages, personal loans
  • write down what you envision your "ideal" funeral reception would look like; do you want to be cremated, do you want your ashes dispersed somewhere? what kind of music do you want, do you want a service at all? who would you like to be there? Prepaying this expense is one of the kindest acts you can do for your loved ones.
  • do you have certain possessions that you would like certain people to have; label these things or even better, give them NOW
  • downsize and declutter - this one is HUGE! don't leave 50 or 100 years of accumulated  belongings behind for someone else to cope with - believe me, it's overwhelming!
  • keep your home in good repair inside and out, including re-decorating, updates to appliances etc. Often this is the only asset left so leave it in sellable condition...keep it clean....oh please keep it clean! If you can't manage these things anymore then it's time to move to something smaller and easier to manage
  • keep all of your important papers together in one spot and let those close to you know where that spot is! Give power of attorney to someone you trust, designate who you want your executor to be
  • leave a will so there is no confusion about your wishes
  • if you have assets that you know you will be leaving behind when you die, gift them while you are alive thereby (in Canada anyways) avoiding losing so much to probate fees. (Ex. my father sold his home before he died and gifted the money to me and my 4 siblings - we didn't lose a cent to probate and gifts of this sort do NOT have to be claimed on your income tax!)
  • if your family doesn't live closeby, have an arrangement with a neighbour to check up on each other daily.  Illnesses caught early don't have to result in a premature death.
  • Don't loan money out to anyone without consulting with family first, but if you decide you really want/need to then make the arrangements through a lawyer
  • check out "investment opportunities" online - they could be scams
  • just because you're getting older doesn't mean you are exempt from following a nutritional diet - malnutrition and poor diet are the causes of/or contributors to many illnesses
  • stay in touch with your family and friends and keep them up-to-date on all aspects of your life, don't leave behind surprises!! If you are a friend or family member that has been left behind - please put any differences of opinion aside, take a break from old grudges and feuds and better yet, take this opportunity to mend fences with those members of your family you've had disagreements is too short to carry such limiting and self-defeating judgments around with you.
Following these suggestions will ensure that your family and friends have the opportunity to do what they need to do: celebrate your life and grieve your loss secure in the knowledge that you really really cared for them.


  1. Jane, wonderful words of advice. Too often people don't want to acknowledge that they might die and then take no action to prepare for it.

  2. great advice Jane, it's really important to have a will and a power of attorney, there's no excuses not to.

  3. Is it weird that I don't want a coffin when I am buried? It really seems like such a waste of resources and money. I am not sure if this is even legal. I should look into it.

    Thanks for an informative post, sometimes it doesn't occur to prepare for death, but it is our common denominator.

  4. I completely agree with you about death wishes, when my godmother passed away all we knew is that she wanted to be cremated. now she sits inside a sundial because we didn't know what she wanted.

  5. Make your will with a lawyer please do not use those will kits. They will make sure everything is done correctly.

  6. Wow. Was it your brother who died or brother-in-law? I'm sorry your neice and nephew have to go through more than they should. It's hard to get older people to do these things. Great advice for sure!

  7. My parents have got all their ducks in a row... I an grateful for that. I need to get my ducks in a row for my family as well.

  8. Great advice Jane...I have this thing about leaving all my ducks in order when I go...I think about it a lot (probably not a good thing!).

    My mum is a dreadful hoarder and I envisage months and months of sorting out :(

    @Niki I think you can get eco friendly willow I knwo this I have no idea :)

  9. Sharon - brother-in-law. He and my oldest sister had been separated for the past 15 years so I'm lending a hand where I can. In spite of everything my niece and nephew are doing a great job handling things - I am very proud of them.
    Niki- Laura is right, there are "green" caskets. I prefer the idea of cremation myself - I just can't handle the idea of being in a box in the ground.

  10. As a funeral director, I commend you for giving this important advice to people. Too many times I have seen arguments simply because family is unsure of what their loved one wanted.
    Please heed Jane's advice everyone. It really is important to your family.

  11. Hey, thank you for adding me to your blog roll-YOU ROCK!
    I think this is wonderful advice. It is a hard thing to talk about but it does need to be done.
    Have a wonderful week!

  12. Oh dear. I'm in trouble here. Family relationships are rocky as two sisters have cut me out of their lives over issues that don't concern me directly. I have no will, no children, no debt. I think about the will but it overwhelms me. My hub's sister is nagging him about putting her kids in our will. We hardly know them. She needs to butt out and I can't believe she's even asking (more like telling).

    I have a niece I love dearly but she's a mess and her brother is a bigger mess. Then, two other nephews and a niece I hardly know. Part of me doesn't care but the sister-in-law would fight like mad to get her greedy little paws on whatever she could get. I'm thinking whoever of us is left alone will need to sell the house to support living in a home.

    What a depressing subject. A necessary one, though.


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