I flew to the US Midwest last week for the passing of someone who was very close to my family. It served to provoke some thoughts for me, and I thought I would share them.
First and foremost we wake up every day believing that we will carry on through the day just like all the days before. But one day it won’t be like that, and we don’t know when that day will be. So perhaps it would serve us to better savour each of our moments and interactions. Easier said than done, but worth being more conscious of the effort.
As close as we are to some people, we never say everything we need or want to say, until we realize that we won’t have that time again, ever. It’s achingly sad. But we can also reach back to the times that we did share, and relish those memories.
Though this person passed when he was in his early seventies, it was still far too soon. Many issues conspired to take him before his time, and it serves to remind me of a few other key points:
- It is important to pay attention to my health, in particular to the signals my body is sending me, whether little or big.
- Being there for others is important, but I must first prioritize time for myself so that I am better able to be present for those around me.
- And, while it is important to dedicate myself to my work, it is also important to take time off to enjoy life. Life can be very short, and we only get one time around.
There are also the mundane details of our finite existence. These are things like life insurance, wills, documenting important information, etc.
When someone dies it’s important to have liquidity. Bank and investment accounts can be frozen on death. Life insurance pays almost immediately and directly to the beneficiaries, bypassing probate. It creates instant liquidity, allowing loved ones to deal with the messy consequences of the death of the loved one, with a lot less frustration - at a very difficult time. Life insurance, in small or large amounts, can be very useful.
Of course, having a will seems to be so obvious, but many people don’t have one. For whatever reason, we procrastinate. We’ll make time later... A colleague was killed in a car accident last year. In an instant, and when he least expected it, his day ended, and so did his life. Preparing a will now serves to put your life in order, and helps others to deal with your estate while maintaining good memories of you. Without a will you can count on the opposite of the previous sentence.
Consider also where important documents are kept. Where is your information on bank accounts, employment information, pension documents, investments, deeds on property, or the ownership of vehicles? It’s helpful to advise key people of where all of these documents are kept so that everything can be easily accessed and understood, especially during a time of distress.
A sign of the times is that we all use the internet for various applications. Having a listing of important websites with usernames and passwords documented is generally discouraged, but what happens when someone is trying to unravel the puzzle of your life? Providing a key person access to online accounts, or at least the means to locate what is important and how to access them is imperative.
Probate is the process by which the estate is distributed to beneficiaries, and the appropriate taxes are paid. Executors are people who are charged with this task. It is very common for people to ask a loved one to act as an executor. Very often the loved one who has been chosen is already fully occupied with a full time job and a family, and because they seem to be quite competent it is assumed that they would be a good choice. But the job of being an executor is very complex, extremely time consuming, and can easily rip a family apart. My strongest suggestion is to appoint a professional as an executor. Any of the major banks have trust departments that provide these services. Yes, there is a fee, but a loved one is also entitled to charge a fee, and hiring an external professional will put the job of distributing the estate into the hands of someone who understands the role, can likely save expenses, and is objective. At a time when family emotions are strained, it is difficult to fully quantify what that is worth.
Death is an eventuality that no one will escape. It can be drawn out over a prolonged illness, or shockingly quick and unexpected. Preparing ourselves for our own passing will help us focus on what is important to us while we are still alive, and it will also help those that we leave behind to better manage the grief of our passing.
There is an empty space, a void, that that person filled while they were in our lives, and it can never be replaced. Acting on of our affairs now will ease the pain for those we leave behind once we have passed.