In my previous post I suggested (gently and with music) people take time out of their lives to talk about death. Why? Because it’s the one thing we all have in common and yet, we’re doing it pretty poorly. We don’t talk about death because we’re afraid it might happen. Newsflash: It’s going to happen. We are all going to go sometime. If you talk about it you’re going to die, and if you don’t talk about it, you’re going to die. But if you discuss it your death could be easier for you and for everyone you love who cares about you.
Think this isn’t going to be a problem in your family? Think again. It’s a problem in way more families than you think. Even in the ones who least expect it. Death brings out the worst in people. While the battles are often motivated by money, greed isn’t the only motivator. We love our parents and we want to hold onto them so some folks go to battle over sentimental items or power. We battle trying to prove “Mom always loved me best.” Or, “I really was the best child Dad raised.” We battle over who gets the pin Grandma wore to her wedding or who gets to keep the watch Dad got when he retired. (Yeah, that used to happen!) If you doubt my suggestion about how big a problem these battles are, Google Family Inheritance Battles and How to Avoid Them. Heads up, though. You’ll get 13,100,000 hits. More than 13 million suggestions for staving off what might be ahead.
I don’t have 13 million suggestions, just 10, but if you follow any of them, you’re likely to avoid having to read through the 13 million suggestions later.
1. Talk about your death with your adult children and talk the death of your parents with your parents. Discuss what you believe about the end of life and how it should be handled. Ask them what they believe. Air this topic out, don’t shroud it in darkness. Letting light in by simply bringing up the topic over family dinner will make it way more palatable.
2. If someone “Pooh Poohs” you and says, “Let’s change the subject, this is too depressing or too morbid,” simply respond gently. “I don’t think it’s morbid at all. It’s just a reality we all have to face and won’t it be a lot easier if we face it together?” Because the truth is, it will be easier to handle end of life together.
3. Have a will. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to a more peaceful transition. If you are reading this blog, you’re probably an adult. If you don’t have a will, you have no way of knowing what will happen to the things you care about after you die. In some states if you die without a will the things you own and the money you have may go to your state. No one wants that! (Except maybe your governor) Writing a will may be done best with an attorney but if that doesn’t work for you don’t worry. There are will templates on the Internet. There are free options and a few you have to pay to download. Look at a few, choose one you like and fill it in as needed. State who gets what after you die and don’t leave anything to chance. Then make a few copies and sign each in front of two witnesses. Keep a copy for your records, maybe even two copies, and give the others to a few key people you trust.
4. Talk about love. Ultimately most of the family battles over money are really over love. If you air your feelings openly while you’re alive, if you resolve conflicts while you’re alive, you won’t have your heirs battling over your grave.
5. Be open about the reality of your plans. If you do have a will, let your family know what you’ve included in it. It’s best if you don’t use your will to deliver any sort of message you should have delivered while you were still breathing.
6. There’s a saying, “When you assume, you make an ass of u and me.” It’s so true in terms of family battles. You might think you have the perfect family and so you don’t have to worry about anyone fighting over anything. I’m happy for you if you feel that way and I hope for your sake you’re right. But, you know what? You’re probably wrong. Even in families where everyone feels close it’s hard to predict who will start fighting when a loved one is sick and/or dying and everyone is stressed out. So, if you do have a loving family, protect it by doing what needs to be done in advance to avoid battles later… even if you’re sure your family is immune to such rifts. They’re not. No family is.
7. Pick a point person, give someone what’s known as “Power of Attorney.” What that means is that you are allowing someone to act with your full range of power over your money and your life, acting as your agent as if they were you. You choose this person to make decisions for you if and when you can’t make them anymore. Choose someone you trust with your life, because they literally will be running your life. Don’t choose two people because they would then have to agree on every point and that will be very difficult for any two people to do. You can choose one person and a back up person but not two to serve together. Power of Attorney is only put into place while you are alive and can’t function. Once you are dead the executor of your will takes over in decision-making capacity. And, yes, the same person can serve in both ways if you want that. You can also break up Power of Attorney and choose one person to make financial decisions and one person to make health decisions if you prefer.
8. Consider how you want to die. Do you want to be kept alive at all costs? Do you want to be hooked up to machines which may breathe for you and/or feed you? Do you want to be kept alive beyond the time you can fully function? Do you want heroic measures done to save you despite how infirm you may be? Okay, these are ghastly things to think about. I get that. But you know what’s more ghastly? It’s forcing your loved ones to make these choices for you without knowing for sure what you would have preferred because you never said so.
9. Let superstitions go. Cannot stress strongly enough what a waste of time these distractions are. You can’t “luck” your way out of dying.
10. Seek help. If you can at all afford to do so, check with an attorney in drawing up these legal papers. It may cost a bit but that money might be very well spent if it helps your family avoid problems later.
I hope you take this matter seriously and yet not think of it as too sad. Death is just a part of life and it doesn’t have to be disastrous. If you have any suggestions to add you think might help folks going through some difficulties with this, please comment here and share. And feel free to send this post along to everyone you’ve ever met in your life, especially if you’re related to them!