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Have you spoken to your loved ones about death?

Written and accurate as at: May 14, 2020 Current Stats & Facts

The current COVID-19 pandemic has provided a stark reminder of the fragility of life.  It has also prompted many of us to reflect upon our own mortality.  With death being a very difficult subject to talk about, this article provides information around what you should be discussing with your loved ones and how to open a two-way conversation that puts everyone’s mind at rest.

Lindsay’s story

When Lindsay became ill, his family’s priority was to support him through his treatment and keep him positive and as comfortable as possible.

Like many of his generation, Lindsay had always been very private, never sharing personal information – not even with his nearest and dearest. After he passed away, it dawned on the family that nobody knew whether Lindsay would have preferred cremation or burial. At such an emotionally charged time, the question caused quite a dispute.

Once Lindsay’s funeral was over, the family faced more complex questions: did Lindsay have a Will? Was there any insurance? What investments and assets did he have? Trying to locate Lindsay’s paperwork and make sense of his finances became a nightmare.

If only someone had asked Lindsay.  Here are some tips you might consider when engaging with your loved ones about these matters.

How to prepare for the conversation

Before you engage in conversation with your loved ones, consider having the following details ready:

  • Finances, assets, investments, accounts, insurance policies, etc
  • Will (Is it current? Where is it kept? Who is the executor?)
  • Medical (Medications; Power of attorney)
  • Funeral preferences
  • Aged care arrangements, family home, care facilities
  • Location of important documents
  • Usernames and passwords for online accounts
  • Contact details for doctor, financial adviser, trustees, power of attorney, solicitor, executor.

What to do during the conversation

Carefully consider your approach on discussing these matters with your loved ones. These are sensitive topics for all parties involved - seek to discuss them gently and tactfully.  It may be helpful to involve an executor, financial adviser or accountant.  Here are some tips on conducting the conversation:

  • Extend an invitation - Present the discussion as a means to making their life more manageable in the future when you are gone, rather than sweeping the subject under the carpet before it is too late. 
  • Present an example - Use examples of challenges faced by others, explaining that you hope to avoid the same situation. Express the fact that you’d like your loved ones to understand your situation and your wishes, to provide all parties with peace of mind and a plan for the future.
  • Discuss the documentation - go through the above documentation that pertains to your estate plan, including your wishes and how these items can be accessed when you are no longer here.  
  • Don’t judge - As your loved ones open up, listen respectfully and without judgement. 

Following up after the conversation

Afterwards, ensure that both parties follow up and fulfil any promises you made.

Where to next?

If you haven’t already done so, take the time to sit down with your loved ones to chat about these matters.  Your loved ones won't want to think about your mortality any more than you do.  They might assume you’re overreacting and probably won’t thank you for the information – not right now anyway.  The main thing is that when your time comes, they’ll realise you’ve saved them a lot of heartache. 

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