1. You fall ill or have an accident, having assumed that your next of kin will be able to take care of you.
The term next of kin often means your nearest blood relative. In the case of a married couple or a civil partnership it usually means their husband or wife. However, it is a title that can be given by you to anyone, even friends, and you can name more than one next of kin. Many people assume that having appointed a next of kin, that is who will be able to deal with all your affairs, should you not be able to do so. However, this is not necessarily the case, and will depend on the law in your jurisdiction. (See Chapter 10 on power of attorneys). The term ‘next of kin’ is in fact primarily used for the emergency services to know who to keep informed about your condition and treatment. In the UK, the next of kin has no legal rights, which means that they cannot make decisions on your behalf. In order for them, or anyone else to make decisions for you, they have to have been appointed power of attorney (see point 2 below).
If this has not already been put in place, no-one can deal with your affairs (either health or financial) without court action to appoint a guardian, which can easily take months to get sorted. The guardian might be someone you wouldn’t want, like the local council. Is that really who you would want to be making decisions about you? Also, if a guardian had to be appointed, a lot of your money would be spent unnecessarily on lawyers’ fees to set this up.
Finally, no-one would be able to access information about you, consent to, or refuse medical treatment on your behalf. In the USA, next of kin is a legally defined term, and they may have rights, depending on the individual state law, so be sure to research this for your own state.
2. You die with no copy of a last will and testament (or an out of date one):
*Even if you have a will, if it is out of date, has the wrong name on it, or is in any other way invalid, it will be treated as if there was no will at all. If this happens, then:
- It will cost more, be more complicated and take much longer than if you have a valid will.
- Your property may be inherited by someone you are separated from, or their children.
- If you are living together your partner will not automatically inherit.
- The government says who gets your property, and the government will eventually inherit if you have no traceable relatives.
- There is no chance of saving tax.
- The situation is likely to cause discord and argument in the family.
My partner Brodie died after a long illness. We had discussed a will together, but although it had been written to express his wishes that I could live in the house until my death, as we weren’t married, the will, although it had been signed, was not witnessed. This caused it to be invalid. Brodie’s children, who inherited, gave me notice to move out soon after the funeral, and I lost everything my partner and I had created together. – Sile, Scotland
You become seriously ill with no Advance Directive (Living Will/Advance Decision/Advance Healthcare Plan) instructions to your doctors
An advance directive or decision is a document that states how you wish to be treated if you are incapacitated and cannot convey your own wishes re your medical treatment. It specifically allows you to refer to treatment you do not wish to receive. If you don’t have one then not only will doctors not know what you might want, those making medical decisions with your doctors might not know either. What’s more, family members might easily argue over your care and treatment. As a worst-case scenario, you might be kept alive for a long time in a vegetative state, when you might not have wanted that. Ultimately, even if you had a poor quality of life, you may well receive life-prolonging treatment when it is the last thing you would have wanted.
My husband Samuel had a massive stroke, and wasn’t expected to live. He had not written an advance directive, but despite me and the family stating he would not want to receive any life-prolonging treatment, the hospital proceeded with all kinds of tubes. He did not die, and has improved somewhat, but is still in a state of health that I believe he would have hated. And there is nothing we can do about it. – MaryAnne, USA.
You die with no record of your wishes for after your death
This is a very common state of affairs, and even if you have a will with those wishes in it, that may not be found or read until after the funeral has taken place. It means you are quite likely not to have the funeral you would have wished for, or in the way you would have wished; it may well be that your family argues over your belongings; or that you have a funeral that goes against your religious or spiritual beliefs.
My friend died just before she could plan for her life savings to go to her two children. But instead of them being the beneficiaries, her second husband took his girlfriend (the one he had before his wife died) for a 6-month long trip around the world with the money. – Patty, USA
You become unable to communicate through an illness or accident with no record of your wishes made previously.
Because our medical systems in the West are set up to prolong life at all costs, the following are quite possible:
- You may spend time watching TV/listening to music or radio you really don’t like.
- You don’t wear the style of clothes you would choose.
- You don’t get the chance to keep in touch with friends or visit places you enjoy.
- You don’t get the kind of food and drink you enjoy.
I was visiting my old friend in a nursing home. I knew I might not be recognized, due to her ongoing dementia. But I was really shocked to find her wearing a bright pink jumper; Joan had much preferred subdued pastels, and this shocking pink was simply not in keeping with her personality. I was so cross, I kicked up a fuss, and got Joan into more suitable clothing, but the whole episode left me feeling really shocked and distressed. – Beth, England
You die without your practical/ financial affairs in order.
The amount of time needed to sort out the financial affairs and administration left behind when someone dies can be quite overwhelming. Often, administrative tasks need to happen fairly quickly and at a time when those responsible are still grieving and probably not thinking straight, therefore making it even harder to do. Do you really want to leave this kind of burden for your loved ones? Plus, it is quite possible that expensive assistance may be needed that you did not want, thus leaving less for the family to inherit. This also assumes that the family are in agreement about what happens with inheritance and debts, if any. It is alarming how many disputes occur over money after someone has died. If you haven’t organized for someone else to access your computer or phone, or you can’t access bank accounts for any reason, it may be that money from internet bank accounts won’t be claimed and inherited. All of this can cause the family (or friends) much more stress than if you had left them clear instructions in your end of life plan.
You have important information but it isn’t all in one place
This makes it much more difficult for your family and/or friends to take care of your affairs after you have died. You risk:
- Bank accounts never being found, and monies eventually going to the government.
- Your will not being found and thus your estate gets allocated according to the laws of your country.
- Those dealing with your affairs finding themselves with much more work to do.
Start as soon as you can, so you are dealing with this topic in a hypothetical way. It’s much easier than waiting until you absolutely have to attend to these things. My husband really wasn’t that keen on answering any of the questions that I wrote about in Gifted By Grief, and he was already in the process of dying. It would have been much easier if we had addressed them before he was even ill.
I learned after returning to work a few weeks ago that one of my students had died suddenly while I was away – she was only 48-years old. I understand her family is in turmoil about what to do and this brings home how very important it is that all of us make our plan. – Janet, USA.
There are a lot of reasons to take action on your end of life plan now – which is why you are reading this. So let’s get on with it! Turn to the next chapter to begin with understanding how to talk about death. This is really important, as many of the questions around this topic cannot be answered fully without having talked to the various people involved.
This is an extract from my book: Before I Go: The Essential Guide to Creating A Good End Of Life Plan, available from: Amazon.com and Amazon.