Nothing quite focuses the mind on mortality more than a family bereavement. It’s been a long time between our family’s episodes of sorry business. However, I headed to New Zealand on pure instinct, arriving in time to support my sister as she said goodbye to her husband of 62 years. They say that 95 is a ‘good innings’, but it is no less hard for the family when the time comes.
The manner in which one can choose to shuffle off has changed appreciably since 1991 when our Dad died. So many people now are eschewing the formal funeral/wake process in favour of simplicity, affordability and privacy.
But first we need to be prepared, and statistics show that only 40% of Australians have a Will.
She Who Has a Plan has been ‘encouraging’ me to make an Advanced Health Care Directive. She has progressed her own, but it is still not completed. Apparently, you (a) need a doctor to sign off that you are competent and (b) wish to make a compelling argument for not wanting to lie incapacitated in an aged care home for years after a catastrophic stroke.
My next older sister (also a widow) has moved closer to her family as she approaches 80. The recent events led us to talk about not much else than ‘what if’. She has ‘The Folder’ tucked away in a place where her kids can find it. In such a folder – and we all should have one – there’s the Power of Attorney, a copy of the Will and the AHCD (sometimes known as a living will). Some even leave cash for a wake!
As I discovered quite a few months ago now, the age of technology adds more complexity to ‘getting one’s affairs in order’. In our case, SWHAP pays the bills, interacts with Centrelink (sigh. Ed) and plans around things we need to do to the house, car and caravan. I look after our self-managed super fund, the music business (such as it is), technology, lawns, firewood, feeding the dog and cleaning up the kitchen.
I guess at a pinch I could sort out the bills – there is a spreadsheet after all. As for the SMSF, that is a a different challenge. SMSF Trustees deal with a dozen different organisations and the responsibility for stuffing things up falls on them. I also administer two websites and our online music business with its links to streaming services. Not to mention having to report songwriting royalties to Centrelink.
I started work on my (incomplete) Estate document in October 2022. If I were to pop my clogs suddenly, SWHAP would at least have access to all the accounts and websites you need when maintaining a SMSF portfolio (Ed: you changed the bloody passwords again, didn’t you).
As I hinted earlier, we should all have a Will and, even if you do, they probably need to be reviewed. Like, I left everything to my kids and then I met Vera!
Comparison website finder.com.au did a survey last year of 1054 participants, 60% of whom did not have a will. That’s 12 million Australian adults who have no estate plan. Were they to die today, their estate would be locked up interminably, tagged as intestate. If you die without a Will or it is invalid, your next of kin will have to make an application to the Supreme Court.
The law then decides who gets the estate (your assets). This is done with no regard to what you or anyone in your family wanted or thought they were going to get. Vera versus the kids – not a great scenario.
It doesn’t cost much in the scheme of things to have a lawyer draw up a will. Or you can buy a DIY kit from a reputable newsagent.
Even if you have a will, it will not be settled until probate. In the meantime, your spouse’s bank accounts will be frozen.
My point about Wills is that you would not want your loved ones to struggle with your slackness when they are consumed by grief.
At this point, if what I’ve written so far has galvanised you to action, we should all stipulate what is to happen to our mortal remains once we have died. These days almost 75% of us want to be cremated, which is simple enough. You can pay to put the ashes in a memorial wall in the cemetery, take them home in an urn or scatter them at the departed’s favourite fishing spot.
Remember that scene from The Big Lebowski?
What we most commonly call ‘the arrangements’ should be handled by a professional undertaker. There are many options today for a ‘simple’ funeral/cremation and it is likely to cost far less than a traditional funeral service with a burial. More people now are opting for a direct cremation.
A blog by Anton Brown Funerals in Brisbane set down some of the most recent trends in funerals. The big change has been the switch to live streaming of funerals (36%). That is, close family and friends are probably present but the extended family and friends who couldn’t make it can watch live or later. This evolved from the Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, forcing the funeral industry to adapt.
One thing I did not know is that 50% of Australians are likely to be in hospital at the time of their death; 32% are likely to be in an aged care or respite facility and 15% are likely to die at home. Most funerals (85%) are conducted on a spontaneous basis while 15% are pre-planned. I know people in this latter category who have not only pre-planned, but pre-paid. Whether or not the next of kin will be called upon to read Mum or Dad’s self-penned eulogy is a matter of conjecture.
Meanwhile, I have made an appointment for a check up, will look into the living will and finish the Estate document (which should go into The Folder). My sister says The Folder should be bright and visible – tie a bow around it, even.
As a report by Inside Ageing observed, death affects almost all Australians over the age of 35, with 95% of all respondents having attended a funeral, and 60% being involved in a funeral arrangement.
That trend is expected to grow, as the 4.2 million Australians aged 65 and over increases from 16% of our population to between 21% and 23% by 2066. Increasingly, this cohort are going to be baby boomers with views and attitudes shaped by the Summer of Love. You can read all about it here.
If you’d rather laugh about death, try Billy Connolly’s 2014 series, The Big Sendoff, where he explores death and funerals around the world. The series was made after Connolly discovered he had Parkinson’s. It is a far from morbid, illuminating look at attitudes about death. (Try Apple TV).
The last word goes to Billy, who once said: “I’d hate to have been born and died and nobody noticed.”