Most people know that making a Will is generally the most important thing to organise before death. But there are many other practical things for seniors, particularly those in aged care, to think about as part of getting organised in their later years.

In our previous blog about mistakes to avoid when making a Will, we mentioned that more than half of Australia’s adult population never got round to making one. So, in this blog article, I’ll look into the other important things that are often left until too late, but can mitigate the stress on loved ones if arranged before someone passes away.

I’ve asked some end-of-life experts from across Australia to explain the benefits of getting organised ahead of time and what might happen if we never get around to it.

1. Make a bucket list

A bucket list is a list of all the goals and life experiences you wish to complete before you ‘kick the bucket’.

“Personally, more often than not, I have found people do not get around to their bucket list,” says South coast NSW death doula Kylie Hutchinson. “We are born and then we begin dying. No one knows their expiration date; a few people get an estimated timeframe.

“I encourage people to do what they want to do now, because it may just be too late. Faster than you realise.”

To quote the movie The Shawshank Redemption, Kylie urges people to “Get busy living, or get busy dying”.

Is running a marathon on your bucket list?
Is running a marathon on your bucket list?

2. Legacy planning

Legacy planning is also another consideration that is often forgotten. A part of estate planning, legacy planning covers more than just preparing how you will bequeath your property and assets to your loved ones after your death. It’s the finer details like who will inherit a particular family heirloom or item with sentimental value. It could be nominating that the bracelet your husband gave you on your first anniversary is to be given to your grand-daughter.

“If you don’t do any kind of legacy work and then you die, there is a missed opportunity to leave a legacy – if that is something that was important to you, or something your family would have valued,” says Tasmanian death doula Rebecca Lyons.

“All of this is about connection, honest, open and transparent conversations. This is where the agency in life – and death – can be found and where we can move into the phase of death with our people feeling like we have some form of known way forward.”

3. Make an advance care directive

A Living Will or advance care directive is a document that states your values and preferences for future care if you can’t make those end-of-life decisions for yourself later on. It can minimise much anguish for decision-makers coming to the end of someone else’s life.

Advance Care Directives are often left too late, and friends and family often have awful, family-splitting arguments under the pressure of wanting to do the ‘right thing’, or being unsure of what the person wanted,” says ‘deathwalker’ Julieanne Hupalo, from Murwillumbah, NSW.

“That being said, doing one is often seen as difficult and people are concerned that they can’t edit it easily. This is why I thoroughly recommend and use Dr Charlie Corke’s My Values website which takes you step by step through the process of making an Advance Care Directive. And once you’ve done it, you can email it to whoever needs to have it. Plus, you can edit it as your feelings change, or as more consideration on a specific issue comes to hand.

“I’ve mentioned in my advance care plan who the contact people are who have access to my current information. I’ve included my solicitor in this list as they have my Will. If people can set time aside to put an advance care plan into place and let the family, friends, or important contacts know, that will save them needless guilt and stress, and ensure your wishes are voiced,” Julieanne says.

4. Appoint a Power of Attorney

Similarly, it can also be useful to appoint a Power of Attorney to manage your personal or financial affairs on your behalf. It can also be useful to have a Power of Attorney if you become unwell or lose the ability to make decisions or manage your financial affairs yourself. This is called an Enduring Power of Attorney.

Rebecca agrees that it’s generally only with loss of capacity that things can be left too late.

“If you don’t appoint an Enduring Guardian or an Enduring Power of Attorney and then you lose the capacity to make those appointments, then you no longer have the right to a say over who will speak for you,” she says.

Estate planning, appointing a power of attorney and making a health directive is important to do before it's too late.
Estate planning, appointing a power of attorney and making a health directive is important to do before it’s too late.

5. Withdraw your pension

Former Adelaide accountant and now a funeral celebrant, Trevor Hayley sadly lost his dad a few years ago. Trevor understands estate planning and was able to have a financial conversation with his dad as he entered his end of life, saving thousands of dollars from being paid in tax.

“In Australia, there is no tax on a pension being completely withdrawn while a person is alive, but there will be to the estate after death,” he explains. “The answer: withdraw it when you know the time is close, which we did with Dad.

“In his usual simplistic view of life, he said: ‘Of course I want you to do that. I don’t want the government to get it.’ I reckon we saved about $10,000. Definitely a conversation to have.”

Pensions and withdrawals after the age of 60 are generally tax-free, so it’s always good to have the conversation about withdrawing if there is time, Trevor recommends. If a Power of Attorney is already in place, it’s also a good opportunity to test its accessibility. If not, it might also be a timely opportunity to arrange one.

“I just had to make a call, and all I needed to say was ‘now’,” Trevor says.

6. Don’t forget the small details

Kylie says it’s important not to gloss over the finer details that are often not arranged before someone passes.

“I have found the basics are covered, like funeral style, paperwork and general arrangements, but it’s the details that are often not discussed. I have asked people to think about music, flowers, coffin style and who will say your eulogy.”

7. Write a self-eulogy

Our sobriquet Savvy Celebrant says you don’t need to wait until someone dies to write their eulogy. Both self-eulogies, or eulogies that parents and their children can prepare together ahead of time, can create a truer reflection of a person’s life than those left until after the passing.

“One way of opening up the conversation might be to ask your parents to write their life story for your family history. You could even do it as an interview that you record. Sometimes grandkids have to do this for school projects, and it can be a beautiful feature of a memorial service,” he suggests.

Choosing a funeral outfit.
We all love dressing up for an occasion, so it makes sense to choose the outfit we want to leave in.

8. Plan your final outfit

When it comes to end-of-life planning and preparing for a funeral, Sydney life celebrant Lindsay Leung says people often forget about choosing their final outfit.

“It’s a simple thing that can be done ahead of time. Yes, people can prepare Wills, letters, their own funerals, who gets this and who gets that – so why not get excited about putting that last outfit together? We all love dressing up for an occasion: a first date, a party, a wedding – so it makes sense to choose the outfit to leave in doesn’t it?”

“This might be dependent on the culture, but in the Chinese funerals I have been involved in, families are always asking, ‘What should I bring for the to-wear outfit?’ ” says Lindsay, who has Chinese parents. “And we always say, ‘prepare the outfit as if your loved one is about to go out to a special dinner’. From underwear, a nice shirt or dress, socks and shoes, coat and bag – the full gear.”

A common question asked is, why bother putting so much effort into an outfit that someone is about to be buried or cremated in? “Some might just put a coat over a loved one, because no one can see it anyway. But why dress half-heartedly? It’s the final farewell party, after all, so let’s dress up for it! Imagine someone trying to pick out your bra and underwear for you to wear – odd right?

“You know your own taste, so it certainly would be comforting for family members to know they can dress you in something you chose and feel comfortable in, and to leave this life with dignity – and with underwear on!” she says.

So, when you think about estate planning, it’s important to consider other elements of end-of-life planning aside from the obvious ‘who gets my stuff when I die?’

Perhaps it’s writing out personalised letters for loved ones to read after you pass, or drafting a self-eulogy. Maybe it’s setting a Facebook legacy contact, making a health care directive or getting particular legal affairs in order. It could even be simply letting a trusted person know where an important document, password, or stash of money is hidden! What’s important is making your wishes known before it’s too late.

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