Topic 2: The big talk about celebrating life and preparing for death

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Few of us want to dwell too much – if at all – on our own mortality.

Death and end-of-life planning remain challenging subjects to discuss with our spouse, children and other loved ones. But the implications of not having these conversations early and putting even a basic plan into place can hugely complicate matters when the time comes for your family to deal with your passing.

“So many of us don’t want to acknowledge death, let alone plan or discuss it with the most important people in our lives,” Michelle Knox, Westpac portfolio manager, observes.

“But I want us all to talk about death more. If we do, we have a better chance of having a good death and helping survivors experience a healthier bereavement. It is time we started taking ownership of our finale on this earth.”

Read more: Why it’s time to take ownership of our own death

Getting your affairs in order and making clear your preferences regarding your assets, finances, health care, aged care and funeral plans gives your loved ones more clarity about how to carry out your final wishes – so that finale can be just as you wish.

Because many of these big decisions have some sort of financial implication, banks such as Westpac offer useful end-of-life planning resources and checklists that can provide a starting point for the conversations with your spouse and family members.

Westpac’s End-of-Life Planning Guide points out that one of the most important things you can do at any stage of your life, but certainly the earlier the better, is put a holistic estate plan in place. This plan includes your will and other key documents such as superannuation death nominees, a testamentary trust, powers of attorney and powers of guardianship and advanced health or advanced care directives.

According to Westpac, many customers do not have a valid will. Felicity Duffy, head of segments at Westpac says and this makes what’s already a difficult time even harder in navigating through the process.

“There’s a really key message here about making it easier for your loved ones by starting to plan, and getting the information that’s needed. ASIC is a really great, independent site which outlines how to make the process as smooth as possible,” she says.

It’s also worth working closely with both your solicitor and financial planner to ensure your estate planning documents reflect your wishes accurately, and then discuss your wishes with your children, executors or trusted friends. This article discusses in more detail the actions you can take today to ease the burden on your loved ones.

Jolene Hill, founder of Your Life Talks and a former White Lady funeral director, says that one of the all-too-common problem she sees in families who don’t have the tough conversations in advance is that a medical incident or other crisis often forces them into having to make decisions quickly without knowing their loved one’s wishes.

“We have a saying that the emergency department is not the place to have this conversation,” Hill says.

There are subtle ways of leading into conversations around end-of-life planning. Hill offers these conversation starters:

  •  “For peace of mind for both of us, we need to talk about your wishes for your future.”
  • “You’re in good health right now, but I want both of us to be prepared for the future.”
  • “Would you like some help with putting your affairs in order?”

“Having these conversations about life and what matters most is a wonderful way for us to reaffirm to our loved ones how much they have impacted our lives and how much they’ve meant to us,” she says.

Whichever stage of life you’re in, it’s never too late to start planning for the inevitable end. After all, as Knox says, it’s your finale, so it should be exactly as you want it.

Have you had these discussions with your spouse and family? What end-of-life planning have you done?

Westpac Dealing with bereavement and the management of a Deceased Estate is a difficult time. We are here to help.

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and for information purposes only. It does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It is not financial product advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any financial decision you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from an independent licensed financial services professional.