In this two-part series, we’ll share the experiences of a friend of CM Law, who recently (and unexpectedly) lost their father. She wanted to share the family’s learnings so our clients would be aware of the weight of the process surrounding loss in part 1 of What to do when someone dies.
When someone dies, those who are left behind are drawn into a challenging world where complex practical decisions must be made quickly – all on top of dealing with emotions surrounding the loss.
Our friend’s 88-year-old father was recovering from heart surgery and despite his advanced age, the doctors were positive he would return to a better quality of life. So it was a shock for the family when the narrative shifted from “He’s doing well” in the morning to “He’s not going to make it” that night…and he didn’t.
Almost immediately, the pressure to make decisions started. Where was the “body” to be transported? What funeral company will you use? What kind of funeral do you want? Church or crematorium? Type of coffin? Urn? Flowers? Is there a plot? Where is the list of people to contact?
Here’s what they shared with us.
“If you’re the one left behind, you’ll suddenly have a lot to deal with. Not only will you be dealing with grief or other emotions, you’ll be bombarded with questions about the weirdest details. In my instance, it was ‘Would your father have liked a shroud? What colour flowers would he have liked?’ When will the funeral be held?’
“Questions were being fired at us, and my mother – now a widow in her 80s – was too grief-stricken to answer them. We were very lucky that my dad had prepared a lot of the information which he’d stored in a plastic bag called ‘Upon death of …’”
“And we were forced to think about our own situation – if we were to pass away, we would want to protect our own loved ones, our children and partner, not cause them unnecessary grief at such a complicated time.”
Here are the top tips they shared with us.
- “Talking about death with a loved one or thinking about it yourself is never easy – but: “Do it.” My father was dictating instructions in what turned out to be his final days, and I was thankful I had taken notes, even if I thought it was stupid at the time. Fathers are invincible, right? It would have been so much better had these conversations taken place in advance and in detail so we’d known his wishes.”
- “Be prepared. My father, an immigrant who came to Australia under difficult circumstances, learned to be ready for uncertainty. There was a document which contained all the required information, including – in our instance – the names and occupations of his long-dead parents. This helped us enormously. There was no way we would have known this information, and we certainly wouldn’t have known where to start looking during such a time of crisis!”
- “Make sure a Power of Attorney and Enduring Guardianship are in place, as well as an advance directive which sets out their wishes about medical treatment. These legal documents are a vital help when decisions have to be made, such as whether heroic measures should be taken, and if you need access to funds for a funeral.”
- “Know where to find the details and documents you need. Know who the lawyers are, the accountant, the banks.”
Our friend will share more about this area in part 2.
- “Finally, I can’t stress this enough: ‘Get your own affairs in order!’ I made an appointment with CM Law to prepare my will, power of attorney, enduring guardianship, and an advance directive. Not because I’m ill or facing imminent death, but because my experience has proven that life is uncertain, it can change from one minute to the next, and I don’t want to place an undue burden on my family should the unexpected happen. Also, clear out anything you don’t want your family to find, like old love letters…or worse! Lots of secrets have been found out because my father never threw away anything. Let our trauma be your guide!”
In the next piece, we’ll talk about probate – the validation of a will – and how that works.