I’m having an operation very soon; actually, as my friend Ben is at pains to remind me every time I bring this up, it’s a procedure not an operation. Whatever, I’m going to be anaesthetised to the point that someone else will be breathing for me for a while and I think that calls for some alarm. Modern medicine doesn’t even understand how anaesthetic actually works! it’s an operation. It’s cause for concern.
At the risk of sounding a little histrionic, I’ve prepared a Will and a Medical Power of Attorney. No, not because I’m having a knee arthroscope but because I was shocked that I’ve made it to thirty without having either.
A Will is a document that sets out your testamentary disposition, in other words what your wishes are for your estate (the things you own, as well as the debts you owe) after you have died. A Will only comes in to effect when you have died. It sets out your instructions beyond the grave for all your stuff- if you will (no pun intended).
A Power of Attorney is a legal document that gives your Attorney (your nominated person) the power to make financial, medical and other legal decisions about you, your goods, your health, your finances etc. on your behalf as if you were making those decisions yourself, but the circumstance you find yourself in doesn’t let you make them. You can make a general power, or a financial or medical power.
There are legal requirements for both of these documents, and you will understand that this safeguards the process. For example both have to be witnessed, both have to be in writing and so on. Wills have to be reasonably specific, as well as witnessed by people who are not beneficiaries and should also be reasonably fair to anyone who expected to be looked after by you, like your children or partner.
It all seems pretty straight forward except there is one problem, people don’t have these documents as often as they should; and if they do have a Will for example they are not updated to reflect a change in circumstance, or they’re not discussed openly with family. I worked on a case once where the distribution of a Deceased’s Estate took so long because no surviving family members were sure if a Will had been written, or where to begin looking for one.
It’s not pleasant to talk about death or dying or what your wishes might be once you have shuffled off, or what you might want done if you are ever in a situation where you are incapable due to accident, injury or disease to make medical decisions for yourself. Unpleasant as it is, these conversations are best had, and need to be had when you are well and fit enough to have them.
You might think that those around you will be sensible enough to know what to do if you were incapacitated, or that you don’t own anything worth giving to anyone so you don’t need a Will; maybe you think that it won’t matter because you’ll be dead. Or maybe you don’t want to donate your organs, maybe you do, maybe you want to donate your whole body for scientific research or want cremation instead of burial. Whatever your preference, make it soon and make it public.
While your family members may be reasonable right now when you aren’t in a medical emergency, reason and logic fly out the window when in a highly stressful environment. Trust me.
If you don’t think you own anything worth bequeathing then you’re probably not looking around hard enough. People will squabble over the trivial if a clear intention isn’t left behind, even people with poor claims to the trivial stuff. I’ve seen great nephews come out of the woodwork looking to make a claim on the smallest of Estates once great Aunty Flo goes to meet her maker.
Making a Will and a POA is really simple. In Victoria you can download a Will kit for about twenty dollars from State Trustees, you can also get a free blank POA form with instructions for you to fill out yourself without having to see a lawyer.
NOTE- I would always, always, ALWAYS, advise you to go and see a lawyer. You wouldn’t operate on yourself, then you really shouldn’t be drafting such important legal documents yourself. It can be done solo, don’t get me wrong, but get a professional. Another stumbling block with these documents is that they weren’t prepared properly.
Care for your relatives and loved ones after you’ve gone in the same way you did when you were present, fit and healthy by making sure you have taken all the necessary steps to safeguard your legal interests, and theirs once you’re pushing daisies.