Have you heard of the “lonely dead”? Thomas Brugman, comes under this category. Thomas passed away in July last year but no next of kin could be found so the funeral home are unable to cremate the body unless it applies to the High Court to get the Public Trust to take over the process, at a cost of about $200.
As the law stands, if someone dies without next of kin and without a will, someone cannot simply step in to deal with the estate or the body. An application must be made to the High Court, at a cost, for a public executor to be appointed. People who have passed away may be held in funeral homes for weeks or even months while matters are resolved. As a result of Brugman’s situation, the Funeral Directors Association is calling for a law change to make the process easier. Until this happens, what can we all do to make sure we do not become a “lonely dead”?
For many of us, thinking about the end of our life is something we would rather not do, but as seen in the example above, it is important we do it. Planning now, however this is done, generally means that things should go smoothly for those left behind. Talking with those closest to you about your wishes for the future can give you the opportunity to reminisce and spend some special time together, and many people feel that tidying up their affairs allows them to move on with their lives. remember though, like all good plans they need to be reviewed frequently, especially when your circumstances change. There are a few things that are worth thinking about doing:
Making a Will
Lawyers advise us all to make a Will. This allows for the administration of your estate (everything you own) after your death. It is important that you do this to make your wishes known. If you die without having made a Will, your property is distributed according to the terms laid down in legislation, which may not be as you wish. This is usually more costly to your estate and a slower process. A Will needs to be remade if you remarry, enter a new relationship or leave one. If your circumstances change, you need to ask your lawyer whether you should change your Will.
It is advisable to consult a lawyer about making a Will. Ask about the cost. Some may do this for free if they are also executors, but often administration costs are more than if you had paid for this in the first instance. You can make a ‘do-it-yourself’ Will, but you need to investigate this fully and comply with certain requirements in order for it to be valid.
Advance Care Plan
An advance Care Plan allows you to record your preference now, for the way in which your care and any health conditions you have, are managed in the future. It fits well with an Enduring Power of Attorney as it gives guidelines regarding your wishes. It is also a practical ‘working document’ for an Advance Directive. A template form is available here. More information about advance care planning can be found here.
Living Will or Advance Directive
A Living Will or Advance Directive conveys your wishes at a time when you cannot speak for yourself, e.g. if you are unconscious and decisions need to be made. While this can be written or oral and does not need to be witnessed by a doctor or lawyer, many advise that this is written down. This process allows you to indicate what sort of treatment you would like and/or the situations that you would not give your consent to. In reality, thinking through each possible situation can be complex, time consuming and quite difficult to do. While you may wish to refuse medical treatment (a right under The Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer’s Rights) those acting on your directives must act within the law. Medical staff need to be assured that you were competent to make that decision at the time, that you were sufficiently informed and that you weren’t being pressured. They will also need to establish whether the directive applied to the situation at hand. You can therefore understand the importance of frequently reviewing and having ongoing discussions about this subject with those closest to you. The best person too talk this over with, in the first instance, is your doctor.
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