Have you ever thought about who will take care of things if life changed in a heartbeat?
This is not a question that I ponder daily but crops up now and then, particularly when I attend a funeral. But if you are like me, my busy life takes over and I toss the question aside.
When we do consider what could happen and when, whom we may have responsibility for, what our needs will be when we approach the intersection of life with death, then who will be our Guardian can be tricky question to answer.
It may be several people that have a different role depending on their relationship with us, their skill set, how close they live, their willingness to help. There may be people we specifically don’t want to be our Guardian;
- so as not to burden them with the responsibility
- because we may have fallen out with them
- they could cause conflict with family & friends or
- simply because we don’t trust them to do what we want.
Financial & Practical Matters and our Health & Well-being
Financial & Practical Matters
A Guardian that oversees our financial affairs after death will be an Executor of our Will. It is general for this Executor to be granted an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPoA). An EPoA provides a person the authority to act for you, and not necessarily under instruction from you, and it is important to have an EPoA in place should you suffer a mental decline. Often a family solicitor, a surviving spouse, adult children or close relatives are named as Executors of a Will and are granted an EPoA. It is general for there to be more than one, and necessary for them to be able to work together without conflict.
A Power of Attorney provides a person the authority to act for you but only under instruction from you. It may be necessary to receive help on a day to day basis, with banking transactions, selling the family home and transitioning into aged care where you are mentally capable but physically struggling. This could be granted to one of your adult children, a trusted neighbour, or a friend that you want to attend to matters only under your guidance.
Health & Well-being
A Guardian who makes decisions about our medical needs is often referred to as our Health Care Proxy. We often have strong views about how we want to live out the last of our days and sometimes the person that will take best care of our health and wellbeing is not necessarily the same as the person who may attend to our financial affairs.
We may have made the odd comment throughout our lives when coming across situations and said things like: “I don’t want to live in a state like that” or “If that happens to me, put me out of my misery”, but very few of us have been through the complex medical scenarios that can arise and have formally discussed and recorded our wishes.
We can set out our medical and well-being wishes in an Advance Care Directive or ‘Living Will’, as it is commonly referred to, and nominate one or more Health Care Proxies. This may be a specific person or a sub-set of your family & friends, and you may actually spell out who you don’t want to make health care decisions for you.
When should I do this?
Surprisingly, research by various bodies in Australia, UK & the US find 1 out of 2 people do not have a valid Will! If you don’t have a Will, or there has been a birth, death, marriage or divorce since you wrote yours, then it will require updating and you will need to make an appointment with a solicitor.
Whilst the number of people writing Living Wills has increased in recent years, particularly in the US, in Australia the number of people without this formal document in place is around 86%.
Just remember, we never know what tomorrow may bring…
When needs are not discussed, and Guardians are unknown
My Dad was a carpenter who went into the shopfitting industry and worked in the 50’s & 60’s with asbestos. In the early 90’s he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and suffered a painful death.
At the time, my Mum was in denial about his medical condition, thinking he would get better and so found it difficult to discuss his medical wishes with Dad. Towards the end of his life, his doctors turned to me as the eldest adult child for guidance on resuscitation. Even though we knew his prognosis, because we couldn’t or hadn’t discussed what he wanted, it led to a feeling of onerous responsibility on me.
When my mother died many years later, we were not able to find her Will and therefore didn’t know who her Executors were for some time, which caused a lot of family conflict around short-term decisions that had to be made.
Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.Isacc Asimov
Nominating our Guardians
Your formal guardians are considered to be trusted family friends or professionals that will take care of you should you lose physical or mental capacity towards the end of your life, and who will manage any of your responsibilities such as children under the age of 18, as well as disposing of your property when you die. These can be:
- The Executors of your Will,
- Persons granted a Power of Attorney, or
- Your Health Care Proxies.
You may also have informal guardians such as a neighbour, a volunteer, or an aged care provider that takes care of your physical and well-being needs.
Selecting our guardians and providing them the formal documentation, relevant information, and knowledge of their responsibilities, is the key to ensuring we reduce the risk of anxiety, issues and potential conflict in families.
With our guardians in place and our personal affairs in order we can approach any adversity such as an accident or illness or the end of our lives with comfort and ease.
There is no real ending, just the place where you stop the story.Frank Herbert