Life Vol.1, No.5 – Last Wills and Saying Goodbye

End of Life No. 5 – If you don’t know the hurt of saying goodbye, you’re probably unloved or a sociopath. Everyone feels this sorrow at one time or another. Saying goodbye can be especially poignant at death. Over centuries we have used rituals to help us through the process – wakes, funerals, grief counselors and the like all help bring closure.

Preparing to say goodbye often starts long before the end. Though some put this off, most think about family, friends, employees, and even the tax man while they consider death. I think also about saying goodbye to agendas, big ideas and aspirations, including that beautiful condo, cottage, and lakeshore property I only possessed in my dreams. I have long since said goodbye to youth but the grieving continues. In this post I briefly explore all of the above, beginning with the dispersion of assets.

The biggest issue many survivors have is dealing with finances after death. Property, debt, stocks and bonds can all become complicated, even litigated issues. Having money scattered among multiple accounts, often a smart thing to do in life, creates complications in death. The more wealth and position a persona has, the more likely it is that lawyers and accountants become involved when they are gone. The rich and powerful rely upon their accountants and attorneys. The rest of us use tools like Legal Zoom. However the methodology, having well organized wills in place can reduce chaos, but no matter how prepared, there is always the potential for difficulty.

Contention among siblings and other heirs can be incredibly destructive to relationships. Simply the stress of cleaning out the drawers and closets of a homestead after parents die can turn people against each other. If you think that is a possibility, my father told me about something once that made sense. To reduce looming contention among offspring, a clause can be inserted into a living will. If any of the beneficiaries contends the distribution of the estate with litigation, that person is out of the will.

In particularly impoverished families wills are not be about leaving wealth, but can assist everyone to know what the medical wishes are at the time of death. We often want a say in how our funerals will be conducted, what suit or dress, what songs to be sung, whether to be buried or cremated and the like. I’ve seen invitation lists with names crossed off, to be honest.

If you have a few extra dollars and no one to leave them too, consider contacting your local community foundation. Foundations across the country assist families and individuals with donor advised funds and other programs like designated funds, field of interest funds, scholarship funds and unrestricted contributions. Leaving your money to a charity or cause is a way to make a difference.

If you own a company or are the executive director of a nonprofit, you should be planning for succession well before retirement, let alone death. If we have established anything in this series on end of life issues, it’s that we all eventually have to step out of the picture. Clinging to power too long undercuts whatever value we’ve had in life.

There are many resources on succession planning, but I’ll send you to Wikipedia for an overview. Most often, succession planning is used as a precursor to retirement or even advancement in an organization. Small business owners and nonprofit executives are notorious for believing that they alone can run their organizations, but knowing that death is a possibility, responsible owners should make a sincere effort to protect the employees and partners who rely upon them.

Most of us facing end of life issues rely on friends and family to help us, but it’s not that way for everyone. The Dignity Memorial® Homeless Veterans Burial Program, one of many programs in the nation designed to deal with issues related to homelessness and indigent populations, becomes a surrogate friend for veterans who have lived a life on the street. The indigent are as dependent upon the state in death as they were in life and rarely have a will.

My readers will have friends. I don’t have any friends that I’ve known for an entire lifetime, but I can think of at least one man, Janski, who comes close. We begin thinking of our friends when we face mortality. Places too, can feel like friends. The metaphor of homing pigeons comes to mind. Sometimes, late in life, we discover a deep desire to return to the friends and places we once loved. It seems to be an innate characteristic of being human that we would gather strength from familiar things in order to face goodbye.

The final thought in this posting on saying goodbye, is inspired by a pending trip my brother and wife are taking to Hawaii. I’ve always wondered about, and been happy to know, that Aloha means both hello and goodbye. I’m told it also can mean love and affection. At to-hawaii.com I learned that “the literal meaning of aloha is ‘the presence of breath’ or ‘the breath of life.’ It comes from ‘Alo,’ meaning presence, front and face, and ‘ha,’ meaning breath.”

Our first breath is in, our last breath is out – hello, goodbye. We should know with every breath that life is short and not to be wasted. No matter how we try, we cannot avoid exhalation. Before I go, hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity to say goodbye.

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