Nobody likes to think about dying or getting ill. It’s not pleasant, so mostly we avoid the topic, but the thing is we are all going to die one day and we don’t know when that will be, it’s not always predictable. Some of us may get sick or have an accident that renders us incapable of making decisions before we die and I’m sure you don’t want to think about that either but bear with me a minute…

Every one of us can remember or imagine what it’s like to lose someone close. Imagine feeling like that and having to make decisions, deal with problems, worry about money? We can’t prevent our loved ones from feeling that pain, but we can do our best to remove some of the difficulties. It’s a hassle, extra work for you just now, but it could make a big difference to your family.

I ask you to take just a little time and do what needs to be done and then you can forget about this unpleasant subject again and go on with your life knowing you have done your best.

5 things to do

There are 4 documents I recommend you have and one other important thing to do. It sounds like a lot, but you can find models on the internet to base your own documents on. You don’t have to remember everything; you just follow the model.

Advance directives

The first document I recommend preparing is your Advance directives[1]. This allows you to set out what you want to happen to you if you are not conscious, or if you end up on life support. You can choose a “trusted person” who you want to make the decisions for you; but it can also be helpful if you write down what you would like to happen in certain cases.

I didn’t think it mattered, but then I realised I don’t want my family to have to make those decisions. I don’t want them to decide something and then wonder if it was right. I don’t want them to feel guilty or to argue among themselves. So I’m putting it down in writing for them and hopefully making things a little easier if it should ever come to that.

Power of attorney

A power of attorney[2] lets you name who you want to look after your affairs if you no longer can. It means that someone can pay your bills and help you make decisions (if you are still able to make some). You can choose what you would like them to manage, however, this may be limited by the laws of the country.

It can be a complicated legal affair to have someone appointed after you are no longer able to make decisions and if your family members don’t all agree it can be harrowing. If you don’t name someone, the authorities will probably appoint someone but if you are not married or in a registered partnership, they may name someone that works for the authorities (not someone close to you who knows what you would want). If you are married but you don’t have this document, your spouse or registered partner will probably be given powers for some basics like paying bills, but they are limited in some areas so it’s better to have this done.

Your will

The third document, as you may have guessed, is the will. Each country has its own laws saying what happens to your inheritance if you don’t have a will. If you are not married but you want to leave something to your partner it is IMPERATIVE that you make a will[3]. If you want your spouse or partner to be able to continue living in your home you MUST make a will. It turns out, it’s not generally simple as to who inherits your belongings. The laws vary from country to country, usually to the benefit of your children and spouse, but even they won’t necessarily get everything.

The good news is that although it might be better to write your will with the help of a lawyer, it is generally[4] valid to write a will yourself. Read up on the restrictions and download a model to get started and to stand a better chance of getting it right.

With a will, you can make sure that the people you care about most are as well looked after as you can manage. If your family situation is at all complicated and especially if you have anybody depending on you, please look it up and then write a will.

The convention is that the inheritance laws of the country you lived in just before you died are effective for your inheritance. Depending on which country that is and your nationality, you may be able to choose your country of origin, for example, instead, but look into it and see which is best for your situation.

Your last wishes

The fourth document is not an official one but it is something your family may appreciate: your last wishes. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really care what happens to me when I die. I’ll be gone. However, I realised I don’t want my family to have to worry about these things so, I’m writing it down and I hope you will too. – Do you want a cremation or a burial? Do you want a religious service, notices in the newspapers? Who do you want notified? You can find a list of issues to think about on the website of funeral directors. Put it all in writing while you are feeling healthy and relaxed and it feels like it doesn’t matter. It will save your loved ones from having to think about it when they’d rather be thinking about you.

Save an emergency fund

Do you know how long it takes to settle an inheritance? Even in simple cases, it will probably take a few months and it can take well over a year if it is more complex. If you have a partner or children that are dependent on you, they will need money to live on during these months.

You need an emergency fund and you need to make sure that it is available to your partner – or to you in the opposite case. – Bank accounts in only your name are blocked when you die so have the money in an account in both names, or even better, each have your own emergency fund in your own account. Just make sure it’s accessible.

Get on with the business of living

So, now you know all you need to know about it, there are no excuses! Write the 4 documents:

  • advance directives
  • power of attorney
  • a will and
  • your last wishes
  • save an emergency fund that’s available to your dependents.

There are, of course, other important things to do like having life insurance, making sure you have no debts and leaving a pension if your partner is dependent or partly dependent on you but I will get to those in another article. For the moment, add these 5 actions to your to-do list, do them fairly soon, and then you can forget about them and get on with the business of living.

[1] directives anticipées in French – CH, FR
[2] mandat pour cause d’inaptitude – CH ; mandat de protection future – FR.
[3] In Switzerland a registered partnership will give your partner similar rights to a spouse in case of your death. In France the PACS does not.
[4] At least in CH, FR, UK