Safeguarding Our Personal Treasures Before and After Death

One of my genealogy columns published over the summer was titled There’s No Guarantee in Life or Death. It’s about wills and estates, something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past six months because my mom is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. I’m thinking about my final wishes more than hers (hers are taken care of) and wondering what mess I might leave my kids to sort through. I’m also wondering about the things I value, such as my genealogy research and the books I’ve written, and who would appreciate them most.

“In these days where diseases, such as dementia, are on the rise, I believe it is less likely the well-thought out plan for estates will be executed.”

Why? Because a person’s ability to control their affairs and stuff while they’re still alive becomes almost impossible when diseases of the brain take hold. This leaves control of their stuff with those they live with or those, family or friends, who enter their home to see to their daily needs.

“Large items, such as houses, property and vehicles, are one matter, but as genealogists, we want to ensure our years of research are not tossed into a dumpster by an uncaring or unknowing individual before the will dictates who gets it.”

…before the will dictates who gets it. A standard will doesn’t take control over anything until a person is deceased.

I spoke about my research in the column, but I’m equally concerned about my family photographs and books. While my children have some interest in a few of my books, at this age, they’re more concerned about getting their life started in the big world as adults. Books are what mom does, so it’s not cool.

I’m hoping by the time they reach their mid-30s, at least one of them will be curious enough to appreciate my written work and feel the need to save it. But who knows. I could be completely wrong.

Still, I want to give them the opportunity to grow into the appreciation.

“Living wills are becoming more popular and if they don’t include how possessions are distributed while the person is still alive, they should. Dementia is on the rise and at least 44 million people world-wide are living with it, including almost 800,000 Canadians. In many of these cases, the legal power of a last will comes too late.”

These numbers are predicted to rise in the decades ahead, leaving those without a living will at the mercy of family, and if no family, close friends or government services.

For example, a widow’s will might state her home is to be sold when she dies and the money divided between her five children. Her only daughter is to receive her genealogy research. What may happen is the widow develops dementia and is placed in a 24-hour care facility, and the person she appointed power of attorney (her oldest son) sells her home to pay for her care. In the rush of the house sale, he and his brother clean it out, tossing many things into a dumpster to get rid of them, including important family documents and the genealogy research, before their sister arrives from out west to help.

A last will and testament won’t save those heirlooms, your grandfather’s baptism certificate or treasured family photos that look like junk to other family members. I’d like to say this never happens, but it does. I’ve seen it.

Understanding I have little to no control over my affairs if I suffer from dementia and cannot remember my name let alone who I planned to give my prized possessions to has me considering other options.

One is to give it away before dementia takes a hold. The onset of the disease is often a few years before it reaches the point where I’m unable to function properly. At the onset is the time to make the clear decision to give away the important things in my life to those I want to have it.

Coming Soon

If you die without a will, according to Legal Info Nova Scotia (go to “I Have a Legal Question” and choose “Wills and Estates”), your estate falls under the Intestate Succession Act. This also happens if your will is not legally valid. The site states, …your property is distributed to the people considered to be your nearest relatives. Your common-law spouse is not included in the list of nearest relatives unless you’re registered domestic partners. This could mean an estranged sibling not the person you considered a spouse for decades could get your possessions instead. Ask yourself this: What will they do with the things you prized?

In certain circumstances, it is better to die quickly, being hit by the proverbial bus, than to linger for months or years in a facility without the mental power to control your affairs. At least then, your last will has the chance to see your final wishes granted.

This year has given me many things to think about. In one moment, I care about nothing; I am not my things. I only want to enjoy life carefree. Yet, in another, I want the things I value most (my books) to find a home with my children so they can be found by my grandchildren and their children. It is all I have that will truly traverse the years and allow them to know me in some manner.

Have you thought about this slow, incapacitating death? Do you have a living will to ensure your treasures are given to those who will appreciate them most?

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6 thoughts on “Safeguarding Our Personal Treasures Before and After Death

  1. Great article, Diane. The first thing I did when I divorced was to change my will, During my time as a clerk in the military, I saw a couple of widows who didn’t get their husband’s military Supplementary Death Benifit (2 years tax-free salary) because he hadn’t changed the benificiary from his mother or previous wife. Also, making sure all the people concerned know what your wishes will be beforehand is a good idea.

    • Doug, as they say, you were on the ball. You were wise to take action immediately. I’m sure many don’t think about this when life’s circumstances changes. Life keeps us busy. Thanks for visiting and for leaving a comment.

  2. We were making our wills a few years back and I had read about leaving your writing, so as my daughter was the only one interested in my writing I have left her all my manuscripts and intellectual property. The solicitor though I was mad, he asked how many books I had published and I said none – hadn’t even finished my first novel at the time. I could imagine folders full of paper being thrown out. I don’t expect my daughter to read everything, but among my many scribblings for writers’ group are autobigraphical and holiday accounts – often ascerbic! I would have loved to see scribblings from relatives I had never met. As for living wills _ I had better tell my daughter not to let her brothers thow out anything on paper or memory sticks if I am stuck in ‘a home’!

    • Writers are supposed to be mad, aren’t we? Few understand the needs and possessions of a writer. I’m glad you included your wishes even if you had yet to have a book published. Even if your daughter read everything in your folder once and tossed it, at least she had the chance to decide whether it was something she wanted. I’m sure my kids will toss much, but I will emphasize what I feel is important. Getting my books into print ensures I will leave something behind for them to read or at least stick on a shelf to consider later. This is why I make sure I have printed copies. Actual books even if they are yet to be proofed and published. Like you, I wish I had the scribblings of my relatives to read. What was silly ramblings to them might be treasure to me.

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