Sun | Nov 28, 2021

Oran Hall | Managing life transitions

Published:Saturday | September 4, 2021 | 2:25 AM

There are many life transitions – starting school, new job, marriage, birth of first child and death, for example. The change from one to the other can be smooth or chaotic and stressful, depending on how well we plan and prepare.

We do not plan for our birth; our parents do. We plan for most of the others. In a real sense, though some may deny this, we can plan for our death and what happens after. How well we plan can determine if we get a dignified send-off, if our assets are transferred cost-effectively and timely, and if our family lives happily ever after.

When my mother left us a few months ago at a ripe old age – not due to COVID-19, thank God – I confirmed that the cost of dying is indeed high. So, I do agree with MP Lisa Hanna, who recently gave us a very good view of the demands death brings on the political representative and the costs and cultural practices tied to death and the sending off of the dead.

I understand how difficult it must be for the families who have lost members to the pandemic. But death will continue even after the death of COVID-19.

While it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to bury the dead, but the village can also make it costly to bury the dead. Those who have to bury their family members must make choices that do not leave them in debt.

Although the dead know nothing and have no power, they can bequeath many and serious problems to those they leave behind and who must transition to a new phase of life – without the loved one who has departed. But it does not have to be that way.

By putting their affairs in order and updating them, people can make life easier for their loved ones after their demise by securing all relevant documents and proof of ownership and by setting out how their assets should be distributed post-death.

Sufficient funds should be set aside to take care of funeral and associated expenses. The life insurance companies and the credit unions market products which can ease the burden on family members to source money to bury the dead with dignity. Relatively small payments are made to provide a lump sum when needed, but care should be taken to ensure the beneficiaries are clearly named.

There is also the option of having liquid investments and savings to provide money quickly, but attention should be paid to how ownership is registered. Provisions should be in place regarding access to bank accounts. Perhaps a joint account holder can work, the risk notwithstanding.

In cases in which the beneficiary of life insurance policies is stated as estate, there must be a will stating who is to benefit from the proceeds.

If there is a registered pension plan, the beneficiaries must be clearly identified, with an indication of what portion of the member’s share of the pension fund should go to each beneficiary.

Where there is provision for the pension of the retired person to be paid for a fixed period or death thereafter, those to benefit should be clearly identified.

Wills, letters of instruction and trust documents should be current and saved in a secure place, and if there is one way one can exercise power from the grave, it is through a valid will.

At least one trusted person should know where important documents are and how to access them when necessary. Further, any intention to change beneficiaries should be carried out in a way that is legally sound.

Proof of ownership of assets should not be neglected. This is true whether the asset is land, motor vehicles, buildings, stocks, bonds, for example. Every effort should be made to secure proof of ownership of all assets owned and to let family members know the assets, such as land and buildings.

At the same time debts, whether owed to or owned by an individual, should not be a secret. Evidence of these should be kept in a secure place which is accessible to at least one trusted person.

Some people go as far as to detail where and how they should be buried. Considering how contentious some families are, this makes sense although even the best planning is not a full guarantee that all will go smoothly after one passes.

Many go to their rest leaving many restless. In some cases, some consider it best to die with certain information close to their hearts – like not declaring who all the children are – often a cause of upheaval.

Considering the uncertainty of life, it is important to so organise one’s affairs that those left behind are able to enter the next phase of their own lives smoothly.

Oran A. Hall, author of Understanding Investments and principal author of The Handbook of Personal Financial Planning, offers personal financial planning advice and