Written during lockdown at St Ives. Coronavirus pandemic. March 2020
I wonder if it’s natural that caring for an elderly person during Co-vid lockdown, coupled with hearing daily updates on how many people have died, that I start to think a lot more about death and dying. A gloomy (ish) post follows, but if it helps just one person avoid the stuff I went through after my Dad died, and the grief many others go through because a loved one doesn’t make a will, I’ll be happy with that, and will gladly accept any flack I might get about being dark and depressing.
Trying to write my memoirs, I’ve been going through old records and found a leaflet called Putting Your House In Order from Dying Matters. Then I heard how a friend of a friend had dropped down dead suddenly, just before their 60th birthday without leaving a will to cushion and guide his lifelong, but not married partner of over 30 years. She is now in sudden shock, stressed and sad, and at the same time, whilst drowning in grief, she’s having to fight to hold on to the home they bought and shared together and struggling to execute his funeral wishes that go against the wishes of his ‘difficult’ family members who are legally his next of kin and as such have the final say in everything, even though they played no part in his life for decades.
Here’s a Quote from the leaflet I found
“So let’s imagine…..
Someone close to you has died. You’re not sure if they had a plan for a funeral, and don’t know how they wanted to be commemorated. They haven’t left a will, so you’ve got that to sort out too. All at a time when you feel shocked and sad (I’d say that’s putting it lightly!).
Now imagine that the person who died was you. What might it be like for those you leave behind if you haven’t sorted out important practical matters?”
I was one of those ‘left behind’. My brother and I were disinherited by our sister, my adopted sister, but his birth sister. Worse for my brother perhaps. But bad for us both.
My adoptive parents died within months of each other, Dad in May 2014 and my Mother in August 2014. Our family was literally divided down the middle at the time of their deaths. Like the gummy bear picture I’ve posted previously.
At the time of their deaths, although they still lived in the same house, my parents hadn’t spoken to each other for over 20 years (yes, you read right) apart from Christmas Day when each year they. would share a Christmas lunch (more or less in silence) with my sister, her husband and 3 of their 8 grandchildren. My Mother was estranged from my brother and his 3 boys, even though she had helped care for them when they were little. She had not spoken to me from when I was 20 years old, and so never ever met my two children. All of this was possible as it was a very large house, our family home which my sister never left, choosing to stay there, marry and bring up her family there .
So even with me out of the picture from 1980, my adoptive family had disintegrated, which helped me finally understand that perhaps it was not entirely my fault I hadn’t got on with my Mother.
Things had got so bad between my parents, that my Mother had legally severed their joint tenancy of the family home so my Father and she became tenants in common. Effectively each owned 50% of the home and that 50% share did not automatically pass to each other on their death. My sister lived in the family home yet did not speak to my Dad, remaining loyal and very close to (our) her Mother. I had a close relationship with my Dad after we were reconciled in 1989 after he visited me in hospital after the birth of my first child, and 8 years of no contact between us. From then, I used to meet him regularly outside of my old family home and I am proud and comforted that we healed our rift and became really close during the last 24 years of his life. My brother also had a good relationship with my Dad, but neither of us had any contact with my sister or my Mother. What a mess. In fact it was even messier and more complicated than I’ve described here.
Back to the Will. My Dad had drafted, but never signed his final will, despite solicitors writing to him three times to remind him to do so. In this will he had asked the my brother and I be his co executors and given clear instructions on how he wished his estate to be divided between his children. But as he died 3 months before my Mother, and because no will could be found, his whole estate was claimed by my Mother based on the will my Mother and sister produced that had been made in 1982. Made by my Dad under quite different circumstances when the family was intact apart from me who was at the time the black sheep of the family. (Though now looking back to when I was a teenager/young adult, II think I was the vent for all the stuff going on between them!.) So When my Mother died a few months’ later, she left her whole estate to my sister.
So that’s the summary of how I and my brother were disinherited. I was disenchanted, angry, upset, sad, furious and confused to say the least. And stressed and sad as the leaflet I refer to said I would be. But it was much harder for my brother who has no reliable income and approaches retirement with financial worries. Dad had promised to leave him all his cash and share assets as well as his share of the house.
It wasn’t great to be disinherited. Of course an inheritance would have been welcome. But the saddest bit for me was trying to liaise with my adoptive siblings when my Dad was dying and to organise my Dad’s funeral when my adoptive brother and sister – my parents’ birth children – would not speak to each other. They didn’t speak to each other as he lay in hospital dying, and to this day they still do not.
So for what it’s worth, here’s my advice
1 Make a will, sign it, and keep it up to date. tell your children, whether they be adopted, birth or step, and give them copies.
2 Make a funeral plan
3 Plan for future care and support
4 Sign up as an organ donor if you wish
5 Sort your Power of Attorney for both health and medical matters
6 Tell your loved ones what you’ve done. Think about whether it’s appropriate to tell your adult children, whether they be adopted, birth or step, and give them copies of the above.
For more information