Between Life and Death – Part I

writtenI was reminded recently how short and precious life is. Most of the time, the fragility of life is not something we dwell on. Many of us generally experience it as a monotonous cycle of early mornings, hurriedly-gulped down coffee, road rage, placating infuriatingly impossible bosses and unreasonable customers, fighting traffic home, late nights working, collapsing into bed, only to wake up the next day and repeat it all over again. But our endless Groundhog Days are interspersed with many short-lived but memorable, oh-so-glorious moments. Why don’t you take some time now to reflect upon your glorious moments? Go on – just a minute or two to recharge your batteries, align your chakras, meditate in the moment, give thanks to your Maker. And just Be.

So what are your glorious moments? Perhaps it’s being there to witness your son’s match-scoring goal, proudly applauding your daughter’s graduation, or going overseas for the first time. And remember the little things that make life complete. Beers with mates at the pub, wine and laughter at book-club, tea with Mum, Sunday lunch with Gran, or finally finishing the Lord of the Rings trilogy – the book version. It’s these fleeting moments in the monotony of life that make living truly wonderful.

And then you die. Or not. You see, most people acknowledge only the two extremities of life: Life. Or Death. But there is a third component. One that is seldom considered, causes unbearable anguish, and results in the mother of all admin and financial headaches. It’s that dreaded in-between stage. That stage where you are not dead enough for creditors to back off. But not alive enough to care about or deal with the tedium of daily personal issues and financial affairs. I recently experienced an up-close and personal encounter with the consequences of cheating the Grim Reaper. Sometimes the man in black decides to wreak a little vengeance if he’s unable to claim the life that he came for.

The sudden uncertainty of life can strike at any stage. A stroke, heart-attack or car accident, for example, can render an otherwise fit, healthy person to a state of helplessness in the blink of an eye. While medical professionals take up arms to fend off the Grim Reaper’s advance, it falls to family members to fend off the advances of creditors clamouring for their pound of daily flesh. But with all the love, care and good faith in the world, how can family members help? When all that vital information, all the passwords, all the authority, is locked inside the head of their loved one, currently lying prostrate and comatose in a hospital bed.

After the initial shock has subsided, family members are left to pay water and electricity, communicate with the medical aid insurer, claim rent from tenants, pay the helpers, claim on insurance policies, pay rates, and deal with a myriad of tedious drudgery that would otherwise have been quickly and effortlessly dealt with by their loved one.

Solid advice abounds cautioning you to have your Last Will and Testament reviewed and updated. And this seems like a good time to reinforce this advice. But until the good doc signs that piece of paper confirming that you’re well and truly dead, your Will is of little use. Try as she might, your well-meaning sister, who you may have appointed as executor in your Will, can do little to organise your affairs while you’re perched between life and death, the Hippocratic Oath tugging you in one direction and the scythe slashing your soul towards the other direction. What steps can you take, while you’re still as sprightly as a spring chicken, to ensure that your best-laid plans don’t unravel during this in-between stage?

Our world isn’t what it used to be. We are plagued daily by pleas from desperate, wealthy, terminally-ill benefactors eager to give away their billions. All they need is your name, ID, address, bank details, passwords, and your life will never be the same again. Combatting this, we have everyone from banks to brokers, SAPS to SARS, reminding us to keep our personal information personal. Tell no-one. Not even the most trusted of family members. But there may come a time in your life when it’s your most trusted of family members who rally to your side, who find themselves having to keep the fabric of your affairs from unraveling. For them to help you, you need to help them first. They need a way to access your information and claim that vital authority, lest the jaded, distrustful, wary gatekeepers that are your creditors peer over their horn-rimmed spectacles with that “I’ve heard it all before” expression and point to the freshly-served summons.

Information. And Authority. These are the two vital ingredients needed in helping your loved ones to help you. In our next instalment, we’ll delve in a bit more detail on how to go about doing this.

In Summary: There’s Life. There’s Death. And then there’s the peculiar wasteland in between where Life and Death do battle over your uncertain future. You can assist your family to sort out your affairs – by ensuring you have a Will, as well as ensuring your vital information can be accessed by someone you trust, implicitly.

Please note that this information is supplied for general information and does not constitute legal advice. It is advisable for you to contact a legal practitioner for guidance in respect of your unique requirements.

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