Why Parenting After My Dad Died Was Nearly Impossible

By Kim Hooper

Twelve hours after my dad died, ten hours after I watched two mortuary employees wheel his body out the front door and into a white van, I went to pick up my three-year-old daughter from preschool.

I hadn’t seen her in two days, the days I spent at my dad’s bedside, curled into his alarmingly thin body, watching his breaths get shallower, feeling his toes get colder. I assumed she’d be excited to see me, and that this excitement would buoy me, keep me from drowning in the cold, vast ocean of despair in which I’d found myself.

But when she saw me, she threw her artwork at my face and said, “What are you doing here?”

I’d thought I’d cried all my tears for that day, though I was completely drained dry, when she swatted my hand on the way to the car, I discovered I had more.

We drove to my parents’ house, which I realized I would now have to call “my mom’s house,” to gather for a surreal family dinner without our patriarch. My sister’s three kids ran around playing as if nothing had changed. Her youngest, five years old, screamed with jarring enthusiasm, “Gee-Paw is dead!”

At this, my daughter looked at me, a puzzled expression on her face. I knelt down to her and braced myself for her devastation. But when I told her he had died, she simply repeated what her cousin had said: “Gee-Paw is dead!” And the playing continued.

I resented her ability to carry on, her dismissal of the gravity of this event. She’s only three. In that moment, and in the days that followed, I kept telling myself this, willing myself to excuse her. My life had become and would continue to be, an unsettling juxtaposition of my profound grief and her perpetual joy.

My dad was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease just three months before he died from it. In those three months, I buckled under the weight of competing roles — devoted daughter and attentive mother. I fed my daughter macaroni and cheese; I fed my dad oatmeal.

I took my daughter to birthday parties; I took my dad to the hospital. I helped my daughter into her car seat; I helped my dad into his wheelchair.

I lay next to my daughter to read bedtime stories; I lay next to my dad to whisper “I’m going to miss you.” I held my daughter’s hand while we danced along with episodes of Bubble Guppies; I held my dad’s hand while it turned spastic, clenching shut on my fingers with a force that said don’t leave me.

I have been burdened by this belief that I am not grieving well enough or mothering well enough.

Dr. Huong Diep, a board-certified psychologist, summed it up perfectly: “There is the guilt, the wanting to take care of a parent who sacrificed so much for you, but also resentment as you have to take care of your own children, whose needs don’t stop because of a dying grandparent,” she said. “There is no such thing as balance in these situations. When you do things to feel like a ‘good’ daughter, you may then feel like a ‘bad’ parent and vice versa. There is no winning in this situation.”

People have said I need to take care of myself and I’ve thought: But how?

Leading up to my dad’s death, I was on the phone with doctors, the caregiving agency, the mortuary, the clinical study team. I was keeping track of share days at preschool, jumping at trampoline parks, braiding hair, responding (poorly) to tantrums, making one-off trips to the grocery store for beloved squeeze yogurts.

I was working full-time, juggling projects, Zoom calls, deadlines. I had headaches from crying and broken sleep.

Take care of myself? What self? I had become an inhabitant of roles. My self had been decimated.

People have also said it must be comforting to have the distraction of my daughter — my smiling, sunny-dispositioned, epitome-of-delight daughter. What they don’t understand is the emotional whiplash that comes with tending to the needs of the living and the needs of the dying.

It is exhausting to laugh while baking cupcakes one minute and sob in an attempt to write a eulogy the next. There is no predictability, no stability.

On the worst days, I feel like I am one stubbed toe, one internet outage, one sweater-caught-on-a-door-handle away from a nervous breakdown.

Complete Article HERE!

Finding someone to handle your end-of-life, after-death affairs when you have no friends or relatives

Without friends or family, you’ll need to find support. And you may need two different kinds of help, because you could potentially have a situation where you need one type of assistance while you are alive and another after you have died.

By Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin

Q: I was wondering if you can help me. I thought you may know of a business firm, not an attorney or health-care provider, that can act as my “end-of-life-agent.” I want to be prepared as I have no family to ask or friends young enough that I would trust. My attorney says that he can draw up trust documents, but he can’t be my “end-of-life” agent.

It seems that no attorney can (be my end-of-life agent) due to it being against their liability insurance. So, what I’m looking for is a business person who can read my end-of-life wishes and carry them out. I need someone who agrees by contract to carry out my specific written wishes. Of course, when that is needed, they will be compensated for this in my estate. Do you have any suggestions?

A: There are two parts to your question. First, you may face end-of-life decisions while you are alive, which may pertain to your health or financial matters. Second, you have decisions to make now as to what happens to your estate once you have passed on and who will carry out those wishes.

While you are alive, we can understand how your attorney would see a conflict in making health-care decisions for you or even deciding when to tell the doctors that they should no longer provide medical assistance. In this situation, your attorney would like to know that you have chosen a friend or relative to make those decisions.

We’ll start by saying that most estate attorneys would advise you to have a last will and testament, a power of attorney for health care, a power of attorney for financial matters, and a living will.

The last will and testament lets people know how you wish to distribute your money and personal property after your death. The power of attorney for health care lets a family member or friend make decisions about your health care, if you cannot, and work with your doctors to carry out your wishes regarding your health.

The power of attorney for financial matters allows someone other than you to attend to your finances, including paying bills, selling assets and taking care of your financial affairs when you are incapacitated. Finally, a living will is a document that lets the medical community know your wishes as to what medical treatments should be given to you to keep you alive and when to stop any treatment.

If you can’t find a friend or family member to help you with your health care and financial matters if you become incapacitated, your attorneys won’t want to draft those documents and also name themselves in those same documents. Family and friends are key parts of our lives, but some people either don’t have family or the kind of friends they wish to ask this of (it can be a significant ask, depending on what happens) and prefer to have a neutral party handle their affairs when they either become incapacitated or they are at the end of life but have not yet passed away.

These sorts of decisions about when to stop lifesaving medical treatment (even if you have a living will) are emotionally fraught. You want someone to be able to separate emotions from making a tough call, who will be willing and able to carry out your final wishes while you are alive: decisions about your health care, your living situation, and managing financial affairs.

Without friends or family, you’ll need to find support. And you may need two different kinds of help, because you could potentially have a situation where you need one type of assistance while you are alive and another after you have died.

While you are alive, you can still set up a living will. You can deliver a copy of that living will to your personal physician or primary care person. They, in turn, can deliver a copy of the document to a hospital if something happens and you wind up there. You don’t need to appoint anybody on a living will. You just have to make it readily available. Can your local hospitals keep it attached electronically to your file? Perhaps. What happens if you are traveling abroad and you need to go to that hospital? In that case, you might need to carry a copy in your wallet or with your passport.

If you become incapacitated for a longer period of time, you will need someone to step in and handle your financial affairs. While your attorneys can’t help you, they may be able to recommend a different attorney, accountant, financial planner or financial adviser who could assist you. Take care, because this individual (or firm) will control your money when you can’t, and you take a big risk if you don’t know who they are and haven’t thoroughly vetted them.

You should know, once you have passed away, there are companies that can help you with estate issues and assist your estate, such as estate settlement and wealth transfer advisers. For example, if you set up a trust, they can act as the successor trustee and proceed to follow your wishes relating to your estate plan after you die.

Trust companies are also set up to perform the services you’re asking for. These companies usually work with high or higher net worth people. If you fall into that category, you can call on them to help you out.

You won’t have to deal with a particular person, as the company will act as your trustee and whoever is assigned to your estate when you die would work to follow your estate plan. They can be expensive, but perhaps this sort of solution would work. We don’t make specific recommendations, but you can look for a bank or other financial institution in your area that has a trust and estate services department. You can talk to them and see if it’s right for you.

Having said that, if you don’t want to or can’t spend the kind of money that some of these companies charge, you may find an estate planning firm that can work with you in taking care of your estate and follow your wishes after you have passed.

Complete Article HERE!

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

– a reckoning with loss

‘Having someone who believed in my failure more than my success kept me alert’ … Ann Patchett.


At 57, the novelist Ann Patchett is already preparing for death. She isn’t terminally ill, and her decision isn’t as morbid as it sounds at first. She intends from now on to travel light, to empty her house in Nashville of the residues of adulthood: the boxes of clothes and dishes and jewellery that she has accumulated over five decades of living, things that she now believes prevented her from “thinking about what was coming and the beauty that was here now”.

Call it a pandemic house clearance, if you will, for she first had the idea of sorting out her drawers and closets following the death of a friend’s father last year. It took Patchett’s friend the entire summer to tidy up her father’s house for an estate sale: one man living alone had left behind too much. Patchett thought about the boxes in her own basement, all the gifts and possessions she had forgotten about over the years. “I wonder if we could just pretend to move,” she asked her husband: “I could have said: ‘I wonder if we could just pretend to die?’”

Delve deeper into the essays in These Precious Days and you will find that death is more than a pretense. A typical Patchett piece is a eulogy, suitably warm and affectionate, respectful to those who have died, or are about to die. There is her policeman father, who could do a hundred pull-ups in his 70s, but succumbed to Parkinson’s in under two years. There is her nurse mother, who looked so young that people assumed she was Patchett’s sister (and towards the end, Patchett would insist that she was). There is Tom Hanks’s deceased assistant, Sooki Raphael, protagonist of the title essay that went viral a few months ago when it was published by Harper’s, who had gone to Nashville for her chemotherapy and ended up staying with Patchett during the lockdown.

Each time Patchett begins a new novel, she says she is overcome by the fear of dying before finishing the book. But it is in her nonfiction that she has more visibly reckoned with loss, whether it is Truth and Beauty, her memoir of her friendship with the late poet Lucy Grealy, or the pieces in her 2013 essay collection, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, about being a caregiver to her grandmother. Why speak of the dead? For Patchett, it’s a tool for living, a salutary reminder of that “beauty that was here now”. You can seldom intuit conflict or ambivalence in her sentences, regardless of the subject; instead they convey a well-adjusted curiosity, mostly about her friends and family. What Patchett lacks in obsession and poetic depth, she makes up for with her raconteuring energy. In the best of these essays – Flight Plan, about her husband’s passion for flying airplanes, and How to Practice, the one about cleaning out her closets – uncomfortable truths are papered over with disarming wit. About her husband she asserts at one point that he is “honest about everything – which should not be confused with being thoughtful about everything”.

The story of becoming a writer is another recurring theme. Patchett’s father would read early drafts of her novels, give her notes, carefully save her publicity materials and reviews. But well after she had been published, he still believed writing was her hobby and not her job: “Having someone who believed in my failure more than my success kept me alert.” Patchett has good advice for younger writers on attitude (“give up on the idea of approval”), on writing v editing (“if you try to do both things at the same time, nothing will be done”), on publishing a book (“never hesitate to rewrite jacket copy or ask to see ad layouts”), and even on the distribution and sale of the printed book, since she is famously the co-owner of an indie bookstore in Nashville. When she was 30, a male author told her that to become “a real writer” one must have children. “I told him I didn’t have children,” Patchett writes. “What I didn’t tell him was that I would never have children, and that I had known this for a very long time.”In an essay on the American writer Eudora Welty, Patchett says that the usually anthologised favourites “fall short of representing the darkness and depth of her work”. I wondered about the remark as I read Patchett’s own essays. Were the decisions on which ones to keep and which to leave out pondered over enough? There are the inevitable repetitions, as with any corpus of pieces originally written for newspapers and magazines; but sometimes the padding conceals the pearls. A more careful selection, for instance, might have let Flight Plan alone sum up Patchett’s rapport with her husband, and left the two other essays on their relationship out.

There are plenty of cringey moments. By buying a stove for a homeless man, Patchett’s friend is apparently sweeping “down the walls of oppression”. She can’t help but talk up her acquaintances on the page – a “bombshell best friend” here, a “force of nature, force of life” there. And does Patchett honestly expect us to believe that Snoopy, the dog from the Peanuts comic strip, was her only role model as a writer? Yet I found myself ignoring the missteps, the saccharine detours, because they stem from the same impulse that enables the more engaging passages: the wish to let the heart “remain open to everyone, everyone, all the time”.

Complete Article HERE!

Natural Funeral Practices

There are many options for end-of-life practices with low environmental impact.

The natural burial industry is expanding across the United States.

By Carla Tilghman

If you search online for “green death,” the first results might include a “Doctor Who” television episode; a “How to Train your Dragon” wiki fandom for the franchise; a heavy metal band; articles on the perils of 19th-century arsenic-based dyes; and a vodka-based cocktail. From these results, you might conclude that “green death” as a concept hasn’t entered common parlance enough to trump these other cultural touchstones. But thankfully, searching for “green funerals” or “green burials” instead reveals the opposite: there are many alternatives to traditional burial or cremation that are increasingly available. All these death-care practices share a focus on environmentally safe, humane, and loving ways to care for human and animal bodies, so you can choose the one that fits your last wishes.

Composting Funerals

Katrina Spade is the founder and CEO of Recompose, the first full-service human-composting funeral home, which began after almost a decade of planning, researching, fundraising, and working to change Washington state law on human composting.

White, honeycomb-like, hexagonal steel cylinders full of wood chips, alfalfa, and straw await human remains, all of which then undergo decomposition, or “natural organic reduction” (NOR). The first bodies were put into their cylinders on Dec. 20, 2020. Each body lays in its vessel for 30 days, with controlled levels of moisture and gases. Microbes and bacteria go to work decomposing all the organic materials. After 30 days, the decomposed material — now turned into soil — is placed in a curing bin to aerate, and is then screened to remove inorganics, such as fillings, pacemakers, and prosthetics. State regulations require the vessel and soil temperature to remain at 131 degrees Fahrenheit for 72 hours to kill any pathogens. Recompose and a third party each test the soil for residual arsenic, lead, and mercury. The client can choose people to keep the soil, as some do with cremated remains, or let their soil be donated to the Bells Mountain conservation forest in Washington.

Spade founded Recompose to offer a feasible, low-impact alternative to other forms of dealing with human remains. Traditional burials use too many toxic chemicals and can be expensive; cremations can produce too much carbon; and green burials are rarely available, especially to urban populations. (See “Death-Care Categories and Comparisons,” below.) Spade partnered with different groups to conduct feasibility studies, worked with a soil scientist, and addressed the legal obstacles for disposing of human remains, as well as fundraised the capital needed to get Recompose going.

Recompose charges $5,500, which covers everything from body pickup to paperwork and the NOR process. Cremation costs ($525 to $4,165) and traditional burial costs ($1,390 to $11,000) vary widely and aren’t always transparent. Recompose isn’t inexpensive, but the costs are fixed. Since opening Recompose, Spade has seen two other NOR competitors plan to open businesses in Washington.

The state of Washington prohibits people with tuberculosis or prion infections, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, from undergoing NOR.

Infinity Burial Suit

Luke Perry, an actor known for his role in “Beverly Hills, 90210,” was buried in a mushroom suit, first developed by Jae Rhim Lee, founder of Coeio, a California-based green burial company. The suits, called Infinity Burial Suits, are made from organic cotton embedded with a material matrix of cultivated mushrooms that’s designed to accelerate decomposition. Coeio claims the suit “delivers nutrients from body to surrounding plant roots efficiently,” while filtering and decomposing bodily toxins and heavy metals. In Perry’s case, he was encased in the suit and then buried in a decomposing coffin. Coeio charges $1,500 for each human-sized suit — and less for pet-sized suits — and also promises to plant two trees for each suit that’s sold.

Reef Balls

Reef balls can both memorialize a loved one and help build and restore reefs.

Combining cremation with burial at sea, Eternal Reefs’ reef balls are designed not only to memorialize a loved one, but also to promote new growth of reefs and halt degradation of existing reefs. Eternal Reefs is part of the Reef Ball group of companies that’s been operating for more than a decade to create designed reef materials that replicate natural reef substrates. Specialized neutral-pH concrete is combined with cremated remains of an individual, and then placed inside a large, round, hollow form (the reef ball) with multiple openings that attract and support plant life and reef formation. The textured outer surface of each ball creates habitats for microorganisms that provide sustenance for both reef corals and fish.

Eternal Reefs invites family members to participate in as much or as little of the process as they want, including mixing the concrete and attending the reef ball placement. Upward of 2,000 Environmental Protection Agency-approved artificial reefs have been placed off the coasts of Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, North and South Carolina, and Texas.

Pricing depends on the size of the balls, which range from 2 feet high by 3 feet wide (weighing 550 to 700 pounds), to 4 feet high by 5½ feet wide (3,800 to 4,000 pounds). You can spend between $4,000 and $7,500 on a ball and service, which includes the price of choosing the Eternal Reef, family participation, bronze plaque, transportation to the reef site, and GPS survey coordinates of the specific longitude and latitude of your loved one.

Conservation Burials

If you’ve spent much of your time enjoying conserved land, you may decide to choose a natural burial on lands protected by recognized conservation land trusts. Conserved lands have partnered with groups to create sustainably managed cemeteries where human and pet remains are part of the ecosystem. Such management prioritizes restoration of natural resources and protection of the land’s ecological integrity.

Conservation burials are simple interments without a coffin or preservatives. Bodies are wrapped in biodegradable sheets (most often made of cotton), buried in unmarked sites on conservation lands, and allowed to decompose. Family members can visit the site through provided GPS coordinates. Several different types of natural decomposition burials are available nationwide.

What distinguishes conservation burials from other green burials is that the land is protected through a land trust or conservation group, and is actively managed with defined conservation goals. Conservation cemeteries are owned separately from the land trust, but work with them to achieve the trust’s stewardship goals.


Also known as “alkaline hydrolysis,” aquamation uses water flow, electric heat, and 5 percent alkalinity to break down organic matter. The process requires less biofuel than cremation, and it doesn’t produce emissions. Aquamation takes 6 to 8 hours at 300 degrees, or 18 to 20 hours at 200 degrees. In contrast, flame cremation takes 1 to 3 hours at 1,600 to 1,800 degrees.

After the body has been processed, the sterile process water is recycled, and the bioliquidator (the machine that processes the body) rinses the remains, which consist of inorganic materials and bone minerals. The minerals and bones are processed into a fine powder and placed in an urn for the family.

Bio-Response Solutions is one company that offers aquamation services for human remains, and it also sells bioliquidator machines for processing animal remains to livestock and farm operations.

Aquamation is a process that’s widely available in the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, and South Africa for humans. For pets, the process is even more broadly available worldwide. In the U.S. and Canada, only a few states and provinces don’t have any human aquamation legislation in the pipeline.

While the pricing of aquamation varies from place to place, it’s generally comparable to cremation, and much less expensive than traditional burial.

Natural burials and funeral practices are designed to offer many different death-care options to individuals, but they all focus on reducing the use of toxic chemicals, reducing dependence on biofuels, and promoting land (and sea) conservation.

Death-Care Categories and Comparisons

Natural burial, also known as “green burial,” is a form of death care where the deceased’s body is buried in the ground in a way that allows for decomposition and natural recycling. An alternative to conventional Western forms of burial and funerary traditions, natural burial avoids embalming chemicals and nonbiodegradable materials. This market is growing, and with it, the number of natural death-care options a person has. Here’s an overview of several different death-care categories, comparing their general expenses and highlighted environmental impacts.Traditional funeral. Costs, ranging from about $7,000 to $12,000, typically include embalming and other preparation, viewing and burial, transportation, and casket. Embalming fluid can contain formaldehyde, a toxic chemical that can leak into the soil and damage the surrounding environment. Chemicals used in the construction of nonbiodegradable caskets can also leak into and damage soil and waterways.

Conservation burials allow for bodies to decompose and become part of the surrounding ecosystem.

Flame cremation

A less expensive conventional funeral practice, flame cremation costs range from the hundreds to the thousands of dollars, depending on how it’s done and how many additional services are included (such as a memorial or service). Flame cremation can rely on fossil fuels for energy, and harmful air pollutants can be released during the cremation process. However, flame cremation can have a smaller environmental footprint than a traditional burial.

Human composting

A natural alternative to traditional funeral practices, human composting is not a green burial, but a form of funeral care where bodies are “recomposed” into soil amendment and returned to the land. It performs significantly better than traditional burials and cremation in its environmental impact — notably, the carbon sequestration that happens during the entire process. This is a growing field in the United States, and one that relies on states allowing for human composting. The Seattle-based business Recompose has a fixed price for human composting of $5,500.

Green burial

This is perhaps the widest category for natural death-care options, which includes any form of burial that doesn’t introduce harmful chemicals into the environment and allows for natural body decomposition. The environmental impact is less than traditional burials; however, depending on accessibility to green burial spaces, the process of planning and executing a green burial may rack up your carbon footprint. Costs vary depending on the process; generally speaking, it’s the same or less than a traditional burial.

Reef burial

Burials in ocean reefs can be classified as a form of green burial. Eternal Reefs is one example, where cremated remains are mixed into a concrete reef that’s placed into the ocean. Costs vary from around $4,000 to $7,500, which includes most elements of reef ball creation and placement. This process is only available in certain states in the U.S. Eternal Reefs doesn’t include cremation services, which must be organized in advance through another company.

Aquamation (alkaline hydrolysis)

Access to alkaline hydrolysis for human remains is growing, as is its popularity. Aquamation, a company that offers this service, claims that this process has no direct greenhouse gas emissions, involves no burning of fossil fuels, and saves 90 percent more energy when compared with flame cremation. The price is comparable to flame cremation. Not every U.S. state has approved aquamation.


  • Green Burial Council, www.GreenBurialCouncil.org
  • The Order of the Good Death, www.OrderOfTheGoodDeath.com
  • Death Café, www.DeathCafe.com
  • Conservation Burial Alliance, www.ConservationBurialAlliance.org
  • States with Natural Burial options, www.Kinkaraco.com/pages/Green_Cemetery-List
  • Home Funerals, www.HomeFuneralAlliance.org
  • Bioliquidator, www.Bioliquidator.com
  • The Natural Burial Cemetery Guide: State-by-State Where, How and Why to Choose Green Burial by Ann Hoffner.
  • The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial by Elizabeth Fournier.

Complete Article HERE!

The many functions of an estate plan

Estate planning to a large extent involves the optimal structuring and managing of your assets while you are still alive.

By Devon Card

A person’s estate is made up of all the assets and liabilities they’ve accumulated during their lifetime and, although estate planning is often perceived as something performed in preparation for death, the reality is estate planning to a large extent involves the optimal structuring and managing of your assets while you are still alive.

As a result, it is important not to perceive estate planning as final stage financial planning designed to secure a financial legacy for your loved ones, but rather as a continuous process of managing one’s assets and liabilities throughout your lifetime to ensure that your estate is optimally designed to achieve both your lifetime goals and your objectives following your death. Being multi-disciplinary by nature, your estate plan can be used to achieve many goals:

Determining estate liquidity

Liquidity in your estate is key to ensuring that your estate costs and liabilities can be provided for without compromising the financial inheritance intended for your loved ones. In preparing liquidity calculations, you will need to take into consideration the potential tax, capital gains and estate duty liabilities in your estate, as well as any debt owing – keeping in mind that when it comes to estate administration, Sars and your creditors will be paid first, following which the remaining balance in your estate, if any, will be distributed amongst your heirs. This means that, if there is not enough liquid cash available in your estate to settle with Sars and your creditors, your executor may need to realise assets – such as your primary residence, vehicles, holiday home, or other valuable assets – in order to pay off the estate’s debts. This, in turn, can severely compromise the financial security of your spouse and/or children, who may well be left destitute as a result of inadequate estate planning.

What to consider: Life cover is an excellent mechanism for creating liquidity in your estate and for avoiding the forced sale of assets intended for your loved ones. It is, however, important to ensure that your life cover is appropriately structured to achieve the goal of creating liquidity. Where you nominate your estate as a beneficiary to your life policy, the proceeds will be paid directly into your deceased estate in the event of death and, as such, can be used to settle debt. Remember, however, that the proceeds of domestic life policies are considered deemed property in your estate and will be taken into account for estate duty purposes, so this should be factored into the calculation.

Ensuring beneficiary nomination

Rather than being a once-off task, beneficiary nomination is something that should be reviewed and updated as your personal and financial circumstances change through your lifetime. Further, understanding how beneficiary nomination works in respect of each type of policy or investment is important to ensure that your objectives are met.

For instance, while your children are minors and legally not capable of inheriting, you may use a testamentary trust structure as the beneficiary for your life cover; whereas as your children reach the age of majority, you may want to name them personally as the beneficiaries to this cover to ensure that the proceeds are paid to them directly.

Further, if your intention is for the proceeds of your retirement funds is to provide for your loved one’s financial security, it is important to understand the limitations that Section 37C of the Pension Funds Act brings to the process. Unlike beneficiary nomination on life policies, the distribution of retirement funds benefits (being pension, provident, preservation, and retirement annuity funds) lies ultimately with the fund trustees whose job it is to identify all your financial dependants and to allocate the benefits accordingly – and their determination may not be in line with your wishes.

What to consider: Make a concerted effort to review the beneficiary nomination on your policies and investments on at least an annual basis, and upon any major life event such as the birth of a child, a death in the family, marriage, or divorce.

Drafting your legacy documents

Naturally, an important part of estate planning is to ensure that your legacy documents are appropriately drafted and valid and that they are fully aligned with how you wish your estate to be distributed in the event of death. Along with a well-drafted will, the collation of an estate planning file can be invaluable to your loved ones and to expedite the process of winding up your estate. Essential documents to include your estate planning file include obvious ones such as your birth certificate, marriage certificate, antenuptial contract, divorce certificate, maintenance orders, title deeds, trust deeds and share certificates. Other information that can be kept close at hand includes gun licences, codes for your safe, loan agreements, digital passwords and log on credentials, and alarm codes.

What to consider: A living will can be a valuable document for your loved ones should tragedy strike. In this document, you can provide much-needed guidance to your family and medical doctor regarding end-of-life medical care and treatment – something that can provide great comfort to your loved ones who may be faced with tough medical decisions. Through a living will, you can request that medical treatment that would prolong your life be withheld in circumstances where you are in a permanent, vegetative status, irreversibly unconscious, or where there is no hope of recovery.

Protecting the inheritance of minors

If you have minor children, structuring your estate to ensure that they are adequately provided for in the event of your passing will be imperative. Remember, children under the age of 18 may not inherit lump-sum payouts or other assets directly as they are deemed not to have the legal capacity to manage such assets. Thus, if you intend to nominate a minor child to a life insurance policy or bequeathing immovable property to them, it is important to understand the estate planning mechanisms available to ensure that your objectives are achieved. This could include the formation of a testamentary trust in terms of your will with your minor child as the named beneficiary to the trust. In the event of your death, any assets intended for your minor children can be left to the trust which, in turn, will manage the trust assets until your child reaches the age of majority.

What to consider: If you have a minor child, your will should also make provision for a legal guardian for your child in the event of your death. While your nominated guardian can also be a trustee of the testamentary trust, it is sometimes preferable to keep the roles separate for the sake of maintaining checks and balances.

Ensuring efficient estate administration

Effective estate planning allows one to put mechanisms in place in advance to ensure that in the event of your death the winding-up processes can be expedited and unnecessary delays can be avoided. Simple steps such as ensuring the validity of your will, communicating the location of your original will, appointing a professional executor, and keeping a file of all your estate planning documents, can be hugely beneficial when it comes to streamlining the estate administration process.

For instance, if you no longer have a copy of your marriage certificate, your executor will need to apply for a copy at the Department of Home Affairs which, in turn, will delay the administration process.

What to consider: Executorship is a highly specialised function that requires expertise in finance, deceased estates, trusts and accounting. As a result, think carefully before appointing a family member or close friend as executor. Inexperience and/or lack of understanding with regard to the estate administration process can cause unnecessary delays. Also, remember that family relationships and dynamics change over time, and it may be preferable to appoint a fiduciary expert to this role.

Reducing tax liabilities

While it is not possible to avoid paying tax, proactive estate planning gives you the opportunity to structure your estate so as to reduce the tax obligations of your estate in the event of death. Estate duty, which is essentially tax paid on the transference of wealth from your deceased estate to your beneficiaries is levied at 20% of the dutiable amount of an estate up to R30 million, and at 25% on the dutiable amount exceeding R30 million. Very simplistically, the dutiable value of your deceased estate will be calculated by adding the value of your property, deducting any allowable expenses, and then deducting the Section 4A rebate, keeping in mind that as a South African resident you will be taxed on your worldwide assets.

There are, however, a number of mechanisms that you can use to reduce the estate duty liability in your estate so as to maximise the inheritance of your loved ones. Compulsory retirement funds, including pension, provident, preservation and retirement annuity funds, are not considered property in your deceased estate and these benefits will not be subject to estate duty.

Living annuities are very useful estate planning tools because they also fall outside your estate and are not estate dutiable, while domestic life policies can also be used effectively to provide financially for your loved ones while ensuring that no estate duty is payable on the proceeds. Trusts, which are dealt with in the paragraph below, are also effective in housing growth assets and reducing estate duty liabilities in one’s deceased estate.

What to consider: When using living annuities and domestic life policies to reduce your estate duty liability, it is important to correctly nominate your beneficiaries.

Structuring growth assets appropriately

In terms of the Income Tax Act, death is considered a capital gains event and the deceased person is deemed to have disposed of their assets for an amount equal to the market value of the assets at the date of death. While the Act provides for a once-off exclusion of R300 000 in the year of death, any amount thereafter will have an inclusion rate of 40% subject to tax as per the deceased’s marginal tax rate. To avoid unnecessary CGT being charged in the event of death, an estate plan can help structure growth assets, such as property or shares, to reduce the tax liabilities in your deceased estate.

An effective mechanism for housing growth assets, particularly those intended for future generations, is an inter vivos trust during one’s lifetime. As the trust founder, you would need to either donate or sell the asset to the trust in the form of a loan account following which you would relinquish control of the asset which, going forward, would be managed by the trustees on behalf of the nominated beneficiaries. By transferring a growth asset – such as a holiday home – to a living trust, all growth on the property will remain in the trust and only the loan account to the seller will be repayable on death thereby reducing estate duty.

What to consider: As a trust founder, it is important to fully understand the implications of transferring an asset into a trust structure. Once the asset is transferred, you are no longer the owner of that asset, and your trustees are responsible for taking full control of the asset and administering it in accordance with the trust deed.

Complete Article HERE!

Grief Is Never Easy, but During the Holidays, It’s Especially Tough

—Here’s How Others Got Through It

This season, day-to-day life is still upended by the pandemic, and so many of us are struggling with loss. You can’t outwit sadness with holiday cheer, but meeting grief head-on and embracing it can help.

By Meghan Rabbitt

The overwhelming sadness came out of nowhere and in the most inconvenient place: in front of a big display of antibacterial wipes at Target. Bernadette Nally was picking up a few last-minute Christmas gifts last year when she saw the wipes and began to choke back tears.

“My cousin, who I’d been taking care of for 15 years after she had a stroke and was placed in a nursing home, always asked me to bring her boxes of those wipes when I’d visit,” the 67-year-old from Long Island, New York, tells Health. “Seeing the display that day reminded me that I’d never need to buy them for Mary Amelia again. And it brought up a lot of sadness that I had to say goodbye to her via a FaceTime call rather than in person, a few days after she was admitted to the hospital with COVID-19.”

While Nally says she grieved the death of her cousin back in April 2020, she admits she also did a lot of justifying. She told herself that Mary Amelia’s quality of life wasn’t all that great considering the various ailments she was dealing with, and she assuaged her guilt about not having a wake and funeral mass, given the fact that the world was in the throes of a global pandemic.

Yet now, nearly two years after her cousin’s death, the sadness about all of these things tends to bubble to the surface when Nally least expects it—especially now that the holidays are here.

“I find myself flashing back to the last phone call with my cousin after she’d tested positive, when she told me how scared she was,” recalls Nally. “Then I think about the video call with the nurse who used her own iPhone to FaceTime me so I could see Mary Amelia and say goodbye. It can be pretty overwhelming when these memories come to me during a time when all of us are supposed to be so grateful and happy.”

Why grief feels so hard this holiday season

While coping with grief is always a day-to-day challenge, it can pose a bigger challenge in November and December when the holidays arrive. That’s especially true this holiday season, when many of us, like Nally, are still reeling from loss we experienced due to the pandemic.

“If you’ve lost a loved one to COVID-19, you’re adjusting to a new way of life without that person—and the holiday season, which tends to be centered around our loved ones, will likely remind you of that loss,” Cassandra Godzik, associate dean and professor at the School of Nursing at Regis College, tells Health. Godzik is a practicing psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner whose work involves patients who are experiencing loss, grief, and bereavement.

“Even if you haven’t lost someone to COVID-19, all of our lives have been impacted in some way by the pandemic—whether you lost a job, took a pay cut, or you’ve had to compromise on your previous way of life in some way,” Godzik explains. “It’s all loss, which can feel especially difficult right now.”

That’s because in western culture, there’s a strong imprint about what the holidays should and should not look like, Merryl Rothaus, LPC, a licensed professional counselor and board-certified art therapist in Boulder, Colorado, who specializes in grief, loss, and trauma, tells Health. “We’re conditioned to believe this season should be happy, cozy, and joyful. So if we’re not feeling these things, we tend to think, There must be something wrong with me. And that tends to make grief feel even stronger.” This type of thinking can also result in a cascade of shame and lead to isolation, adds Rothaus, as well as other mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.

Then there’s the nature of grief itself, which doesn’t follow a tidy schedule and can’t be outwitted with holiday cheer. Miami-based Amy Stone, 47, discovered this the hard way the Christmas after her dad died of a sudden heart attack. As a mom of two, she ignored her own sadness in an effort to make the holiday extra meaningful for her family. But when Christmas rolled around, she was too cranky to celebrate. “I realized that by throwing myself into planning the holiday and going above and beyond to make it special, I was really just trying to outrun my grief,” Stone tells Health. “And as I found out, that’s an impossible feat.”

Jill Dawson, LPC, a licensed professional counselor whose mom died six months ago from ALS, tells Health that the first holiday without a loved one can feel particularly challenging. “In general, humans don’t like change,” she explains. “In fact, most of us work really hard to avoid it because of all of the uncertainty that accompanies it. When someone dies, we’re thrust into needing to change—and that process is really uncomfortable.”

Dawson can relate to this on a personal note, as she navigates how the holidays will look without her mom for the first time this year. “Right now, my grief feels non-stop with little bouts of reprieve,” she says. “I’m already feeling under-resourced, and I know this first Christmas and New Year’s without my mom will force me to really feel into the pain of that loss.”

Grief’s “spotlight effect”

Luckily, time tends to act as a salve, softening the sharp edges of grief. But that’s not to say it won’t surface in ways that cut deep. It’s been a decade since Stone’s dad died, and she says her sadness still feels amplified around the holidays. “Every year is a reminder that he isn’t with us to read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and to see my kids get older,” she says. “We’ve made new traditions, which are wonderful. But it doesn’t make the sadness of my dad’s absence go away.”

Gina Moffa, LCSW, a New York City-based licensed clinical social worker who specializes in grief therapy, calls this the spotlight effect.

“The holidays tend to shine a spotlight onto everything you don’t have,” Moffa tells Health. “Not everyone is on good terms with their family or there will be someone missing this year. COVID-19 came without warning and changed everything at once, and we’re still dealing with the trauma of that. Add to all of this the societal pressure that the holidays be ‘perfect,’ and it’s a recipe for misery.”

This focus on “perfection” tends to make us long for things we don’t actually want, adds Moffa. “Every year around the holidays, I see those car commercials—you know, the one where the husband buys the wife a fancy SUV and it’s waiting for her in the driveway, presumably on Christmas morning, with a big bow on the hood and a light snow falling gently. And I find myself feeling jealous, even though I would never want that life,” she says. “When you think about it, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves for three days out of the year. And that pressure amplifies our dark, sad moments and losses even more.”

Getting through the season when you’re grappling with loss

So, what’s the answer? A staggering 36% of Americans report that they don’t feel like celebrating the holidays this year, according to a survey conducted by Harris Poll and Experience Camps, a nonprofit focused on coping resources for grieving children. If you fall into that category, how do you go about facing the season?

The truth is, there’s no one way to navigate your grief. But the more options you have for what this season might look like, the more able you’ll be to make space for your grief during a time when the expectation is to be cheerful—something experts agree is key. “Meeting your pain rather than trying to extinguish it isn’t easy, but it is the way through it,” says Rothaus. Here’s a start.

Think of grief as another form of love

One of the reasons grieving during the holidays can be so tricky is because we interrupt our grieving process with some version of “I shouldn’t be crying or feel sad right now,” says Dawson. Yet if there’s a silver lining to grief, it’s that it reminds us of how much love we had for the person we lost, she says.

“The reality is, we don’t grieve things that don’t matter,” she says. “When we’re grieving, it means we loved someone, that they mattered in our lives, and that we deeply miss them.” When you remind yourself of this, it’s easier to reframe feeling sad as a healthy, accurate sign that you loved someone so much, your heart is breaking because they’re no longer here.

After Ivan Maisel’s 21-year-old son, Max, committed suicide in 2015, his recognition that the amount of grief he was experiencing equaled the amount of love he had for his son made complete sense—and took the edge off his pain. “When I thought of my grief as just a different form of love, it helped me understand why I was in pain,” Maisel, the author of a book about coming to terms with his grief called I Keep Trying to Catch His Eye: A Memoir of Loss, Grief, and Love, tells Health. “It helped me learn to carry my grief with me.”

Give yourself permission to cancel the holidays

Just because everyone is telling you this time of year should look and feel a certain way doesn’t mean you have to meet those expectations, especially if they’re unrealistic. When one of Rothaus’ clients experienced the tragic loss of half of her family due to an accident last year, she cancelled Thanksgiving. Instead, she ordered takeout and watched movies all night with her grieving clan. “Did it make their grief go away? No,” says Rothaus. “But did it soften their grief a little? Yes.”

Moffa recommends going into the holiday season with a Plan A and Plan B: Plan A can involve doing what you’d normally do (like celebrating with family and friends), while you can think of Plan B as more of an escape hatch (like going to the movies or spending some quiet time honoring the loved one you’ve lost). “Rather than powering through Plan A, give yourself permission to do something that feels nourishing to you psychologically and emotionally,” she suggests. “Many of my clients find that just knowing plan B is in place makes plan A feel more tolerable.”

Ask yourself, “Have I grieved enough today?”

If you’re planning to carve out space for your grief in a society that doesn’t do this very well and during a time of year that’s supposed to be about joy, make it a daily practice, says Rothaus. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. You might bake the same side dish or pie your loved always brought to Thanksgiving dinner or sit in her go-to pew at Christmas mass. “Most of us will feel a pull to move away from grief because we live in a culture that doesn’t value it,” she explains. “But in my experience, turning toward your grief is one of the best ways to move through it.”

Remind yourself that grieving is exhausting; as anyone in the throes of grief will tell you, the big emotions that come along with it will tire you out. Couple that with trouble sleeping, a changed appetite, and the hectic holiday season, and it’s easy to see how you could become seriously depleted. That’s why it’s important to set some boundaries and focus on your own well-being, says Moffa. “When you’re grieving, it’s so important to think about your needs and put them first,” she says.

Maybe that means taking a relaxing bath every night before getting into bed, or making time for a hobby you love that energizes and fulfills you. Ideally, it’ll also mean eating nutritious food, drinking enough water, and getting enough sleep. “During the busy holiday season, it’s easy to forget or forgo our own physical and emotional needs—and the same is true when you’re grieving,” says Moffa. “Yet making sure you’re taking care of yourself is a way to bolster yourself, so you can endure the hard work of grief.”

Remember that grief is universal, and you can lean on others when you feel alone

Even though grieving is an individual process, we aren’t meant to grieve on our own, says Dawson. “There’s a way that the holidays can make us feel isolated and alone,” she says. “If you’re grieving, feeling lonely can make your grief feel even harder.”

With this in mind, it’s helpful to remember that none of us escape grief, says Rothaus. “You can’t be in human form without experiencing it,” she says, “whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of a dream, or the loss of a lifestyle.” Given all of the ways COVID-19 has changed life as we know it, people all around the world are grieving in some way. The point of recognizing this collective pain isn’t to wish suffering on others, but rather to remind yourself that you’re not alone in your grief. It can help you feel connected—and inspire you to get in touch with people who can support you as you grieve, adds Dawson.

“One of the best things you can do if you are grieving is to connect with people who love you—which, when you think about it, is something we all tend to do this time of year,” she says. “Reach out to a family member or a friend, not necessarily to talk about your grief but to simply be with other people. Lean on the support of a church community or therapist. Spending time with people who love and support you can feel like a healing balm that bolsters you through the holiday season and beyond.

Complete Article HERE!

My dad’s final days

By Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D.

I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s in a mostly blue-collar community in Newark, New Jersey. My father, Seymour, was a fiercely hardworking guy who wanted to be successful. For him, work wasn’t about “finding his bliss,” it was about being a responsible husband and father. His dad had skipped out on him, his siblings and mother for almost 10 years during the Depression. In contrast, my dad was a reliable family man and wanted our family to live the American dream.

Ultimately, Dad rose from selling clothing and home furnishings out of the back of his truck to owning and operating a successful chain of women’s clothing stores. In their mid-60s, my folks retired and relocated to Florida.

Throughout my life, Dad and I had a loving but feisty relationship. He was very opinionated (I guess I am, too) and was skeptical of many of my lifestyle and career moves—from moving to California, from studying physics to the field of psychology and then to gerontology. But he had great love for my family and he eventually developed a deep respect for what I made of myself.

In the 1990s, my father started to lose his vision and with it, control over much of his life. Sadly, Alzheimer’s was also chiseling away at my mother’s mind. Dad loved Mom so much that he railed against the dissolution of her memory and her mind. He got depressed and angry.

“If I die before Mom, she’ll struggle terribly, and if she dies before me, I’ll go crazy. Just as we’ve lived together, we want to die together,” he said. That was quite a lot for me to digest.

One night, he asked me, “If I take my own life and Mom’s, would that be brave or cowardly?”

I said, “I don’t know, Dad. If I was in your situation, I can’t imagine what I’d think or do.”

So, for almost a year, every night I’d go to sleep not knowing if my parents would be alive in the morning.

In 2013, my brother Alan called me in a state of distress to report that our dad’s blood sugar was going haywire. And to make things worse, he’d lost his balance and fallen on his face, giving himself a big gash on his forehead. Alan was already on his way to Florida. I packed my bags and headed east.

Dad’s doctor admitted him to intensive care. He had internal bleeding and had suffered a heart attack. When he realized that his boys were there for him, he called out to us: “What’s going on? Get me out of here!”

Dad settled down a bit, and Alan and I went to see our mom. Later that night, the phone rang. It was Dad pleading with us to rescue him. 

We shot back to the hospital and went into our anguished father’s room. His arms, chest, face and hair were covered with blood because he kept pulling out his IV lines. In the morning, after a torturous night for both my dad and brother, and a sad night for me and for my confused mother, I returned to the hospital. Alan and I asked: “Dad, what do you want?”

“I’m scared,” he said, “but I know this: I’ve lived my whole life on my own two feet, and I’m not going out on my hands and knees. Please help me bring this to an end.”

Shortly after, Alan and I met with Dad’s physician. He was a kind and decent man who asked us if we wanted our dad to remain in intensive care or if we preferred to shift him to hospice car
Were we going to battle to keep Dad alive for a few more days, albeit in a ghastly, ghoulish fashion? Or were we prepared to make him comfortable and allow him to die a good death? 

What would he want us to do?

We had Dad transferred to the hospice floor, where the nurses and aides removed all the wires and tubes, lovingly sponged all of the blood off him and even gave him a shave and combed his hair. They asked him what his favorite music was and then put on Frank Sinatra.

Next, they began a low dose of morphine to ease his anxiety. My wife and kids all dropped what they were doing to fly to Florida and be with him.

As I contemplated the end of my father’s life, I reflected that even though we had often butted heads, there was not one instance in my entire life when he wasn’t there for me when I truly needed him.

I wanted to show Dad proper respect and kindness, but not knowing how I should handle the situation with my dad nearing his death, I called one of my closest friends, Stuart Pellman, who had already dealt with the death of both of his parents.

He wisely told me, “Get one-on-one time with your dad. Even if he’s unconscious, tell him you love him, ask him to forgive you for anything you may have ever done to trouble him. Tell him you forgive him for anything he might have ever done to upset you, and then tell him you’ll always remember him.”

And that’s what I did.

Dad and I held each other for a long while, and then I left the room and allowed my brother some privacy to do the same.

Later that night, after the other members of my family had gone home, I joined my dad for a very intense and private conversation.

I said, “Dad, you’ve never asked me what I think happens when a person dies.”

“I’d like to know what you think about that, Kenny,” he responded. “Because I’ve begun to see my brothers and sister and they’re reaching out to me.”

My dad had no religious beliefs, but I had some. So I said, “Dad, I don’t know this for sure, but I believe when a person passes, there is another plane that presents itself. In that place are all the people you have known and loved.”

As I began to describe this, he started to cry. Then he turned toward me and told me he was ready.

I asked him if I could record the rest of our exchange on my phone so I could always have it to watch when I missed him. He said okay, and this is what transpired:

Ken: “Dad, you know that what’s going to be next is going to be beautiful and your vision’s going to be back and you’re going to be a young man again.”

Dad: “I’m ready for that, Kenny.”

Ken: “And you know we all love you, and you’ve always loved us.”

Dad: “I know it, Kenny.”

Ken: “So, what you’ll need to do is let go and not worry about anything because everything is going to be looked after. All we need is for you to be relaxed and calm and just drift off into the white light. Can you do that, Dad?”

Dad: “Absolutely.”

Ken: “I love you, Pops.”

Dad: “I love you, Kenny.”

My father died peacefully that night. With help from all of us, he went out on his own two feet.

Ultimately, even with all his frustration and anger, my dad died a good death. At the end, his pain was minimal. His mind was calm. He found a way to think about leaving his body as not being frightening. And although he had been blind for years, at the very end, he began to describe beautiful waterfalls, flowers, birds and castles.

When my time comes, I hope that my wife Maddy will kiss me goodbye and at least one of my kids—maybe even both—will be there to lovingly guide me out of my body.

Complete Article HERE!