Aa a nation, we are not very good at planning for the future and more specifically, for death. Most young people, perhaps understandably, avoid thinking about death at all. Those in middle age have a tendency to ignore it. One of the most telling signs of this is the incredibly low proportion of Irish people who have made a will.
Recent research commissioned by My Legacy, a coalition of over eighty Irish charities, found that just one-third of Irish people have completed this most practical of tasks. Although it has long been known Irish people are not the most prepared for life’s one certainty—death—the results of this research were still surprising.
They show quite clearly we are failing to plan for when we die. While 82% of those over age 65 have a will, only 51% of those aged between 45 and 64 have sat down with a solicitor to express their wishes for the disposal of their assets and property in writing. And Irish Hospice Foundation research published last week supports this trend. It shows that 39% of us have not drawn up a will.
There may be many reasons for this. I suspect that chief among these is a simple unwillingness to think about the inevitable, the inherent belief that to plan for death is to draw it upon yourself. And of course there is the age-old excuse of being just too busy to deal with it. There are things to do, places to go, life events to look forward to—starting a family, buying a house, holidays.
But there is always the unexpected. Road accidents, illness and other threats to life might seem light years away for most of us.
The reality, as we see on the pages on our newspapers every day of the week, is very different. Death comes to us all, and tragically for many, it comes when they least expect it and, equally, it is often unplanned.
Recognising this, the Forum on End of Life in Ireland, of which I am Chair, has developed a project called Think Ahead.
It is a public awareness initiative which aims to encourage people to think, talk and tell about their wishes for all aspects of the end of life.
The issues one needs to consider are broader than you might first presume. For example, how would you wish to be cared for if you were nearing the end of your life? What about if there was an emergency? Would you like to be an organ donor? How easy would it be for someone to organise your affairs? Have you created a will or Enduring Power of Attorney? And, of course, what sort of funeral would you like? Think Ahead allows you to consider all of these things, and more.
I encourage you to Think Ahead. Otherwise, loved ones will be faced with making all those difficult decisions at the end of your life, decisions which can sometimes tear families apart.
In the spirit of planning ahead, Best Will in the World Week, which takes place this week (October 20–24th) and an initiative of My Legacy aims to highlight the difference you can make by leaving a legacy in your will to a charity that you may have supported in life, one that is close to your heart. The 2013 World Giving Index ranked Ireland as the fifth most charitable country in the world, with over 70% of Irish people giving to charity each month. This is an impressive figure. However, despite this generosity, life legacy giving in Ireland is quite low.
Until next Friday October 24th, over 500 solicitors across Ireland will be offering a consultation for €50. Take this opportunity to get your affairs in order.
Consider availing of Best Will in the World Week, create your will, and perhaps after you have provided for your loved ones, you might also leave a gift to the charity of your choice. While you are doing this, you may go that step further and begin to Think Ahead.
Discuss your end-of-life wishes with those closest to you. It is a conversation, which although difficult initially, could bring untold comfort and peace of mind for all concerned at a later time.
You must first ask youself two questions: “What would I want?” and “Does anyone know what I’d want?” If the answer to the second question is a resounding No then you must start the conversation.
Unfortunately, no one can read your mind. Even those with your best interests at heart, who are closest to you in life, will struggle to grapple with the enormity of the decisions that must be made in the event of death.
Think Ahead this week. There is no time like the present.