All the things we should do before we die (but don’t)

Disclaimer: This is brought to you by Singapore Hospice Council.

When I was in my 20s, I saw tributes to a schoolmate all over Facebook one day. She had passed away, after grappling with cancer for years.

This was not something I expected. Because even as I caught glimpses of her battle on social media, she seemed like she was in good spirits.

The shaved head. Her frail, bony frame. No matter how many tubes they inserted into her, no matter how many injections she endured, she did so smiling.

And so, it did not seem like the end of her life was even near. At some point, I grew desensitised to her posts. She was so young.

How could it be that she’d be gone so soon?

Now that I’m older, I’ve learnt that death doesn’t care if you’re young or old. At the same time, the list of people who have passed has unexpectedly grown considerably.

Some were sudden, from cardiac arrest. Others passed on from old age and terminal illnesses, having to go through long and painful periods of suffering.

In all my interactions with their loved ones, one thing stood out to me: we all inevitably leave a huge mess when we pass on. The older we are, the more people involved in our lives, and the messier this gets.

That got me thinking. If I was told that I had six months left to live, what could I do to make my death less traumatising for my loved ones?

We asked the experts, and this is what they said.

Have conversations on how you want to die


Talking about death with your loved ones is never an easy conversation.

But if there’s one thing better than getting your loved ones to make decisions for you, it’s this – telling them exactly what you want.

Sometimes, the emotional burden of having to make a decision for someone can be huge.

And having these painful conversations as early as possible will make it less painful for your loved ones to execute your dying wishes, without second-guessing themselves trying to figure out what you really want.

This can be matters related to:

  • To what extent do I want to prolong life at the expense of comfort?
  • Leading up to the end of your life, how would you like to be cared for?
    • Do you want to die at home, in a hospital or at a hospice?
    • What are the palliative care services that can help you manage symptoms and support you and your family?
  • What are some activities you want to do or memories to create with your loved ones?
    • A family photo shoot at the beach?
    • A scrapbook of your favourite memories, recipes and songs?
    • Farewell video messages dedicated to your loved ones?
  • Do you have any religious or spiritual preferences that you’d like the people around you to observe?
  • What type of funeral would you like to have?
    • How long?
    • What’s the budget?
    • Who’d like to invite
  • Would you like your remains to be stored, or scattered?
    • And precisely where.
      • Mandai?
      • Lim Chu Kang?
      • 8 km south of Pulau Semakau?

You can refer to the Advance Care Planning (ACP) document to facilitate the documentation of your healthcare preferences with your loved ones and healthcare provider, or get an ACP facilitator to help you with this.

Appoint people you trust

Death doesn’t always come swiftly and suddenly; the journey to the end of life can take a while. And very often, people lose their mental capacity along the way. This could be because they’re unconscious, suffered brain trauma, etc etc.

That means at some point, you need people to make decisions for you. Important decisions.

For example: Accessing your bank account to pay for stuff. Maybe liquidating your home (if any). Whether or not to take you off life support.

This is called giving people the Lasting Power of Attorney. This will allow them to make decisions on your behalf, in the event you can’t do it yourself.

What happens if you don’t?

Then if you lose mental capacity, your trusted ones won’t be automatically given the right to make legal decisions on your behalf. The state might appoint someone not-as-close-to-you instead.

You don’t want that.

Similarly, an Executor handles similar affairs, but AFTER your death. But more on that later.

Gather your important documents in one place

One of the big headaches of dealing with the death of a loved one is not being able to find all their stuff. Especially the important stuff.

Frantically searching for documents isn’t exactly the most peaceful way to grieve.

A simple checklist:

  • Will document (if any)
  • Your bank account details
  • Brokerage log-ins
  • List of insurance policies
  • Contacts list of important people: think financial advisors, doctors and lawyers
  • Stuff that shows relationships (Birth and marriage certificates)

Create your Last Will and Testament

A ‘Last Will and Testament’ is a legal document that describes how to split your stuff (assets and property) amongst the people you care about. This is important, because it’s easy for things to get ugly without one.

Without a Will with specific instructions, how your assets are split can be disputed by your loved ones. You’d be surprised how much emotional stress, delays and financial implications this can cause.

With a Will, there’s no doubt about what you want to do with your money; people have to grudgingly accept the outcome.

The key elements typically covered in a will include:

Real estate: Specifies who inherits houses, land, or other types of real property.

Personal property: Includes items like vehicles, furniture, jewellery, and other personal belongings.

Financial assets: Covers bank accounts, stocks, bonds, and other investments.

PS: You also need to appoint someone you trust to be in charge of carrying out the will – an Executor.

Make your nominations

When we think of the financial stuff, we mostly think of wills. But there are actually two more things that are equally important.

Given that many Singaporeans are made to save a sizeable chunk of their wealth via CPF, a CPF nomination can give a loved one quite a large sum in the case where you pass away.

Similarly, if you bought Life Insurance, your insurance policies will pay out to any beneficiaries you might have nominated.

Without both CPF or insurance nominations, you can’t be specific on who the beneficiaries are, as well as what percentage the monies are split.

Instead, the money will be split based on Intestacy Laws by a government body known as the Public Trustee. They prioritise distribution in this order: spouses, children, then parents.

So, if you wanted to, for example, give more money to your parents instead of your spouse, then you’d definitely want to do a nomination.

(Also the Public Trustee takes some time to do its work. So it can take up to six months for your loved ones to get the monies).

BONUS: Decide what you wanna do with social media

So you’ve left this world for a good six months. Everyone’s trying to move on from grief.

Suddenly Instagram/Facebook Memories brings you straight up to the feed. Or someone doesn’t know you passed away, and they repeatedly message/tag you/leave comments on your post. Maybe even nasty ones.

That experience could be bittersweet for your loved ones, or incredibly distressing for others. This is why some people choose to memorialise or delete their social media accounts upon their deaths.

A parting word

Whether it’s emotional baggage, unresolved issues, or even just the administrative and financial aspects of dealing with someone’s estate, death is often a messy affair.

Some people take months for life to return to normalcy. Others, years. And for many others still, the loss of a loved one weighs on their minds forever.

If you’re a youngish person, thinking about your demise is probably one of the furthest things you can possibly do. (Most people already don’t think about retirement.)

Admittedly, doing all the stuff on this list requires some time, and is indeed quite troublesome. Some might even say, morbid. But, it can make all the difference for the ones you leave behind.

Remember, it’s not too early, so do it now.

Stay woke, salaryman.

A message from our sponsor, Singapore Hospice Council

If you’re a millennial or Gen Z, planning for death may seem like something you can afford to put off until your later years.

But we never know when death comes knocking on our door, or whether we will experience slow or quick deaths.

And if we’re not prepared, our loved ones will be left worse for wear.

That’s why Singapore Hospice Council is dedicated to helping the community to not only live well but to leave well.

They aim to do this by providing resources about palliative care (end-of-life care) and information on the services available to support both patients with serious life-limiting illnesses and their families or caregivers.

Find out more at their website, or tune in to the Live Well. Leave Well. podcast.

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