Come learn the what, how, when and why of End of Life Planning – how to ensure that your wishes, desires, likes, preferences and values are honoured in your absence and how to translate them into a plan of action and information that your loved ones will need to make critical decisions on your behalf.
In the past three years, I have had the misfortune of being involved in helping the families of some of my friends—both in India and the US—who passed away suddenly for various reasons like undetected, undiagnosed or untreated health issues, accidents in some cases and other reasons as well. There were at least half a dozen people known to me, who were in their 40s and 50s and 60s. In every instance, I noticed that the people who were dealing with the grief and misery of the loss of the loved ones, had no idea of the person with whom they lived for a long time. They had no idea of what the person was doing, what he was worth and what assets and liabilities he had. In every single case, it takes months, and in some cases, years for the family members to go back and reconstruct their life. It is not just about financial matters.
We have lots of information in our own heads which nobody else knows. It is stunning when you go through the process of helping people who are going through this problem. The last event happened on Jan 8, 2023, and I made a resolution that I am not going to have anyone suffer this sort of problem anymore. I have made it my mission to share information on the ‘end of life planning,’ so people can plan around it and ensure that their own mission and values are maintained or at least known and executed by their loved ones, in their absence.
It’s not an entertaining topic, but a very important one. It applies to people of all ages and genders. Nothing is guaranteed in life and things happen beyond our control. It is important that people who are left behind after we leave the earth, have something to go ahead with and not add to their misery they are already in.
What is EOL Planning?
‘End of life planning’ is planning for what you wish to happen when you leave this world. They say that only taxes and death are certain in this world. So, record and document everything that you want to see happen when you are not there. You may even leave instructions on how you wish to be cared, even before the end of life, in certain medical conditions. There are legal formalities in these cases, without which, in some countries including India, other people cannot make decisions on your behalf.
EOL planning can be a combination of a physical folder, spreadsheet, document or any other suitable form. It can be a combination of physical and digital also. If everything is in soft copy and the computer password is not known, it is very difficult to find out the information. It is as good as having no information.
Recently, we could not find a person’s Aadhar card. Without Aadhar / proper identity card, it is not possible to cremate the person. In one case, a person died. The wife was in a shock. Both their children were abroad and their contact details-address, phone number, email—nothing was available. It took one full day to trace and contact the children.
It’s a responsibility
EOL is a moral responsibility towards our family members. You don’t want to aggravate their misery by keeping them clueless. From my experience, it’s incredibly agonising to see people not knowing what to do and where to start. Though we cannot eliminate the pain, at least it will help in mitigating the pain. I have seen even educated working women having no idea about their family’s financial position.
It is a myth in our society that women don’t want to talk about the financial position of the husband. When there is money left behind, it can lead to disputes in settlement unless clear documentation is there. This documentation work may need 3 to 4 weeks of time but it can save tremendous amount of pain and grief and months and years to resolve. Approximately Rs 48,500 crore is lying unclaimed just in PSU banks alone. In life insurance corporations, it could be double this amount. Together, 18Bn$ of money is left unclaimed because people don’t know you had something there. RBI has recently started an initiative to encourage the bank managers to reach out to whoever they can, in case an account is inactive.
Shankar: What is the correct age for EOL planning?
Vish: Ideally, after your graduation and definitely, after getting married.
Shankar: With whom, should the information be shared?
Vish: If married, with the spouse. It is also preferable to inform children. There are cases, in which both parents died suddenly. Or inform a sibling or a friend.
Shankar: When a person leaves, does the lawyer come and open the box like in movies?
Vish: No. The first thing people ask is, ‘Does the person have a will?” If not, somebody—the beneficiary—has to initiate the process of going to court and proving that they are the legal heirs. This process is carried out by a judge. You need good, qualified and specialised lawyers to represent the case.
Shankar: If there are assets in different jurisdictions, do you need separate wills?
A: Within India, one will is enough. If assets are outside India, then those countries may follow a different process. So separate wills are required for assets in other countries.
Shankar: What does the new inheritance law state?
Vish: From 2005, Supreme Court ruled that all children including girl children have same rights in inheritance.
Shankar: EOL is an emotional subject. How do you broach this topic with the family?
Vish: Yes, definitely not a pleasant task but it is important that you talk about it.
Shankar: Can the documents, once made, be revised / altered?
Vish: Yes. Revisit them once a year and sometimes, at lesser intervals. Things can change.
A disclaimer from the speaker: I am not a lawyer, tax consultant, financial advisor, insurance agent, an estate planner and an employee of any government. The information is shared based on my learning as a guide in helping people and does not purport to be a legal document or expert advice.