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Planning for end of life after 40 and why it matters

Headshot of woman entering life after 40 with long blonde hair smiling at camera
Image supplied by Hedley Direnzie

If you are one of the 12 million Australians who don’t have a will, at least you’re not alone, right? Not quite. If you die without a will, it creates a massive legal and logistical headache for your loved ones at a time of immeasurable stress. Why would you want to compound their heartbreak?

Planning for end of life after 40 matters, but it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Whether or not you have assets or children, or other family members you’d like provided for when you die, what you leave behind is your precious legacy.

To help us understand a little more about how straight-forward and, ultimately, rewarding end of life planning can be, we caught up recently with life-coach and author, Hedley Derenzie, to chat about her new venture, Legesi.

Hedley, I’m 47 and don’t have a will! What are the stats? Do you know how many people in Australia die without a will?

Well, firstly you’re not alone. Almost half of Australia’s population (approximately 12 million people in 2021) do not have a will, and even for those who do, most of them haven’t been updated for at least three years. 

So it’s not uncommon for someone to die without a will. This is called ‘intestate’ and unfortunately only serves to cause more suffering to those left behind who are already grieving. 

What many people don’t know is that if you die without a will in Australia, your assets (including your body) become the property of the Office of Public Trustee in your state or territory. These are government departments and if you’ve ever had to deal with government departments, you know that it’s not always a walk in the park. 

Your family has to apply to have your assets (including your body) returned to them and they are distributed according to a legal formula in which your family has no say. As you can imagine, this can turn into quite the nightmare. 

Really, every single person over the age of 18 should have an updated will. 

Why do you think people are so reluctant to think practically and plan ahead for the end of their lives, and how much do you think that’s wrapped up in our collective, age-old fear of death?

Most of us fear what we don’t know and there’s a lot we don’t know about death, in particular our own death.

In my experience of helping people through their end of life planning process, the more educated people are about death, the less scary it is. For example, I had a client who had a debilitating fear of death but she wanted to get her paperwork in order for her kids. By the end of the process she realised it wasn’t a fear of death but the fear of not knowing how to do what she knew she needed to do. 

In saying this, it’s natural for us to have a fear of death because we don’t know when or how it’s going to happen. But we all need to learn to accept that it is going to happen whether we like it or not. So the greatest gift we can give our families and loved ones is a completed end of life plan so we’re not making life more difficult for them after we’re gone. 

At what age is it prudent to start mapping out the end of one’s own life? And if we create a plan at, say, 40, how often should we be revisiting or revising that plan?

The earlier the better. Death isn’t limited to the sick and elderly. While the statistics show that the majority of us will live well into our 80s (average life expectancy for non indigenous Australians in 2020 was 83yrs, with indigenous Australians shockingly living almost a decade less, on average), death can happen at anytime to anyone.

Because none of us knows when our time is up, it’s important to have the required paperwork completed so that our loved ones are protected, sparing them any additional unnecessary suffering. 

So an end of life plan isn’t just for you. It’s a gift to the ones you love. 

Your plan should be updated whenever there’s a major change in your life such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or in the case of any new investment/s. But I suggest reviewing your plan at least once a year. When we develop a relationship with the reality of death, we’re more likely to get more out of life. Contemplating death on a regular basis, even if that’s just yearly, just helps us to appreciate life so much more.  

How did you come up with the idea for Legesi?

After my father died in 2009, I went to see a financial planner. He told me I needed a will and organised a lawyer to come in and draw up the paperwork for me. I was 31 years old at the time and after it was done I promptly forgot about it and got on with life.

When I turned 40 and my situation had changed, I realised I should probably have the will updated, but I couldn’t find it. I’d forgotten where I saved it. I couldn’t even remember the name of the lawyer! I looked up the financial planner but he’d gone out of business. So the will I’d paid for was gone forever.

I decided there had to be a better way of managing this kind of paperwork. 

I asked my friends how they organised their paperwork but found that most of them – these are people with young children and property! – had never even had a will. I was shocked by how unprepared for the inevitable they were.

I went looking for a service that helped people create, manage, and organise this information, but couldn’t find anything. There are a lot of resources available but it was a lot of information to navigate. I knew there had to be an easier way. That’s when I came up with the idea for Legesi; to make the end-of-life planning process easier, so that more people would get it done.  

So what exactly is a death plan? And how impactful do you think having one in place can be for a person’s wellbeing through midlife and beyond?

In short, a death plan or an end of life plan contains all the information your family will need in the event of your death. It contains your legal wishes, medical wishes, funeral wishes, digital information, personal wishes, financial information, and so on.

Think of everything that’s in your name – all of that has to be dealt with when you die. If someone doesn’t have this information organised somewhere, it’s a nightmare for those who are left to deal with figuring everything out.

If you could share some wisdom with your 40-year-old self, what would it be?

I’m only 43, so I would probably just say what I’m already telling myself, which is to appreciate every day, look for things to be grateful for, and focus your thoughts and feelings on what you want to experience rather than what you don’t want to experience. Tell yourself how amazing, beautiful, smart, talented, and radiant you are every day. And be kind to yourself and others, and forgiving of yourself when you’re not.

Connect with Hedley: http://www.hedleyderenzie.com/

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Championing the voices of midlife women by nurturing connections and leading conversations around the midlife experience.

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