Close to 160,000 Australians died last year and how wonderful that you were not one of them. Would you have been ready if your number was up? Despite huge advances in medical technology, statistics confirm that 100% of us will die. We plan well in advance for important life events like holidays, birthdays and weddings but less than 5% of us has a plan for our own death. Do you have an end-of-life plan? The ramifications for not planning can be dire legal, financial and emotional consequences for your loved ones. To help us digest our own death, Life Over Lunch, a new event hosted by Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, has end-of-life planning on the menu.
How did Life Over Lunch come about?
Life Over Lunch evolved from Adelaide Cemeteries Authority hosting other popular community events that encourage end-of-life contemplation and planning; Dying To Know Day and Death Over Dinner. These sold-out events have to-date been hosted in the evenings. Feedback from guests who missed out on tickets or were unable to attend requested that a day time event be held. Life Over Lunch was created to meet the needs of Adelaidians taking their lunch-break who are interested in learning about planning your death.
The Venue: West Terrace Cemetery
Situated in the Adelaide CBD parklands, the historic West Terrace Cemetery provided the venue for the inaugural Life Over Lunch event. Guests started arriving at 11:30am and were greeted with a drink from the bar. They soaked up the warmth from the sun’s winter rays before finding a seat in the marquee, ready for the event to commence.
My husband and I bought along our Before I Die wall in 4-sided trailer mode. Guests enjoyed contemplating what others had written before adding their own declaration of their public bucket list aspiration. Some poignant ideals were before I die I want to travel the world, live in Afghanistan, visit Antarctica, live to 100!
Fiesty Filomena provided generous serves of hot, delicious Italian street food. The West Terrace Cemetery volunteers not only ran the bar but also served the main meal and dessert as guests listened to the speakers.
4 speakers each addressing an aspect of how they experience end of life planning – or lack thereof – in their line of work
Estate Lawyer – Beth Castel
Beth specialises in wills and estate planning and deceased estates. She explained what happens when you die with all your end-of-life paperwork properly completed. The three main documents are your will, enduring power of attorney and advance care directive.
A Will ensures your wishes are in writing. This means you choose who gets what. It results in peace of mind for you and your family. To make it work as you intended you need to choose your executor. An executor is your legal representative whose job it is to ensure your wishes are carried out.
Enduring Power Of Attorney
An Enduring Power of Attorney is a legal document that allows you to choose who will manage your financial and legal decisions when you have lost your capacity to do so. Beth highlighted that “you are still able to make your own decisions even if you have made an Enduring Power of Attorney.”
Advance Care Directive
An Advance Care Directive enables you to document your wishes for your future health care, and preferred living arrangements at your end of life.
Probate & Letters of Administration
After your death, your executor will manage your estate as per your Will. In order for your Executor to deal with institutions such as banks and the Land Titles office, a Grant of Probate is required from the Supreme Court. The Grant of Probate confirms that the maker of the Will has died, the Will is in order and the executor has verified their identity and acknowledged their duties as an executor. If there is no Will, the court issues a Letter of Administration.
Beth emphasised that DIY kits for any legal documents can result in documents that are not properly executed. This means that they can be easily contested in court and may result in your wishes not being carried out as you intended. She recommends always using a lawyer for your end of life documentation: Will, Advance Care Directive and Enduring Power of Attorney. “Professional advice can save money, time and stress later on.”
Public Trustee – Tracey Dixon
Tracey spoke about the different scenarios that happen when someone dies without their end of life paperwork correctly executed. She used case studies to explain the emotional pain and hardship that can happen to close family members when the documentation is not in place.
What if you die without a Will?
Tracey advised that “if you die without a Will, this is called Intestacy. Your assets will be distributed according to law, meaning your estate may not go to the people that you want it to go to.” This is not a good situation to be in for your loved ones!
Tracey gave some poignant examples of the heartache she deals with on a daily basis:
- Partner loses their home because it has to be sold to pay out other family members who are entitled under intestacy
- Family fighting over funeral arrangements
- Close friend who was promised something that has sentimental value but is excluded by intestacy
- Sister who has looked out for her unwell brother for the past 5 years is told upon his death that she is not entitled to anything, as it will all go to his estranged daughter (who has not had any contact with him for the past 10 years)
- Pets being taken to an animal shelter because there is no one to care for them; their future uncertain.
What if you don’t have an Enduring Power of Attorney?
If you lose capacity to manage your financial affairs and don’t have an Enduring Power of Attorney in place, then your loved ones will not be able to make decisions on your behalf.
Tracey shared the sad story of the problems this caused when a bank account and house title were in the partner’s name only, who had lost their capacity, and the other partner had no authority to access the funds or sell the house because there was no Enduring Power of Attorney in place.
The situation was resolved by applying to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) for an Administration Order. An Administration order appoints an administrator to make financial decisions for a person who does not have capacity. This person can be a family member.
Tracey gave a compelling presentation. She stressed how important it was to “get your affairs in order while you are still able to so you save your family unnecessary financial hardship and heartache.”
Funeral Director – Michael Butler
Michael is a second generation Funeral Director in his family business, Ivan Butler Funerals, which was founded by his parents, Ivan and Coral Butler, in 1975. Michael shared some personal stories about his family’s time in the industry and reflected on the many changes he has witnessed, especially around pre-paid funerals.
He explained how the industry and law has tightened up on pre-paid funerals. In the old days, the Funeral Director would be the care taker of the pre-paid money. Michael has seen instances where Funeral companies have closed down leaving the people who pre-paid their funerals with nothing. But now the money must be sent to an approved investment manager as detailed by the SA Consumer and Business Services Customer Service Centre.
Adelaide Cemeteries Authority – Tony Saulters
As Head of Customer Strategy and Communications at Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, Tony spoke about the role of the Authority, shared some eye-opening statistics and got us pondering ‘bury or burn’?.
What does Adelaide Cemeteries Authority (ACA) do?
ACA is a State Government entity reporting to the Minister for planning, currently John Rau. The Authority operates over 80 hectares of cemetery land at 4 distinct cemeteries; the botanic Enfield Memorial Park, historic West Terrace Cemetery, cosmopolitan Cheltenham cemetery and bushland Smithfield Memorial Park. Tony advised that “we prepare over 1,000 burials and perform 2,200 cremations each year”. The cremations happen at the crematorium located at the Enfield Memorial Park headquarters. Two reflection rooms provide the latest technology to host funerals of all sizes and cultures.
The role of the Authority is “to help you navigate one of life’s most significant events and to provide you with a place to remember and be remembered”. Every year the Authority hosts a series of events to encourage the community to use the beautiful grounds. “We host services for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, All Soul’s Day, Pregnancy & Infant Loss Day and community engagement events including Death Over Dinner, Dying To Know Day, Die-alogue cafes, Eid (post Ramadam), tours and adopt-a-grave school program.”
Did you know …
It is a wonderful tradition that the Queen sends personally signed letters to Australians for their 100th birthday. In 1950, she signed 42 letters. In 2016, she signed 2,643 letters. By 2024, it is forecast either the Queen or King will sign 4,885 letters. By 2044, full time staff will need to be employed to help sign the 18,567 expected letters!
The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that there are 160,000 deaths in Australia every year with 13,500 annual deaths in South Australia. By 2024 this is forecast to increase to 16,500 bodies. By 2044, 26,000 are expected to die in South Australia; doubling within 30 years. Tony predicted that this will cause “pressure on available burial land and the changing cultural demography in SA will lead to changes in cemetery requirements.”
Bury or Burn?
The first cremation in Australia within a crematorium happened in 1903 at West Terrace Cemetery. The historic ruins of the original crematorium can still be seen. Australians were not keen on cremation at the turn of the century; mostly for religious reasons. Cremation was a very emotional topic much like euthanasia is today. In the 1960’s cremations started to overtake burials. Today 68% of us opt for cremation and 28% for burial.
People are becoming quite creative and innovative with different rituals around the ashes; scatter in a favourite place, bury and grow a tree, jewellery and even fireworks!
Burial options include above the ground in Mausoleums, below the ground in coffins with headstones and vaults or the growing popularity of Natural Burials.
How did it go?
There was a buzz in the audience with lots of questions being asked during question time and also afterwards as the speakers mingled with the thirty guests. Everyone took home a bag containing an Advance Care Directive and Enduring Power of Attorney form. Also included was an Emotional Will which allows you to record your personality. The legal end of life documents manage your assets and health care but an Emotional Will lets you record special moments in your life that you treasure; your favourite joke, colour, food and wishes for your special people. You can be as creative as you like!