Especially when a person dies without a will. Families are thrust into a vortex of confusion, opportunism and worst of all, anger.
I’ve seen it firsthand. It’s always the same script, different cast.
After a relative of mine died, family I had seldom heard from or seen started circling like buzzards around a wounded animal about to draw its last breath. One by one, they recounted promises the deceased had allegedly made. Never mind that they never so much as called while the deceased was sick. They were there to stake their claim and the body wasn’t even cold yet. Fortunately, there was a will. So, the buzzards got nothing.
But every family has these individuals. They have a false sense of entitlement and come out in droves when they think there is something to be gained. Which is why it’s so important to not only protect ourselves, but our loved ones as well.
The problem is, despite the horror stories we’ve heard over the years, many Bahamians still view talk of wills and death as taboo.
We believe the mere mention of a will, will cause us to drop down dead. We’re superstitious like that. We also look side-eyed at family members who encourage us to see a lawyer and get a will. For years, my mother and I fought because she thought I was engaged in some murder-for-hire plot to have her killed so I could live off of her assets. She had a will, but it needed updating as her life had changed drastically. But, she wasn’t trying to hear me.
I literally started threatening to leave her body in the morgue and allow opportunistic relatives to go in her house and take her “good clothes.” It was the latter threat that caused her to come around. She has since given me a list of people who are not to get any of her clothes.
Last Christmas, I went a step further and bought her a book titled, ‘I’m Dead. Now What?’ (Ok, wait . . . now I see why she thinks I am trying to kill her). Anyway, the book has been billed as a “peace-of-mind” binder that contains details about your financial affairs, legal matters, medical information and final wishes.
It’s not the type of gift one typically gives a loved one for Christmas, but one that I’ve found to be necessary. To be fair, I bought one for myself, filled out all of the details and told her where to find it in the event of my untimely demise.
In the book, you can leave the passwords to your accounts, say who you want invited to your funeral, say what you want to wear and even what songs you want played. You can even say which mortuary you want to handle your remains. I may not have known all of my mum’s wishes before getting that book, but if it’s one that I did know, it was which funeral director was not allowed to work on her body.
Every time we viewed bodies at this one particular funeral home, my mother would examine the faces of the deceased like the Apostle Thomas examined Jesus’ Five Holy Wounds. She’d then make a series of disapproving sounds before turning to me to say, “When I die, don’t let Mr. Finley work on my body. He is have you looking dead.”
So, unless you want “Mr. Finley” having you look dead, you’d better state your final wishes.
Even if you don’t descend from a dynasty or have multi-million dollar assets to leave behind, you should still have a will, especially if you have minor children. Without one, the courts will be left to decide what happens to your property and loved ones – not you. Not leaving behind your final instructions also leaves surviving family members burdened with figuring out how you would have wanted to have your remains disposed of – whether you wanted a burial or cremation; to be buried in New Providence or the Family Island you grew up on. Not stating your wishes complicates things.
Equally as important is the need to update your will. If your will was written when the Reagan administration was in office, it will need to be tweaked and brought into the 21st century. Growing families and the acquisition of new assets changes the stakes.
If you have adult children and they are listed on your will, but you remarried and haven’t updated your will to include your spouse, you need to. Now. If your spouse is dragging his or her feet in including you in that will, get your financial house in order. Because the day will come when his or her family will fight you . . . and Bahamians like to fight – in and out of court. Especially if you’re living in their “good ma house.”
You may also want to give strong consideration to getting an insurance policy to cover your final expenses and leave something behind for your minor children, if you have any. Funerals are expensive. You never want to leave surviving family members with debt long after your death.
I never want to be a burden on my family, so I have left my instructions. Plus, I know what I like, so I want to make sure people are carrying out my wishes, even after I’m gone. If they don’t, I’m coming back in spirit form to pull their big toes.
If you’ve reached the end of this column and are still alive, you have a chance to get a will, name an executor and state your final wishes.
If you don’t, you run the risk of “Funeral Director Finley” working on your body. And you heard what the woman said, he is have you looking dead.
**Name of the funeral director has been changed.