4 Ways to Start Getting Your Legal Life “Ducks in a Row” — Lionesses of Africa

by Sinal Govender & Claire Keet 

It’s really hard to think and talk about your own death. It’s even harder to take action around preparing for death. You may sign up for life insurance or take out a funeral policy or make lifestyle choices to live a happier, longer, healthier life. But few of us go a step further to create a “when I die” folder – or, as we call it, a life.file – of everything our people will need one day when we’re not around anymore. Unless we’ve experienced a life threatening situation or experienced loss, the concept of death can seem ephemeral. It’s almost like our brains protect us from really engaging with the concept of our own mortality, despite it being a universal certainty for each and every one of us. 

During the very early ideation days of life.file, one of our co-founders chatted to a family friend who’d been practicing law for 30 odd years. In all that time, he said he’d only come across two clients who’d died with their legal life stuff organized in a neat, thorough folder. Two clients. In three decades. Many of us have the luxury and immense privilege of the time and space to get our affairs organized while we’re in good health. When we think of “getting our affairs in order” in relation to the people we’ll be leaving behind one day, it’s much easier to motivate ourselves to start getting our ducks in a row. (Well, to at least find our ducks first and then start getting them into rows!). It is our loved ones, after all, who’ll be left behind when we’re long gone one day. It will be our partners, siblings, parents, kids, and friends, who’ll need to find and order our legal life stuff if we don’t do it for them while we can.

Chipping away at creating a life.file of all your legal life stuff is less daunting when you do it in small bite size chunks. It’s amazing how quickly those small, incremental steps will start to have a greater impact on the quality of your conversations with loved ones about really big topics, like death, emergencies, and sickness. 

So, what can be done to start mitigating against a proverbial emotional and administrative nightmare when you or a person close to you dies?

Start small, with manageable tasks

Thinking about creating and maintaining a life.file of all of the things your loved ones will need one day if something happens to you is extremely overwhelming, verging on feeling impossible. Especially when you think about it in its entirety. Luckily there are lots of small tasks that you can start doing one day at a time. Ticking a few boxes every week is better than ticking none at all because you’ve been paralyzed by overwhelm. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time! 

Here are some things you can start with immediately. Get your will drafted. Get your living will drafted. Figure out what your life policy is all about. Put all of your insurance policies in one place. Put your original ID documents in one place. Tell someone you trust where to find them. If you think it’s a hack finding your legal life things, imagine your loved ones trying to do it without you there to help. Get proactive. You’ll see that once you start gaining momentum, it’s not so bad. The anticipation is far worse than the doing. If you need extra help, we’ve created a life.file starter guide which you can download free here.

Start having difficult conversations

Speaking about death with your loved ones can feel sad and overwhelming, but it’s so much better to have had these conversations before things go south. It’s normal to want to resist these conversions. It’s also normal for them to elicit every conceivable emotion – from immense discomfort to crippling sadness to laughter. (Are we selling it yet?!). If you’re able to get past the emotions and speak matter of factly about the practical aspects of legal death admin, these conversations really do get easier. Here are some things you can start discussing with your loved ones immediately. 

Chat about where the family wills are kept. Talk about who the executors of those wills are and how to contact them. Talk about what happens if you or any of your loved ones end up on life support. Talk about which properties you own and where the title deeds can be found. Phone up the people you’d like to be the guardians of your children and ask them if they’re able to take on the responsibility. If you can’t bring yourself to do any of this, there are mediators and legal professionals to help you through. Sometimes an outside voice can be helpful to guide the conversation, dishing out tissues or to do lists as they go.

Tell someone where your legal life stuff is

The only thing more tragic than losing a loved one is losing a loved one who had a thorough, well organized life.file that was only discovered, under their mattress, years after they died. Let that not be you. If you go through the effort of getting your affairs in order, make sure that your loved ones know where to find what they need when you’ve met your maker one day. Tell your loved ones where to find your original will. Give them the contact number of your executor. Explain where you’ve kept your important policy documents, like your life insurance or funeral policy. 

Years before the life.file concept even came about, one of our co-founders, Sinal, faced a situation like this when she lost her mom. Sinal graduated at the top of her class with succession law at university. (Succession law is all about the legal aspects of wrapping someone’s estate up when they die). She has often spoken about the stark difference between studying this stuff from an academic perspective and the actual lived experience of losing a loved one and navigating the legal admin that followed. While Sinal’s mom’s affairs were pretty much in order when she died, down to a wallet of loyalty cards, the admin was still extremely overwhelming. And that was with her mom’s affairs relatively in order. Because Sinal’s mom died on a Friday night and the family held a funeral on the Sunday, there was no time to actually go through the pile of documents and find out that what the family chose to do wasn’t what her mom had wanted for herself.

Live abundantly

There’s a difference between being prepared and becoming fixated with death to the extent that it makes life stressful and overwhelming. Our advice is to get your ducks in a row, check in on them every 6 to 12 months… but mainly get busy living and do it with absolute joy!

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