x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

On the Money: Preparing a will is sobering but fulfilling

Ironically, just weeks before my mother's death, I began the process of preparing my own will.

There's nothing like a grim chat with your financial planner to kick off not just a new year, but a whole new decade.

And it seems that if there's one commitment I must make for 2011, and the rest of my life for that matter, it is to get real when it comes to my finances.

Savings and investments, life protection, retirement and succession planning, which is very polite industry-speak for saying that you need to prepare a will. Now.

Sadly, the issue of death, wills and estates has been an overriding part of my life since my mother passed away at Christmas.

Ironically, I had finally taken that deep breath, confronted my fears about my own mortality and started the process of writing that all-important will just a few weeks before she died.

After three years in the UAE, it had occurred to me, thanks to that serious reality check with the financial planner, that I'd been pretty lucky up to now.

From playing with tigers and lions on holiday in South Africa to negotiating the reckless drivers and roads in the Emirates on a daily basis, I had been living life on the edge, according to my financial planner.

I suspect that my laissez-faire attitude towards writing a will is (sorry, was) similar to a lot of people.

Death is often a taboo subject in polite society and facing our own mortality harder still. Deciding how to divide our estates and who gets what is also difficult, not to mention the fallout from ungrateful relatives unhappy with what they've received - or not, as the case may be.

Many of us would rather pull the wool over our eyes and believe that nothing will ever happen to us. But until scientists find a serum for immortality, we have no choice but to face one of the harshest realities of life: nobody lives forever.

The preparation of my will had to be put on hold when I went home to deal with my mother's passing. It was one of the most difficult times of my life, but even in death I was still learning lessons from my mother, who, it turns out, was a very smart woman.

Don't get me wrong. I always knew that my mother was smart; it's just that I think I underestimated her. She was savvy and forward-thinking in her approach to her assets, an aspect of her personality I was unfamiliar with because she came from a generation of women raised to believe that this was the realm of their husbands.

My mother, however, was a little different. As a widow, she had no choice but to take control of her future, her assets and how she wanted them handled when she was no longer with us.

She learnt some valuable lessons along the way, but her experiences empowered her to the point that she had the courage to face her own mortality. And after preparing my own will, I know just how hard this can be.

The last thing my mother wanted was to die intestate (without a will) and risk her assets being distributed by a court in Australia. In other words, she wanted certain people to receive certain things and it was paramount that her final wishes be respected.

Unknown to my brothers and me, she'd been thinking about this for a long time. She'd come to terms with the fact that she wouldn't live forever, made an appointment with a lawyer, instructed him on what she wanted and went home to continue living her life.

She didn't discuss her plans with us because she didn't want us to worry, or at least that is what I'd like to think.

Eleven years on, we got to meet her lawyer, who walked us through her will. A stickler for detail, my mother was firm in her final wishes, even going as far as to explain why my brothers and I were getting what. She told her lawyer in detail why, for instance, I was inheriting her jewellery. And she instructed him to write it in her will.

As the only daughter in a large family of sons, she stipulated that I had to pass on her jewellery to my daughter, who then had to leave it to her daughter and so on. Thanks to my mother's instructions, I understand the importance of what she wanted.

Since coming back to the Emirates, the preparation of my will is now nearing completion. And I've kept my promise: I have already updated it to reflect the generous inheritance my mother left me.

It has been hard, but if there are lessons I've learnt through all of this it is that we cannot afford to live without a will and peace of mind is priceless.

Oh, and that my mother always knew best, even if I didn't know it at the time.