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A practical guide to dying

The only certainties in life are death and taxes and whilst neither are particularly palatable, most people prepare their tax return and have a whinge about it to their friends, whilst few people prepare for, and discuss, their inevitable demise.

Decorative stock image of grey-haired man with his hand on another slightly taller gray-haired man's shoulder as they walk by a lake

Jackey Coyle, the author of In the End: A practical guide to dying, has a theory that’s because people fear if they talk about death it will ‘put a mozz on them’. The widespread belief that death will be fast doesn’t help.

‘I rode motorcycles and I always used to think I'm going to a die suddenly. Well, I'm over 30 and I'm still here,’ she laughs.

‘Only 20 per cent of us are likely to die suddenly and the rest of us are going to have this time to actually prepare.’

Jackey wrote her book on behalf of the palliative care service Fernlea, with financial support from the Victorian Government, to prompt people, particularly those dealing with life-limiting illness, to start conversations about death and dying.

People should begin their plans early, whilst they still have their health and energy, she says.

Making sure your loved ones understand and respect your wishes is vital, not just so they are carried out, but to avoid conflict and reduce stress for everyone involved.

‘For example, if I couldn't talk, if I couldn't communicate, life wouldn't have a lot of value for me, but someone else might want to hang on until the very end.

‘There's a fantastic free online tool devised by Dr Charlie Corke called Link and that’s a really good way in for family to start talking about death.’

One thing that people often overlook is their digital assets and the need to have their passwords in one place. Jackey suggests a password manager such as LastPass, which keeps all your information in one place and allows it to be securely shared with a trusted person.

‘So, if something does happen, people can find what they need to find out quickly and easily, which is important because quite often it's a really tough phase. There's a lot of stress and worry involved. You don't want to add to that.’

Appointing a digital executor – someone who is responsible for dealing with all your social media, digital photos and other digital assets – is also key.

‘My sister died in 2012, she was 56, and someone got onto her Facebook page and we started getting all these scam emails from her and it was terribly distressing. So that cyber security thing is really important.

‘You also have to decide what you want to do with your social media. For example, do you want to keep a legacy site on Facebook or do you want your page to be totally deleted?’

If you have a significant partner but are not married, it’s wise to register your relationship. ‘If it gets to a crisis illness sort of a situation, then you have something in writing to prove that your relationship is valid and that also helps with the practicalities of the will et cetera.’

Whilst it may be tempting to put planning off for another day, Jackey says there are rewards now for planning for tomorrow.

'Starting to think what you'd like to leave behind helps you to plan what's most important to do today or next year. It really helps make the most out of every day.'

Jackey’s top three priorities:

  • Keep your will updated, especially if you've got blended families, or your circumstances have changed.
  • Do your advanced care planning, including appointing a medical decision maker (to act on your behalf if you are unable) that you are confident will make decisions exactly the way you would.
  • Consider what you want your legacy to be. What do you want to leave behind?

More information and tools are available in Jackey’s book, In the end: a practical guide to dyingExternal Link .

Reviewed 13 February 2023