By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
On Aging with Dr. Roger Branch Sr.:End times -- Taking care of business
Branch WEB
Dr. Roger Branch

"In this life, two things are certain - death and taxes." This familiar saying is correct, but I can name other certainties, good and bad. The issue of taxes is constantly discussed but never solved. Death, which is more certain than taxes, is mentioned less often.
It has been said that ours is a death-denying culture. Funeral notices rarely say the obvious - that the person died - more often stating something like he/she passed away. The artistry of funerary cosmeticians and florists adds to the illusion that death has not happened. Death has become an unfamiliar event for most people. In the era in which my parents grew up, most deaths occurred at home rather than in institutional settings such as hospitals. My paternal grandfather, a skilled carpenter as well as farmer, kept a stash of perfect pine boards under his house to use for caskets, including four for his own children. Grandmother kept gray muslin cloth to make linings for the caskets he made. Today, many people have never seen anyone die and might never see a dead person until after the deceased has been "made up" to look "natural," meaning still alive.
However, death is natural and real. The word "mortal" means destined to die. Death is not the enemy of humans any more than it is for any and all other living things. It is the necessary and natural companion to birth.
That being established, it is reasonable to think about death, including our own, not in dark and morbid preoccupation but as choice point so that we can bring our dying in harmony with our living. This and following columns will address end times, issues surrounding death, including decisions that need to be made sooner rather than later and in the light of our own values and preferences.
People need to figure out what they want to do with their "stuff." Everyone needs to make a will directing how stuff is to be dispensed, no matter how small that stash of stuff might be.
Who has not heard the excuses? "My family know how I want things handled so they will take care of everything."
Do they? Will they? Will greed invade and rip the family apart?
"I don't own much, not enough to raise a fuss over."
It takes little to generate a fuss. Moreover, any estate at all and/or debt, if not covered by a will, is subject to probate, a legal process administered by the clerk of court to guarantee that all issues related to the estate are legally settled. It requires work and fees. In fact, even a formal will usually requires probate but nothing as problematic as the situation when a person dies intestate (without a will).
Just as we are required to be good stewards of whatever we have today - even "the widow's mite" - so are we challenged to direct well whatever remains after death. It is important to decide what is important personally as a final investment in this world.
Normally, a formal will is drawn by an attorney after careful consultation with the client. If you are the client, you should work long and hard on the decision-making part before that consultation. Take precise and detailed notes on what you want the will to say and more notes on what transpires in the consultation. During that session, ask questions as necessary and be certain that the attorney understands your intentions.
You will return to read the finished will and review it with the attorney. Then it will be signed and witnessed. The original should be stored in a safe (fire-proof) place with a copy at hand for reference as needed. If you designate - as you should - an executor or administrator of your estate, that person should receive a copy.
In many places, a handwritten will, dated and signed, still has legal standing. Called a holographic will, it continues a tradition reaching far into the past. It is stronger if it includes one or more signatures of reliable people as witnesses that the writing and signature of the will-maker are authentic. Like formal wills, handwritten wills need statements that any older wills are hereby replaced. Most assert that the maker is of sound mind.
In my experience, the fee charged by an attorney for drawing a formal will is money well spent because of the advice and direction given and the staff services provided.

Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter