When death is near for someone with advanced cancer
There are a number of practical arrangements that it might help to consider before someone dies. It can help to talk to each other about how you feel.
You may find that you put the thought out of your mind for most of the time and concentrate on everyday practical matters, but you’ll probably find there are times when you can’t avoid sadness and grief. The person you are caring for will probably also have powerful feelings of sadness, anger, frustration and loneliness.
It can help if you’re able to talk to each other about how you feel. Sometimes people can end up ‘protecting’ each other, when both of you would really be happier to feel free to talk about death. It can give you an opportunity to share your sadness, to say all the things you still want to say and generally prepare together for their death.
There are many practical arrangements that can be made before someone dies, such as making a Will, discussing advance care planning and arranging the funeral. It may seem morbid to discuss this with the person you are caring for, and obviously you can only do so if they are willing to talk about it. However, you may find that they are glad to be able to put their affairs in order. They may want to make sure their property is left as they want, and there are no legal or financial burdens for the people closest to them.
Our section about dying with cancer discusses the emotional and practical issues to consider.
Making or updating a Will
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Try to find out if the person you are caring for has made a Will and kept it up to date. If not, try to tactfully encourage them to do so. If someone dies without making a Will, their property will be divided up under legal rules which don’t take account of individual circumstances. For example, when two people live together but aren’t married, unless there is a Will, the surviving partner will not inherit anything, and the estate (including the house they had jointly lived in) would go to the dead partner’s next of kin. This situation can cause enormous distress and possibly lengthy (and expensive) legal proceedings at a time when people are already upset.
If the person you are caring for is your spouse or partner, it may also be worth transferring bank or building society accounts or tenancies into both your names. This makes the transfer of responsibility to you easier.
These arrangements may be very hard for you to bring up with the person you are caring for. You may feel that you will seem grasping or uncaring if you try to talk about how their property will be divided up after their death. It may also be very painful for you to plan together for a time when they are no longer there.
If this is too hard for you to do yourself, you might try to see if someone from outside can talk about it - for example, the doctor, the district or palliative care nurse, or the social worker.
If a Will already exists, it can be updated or altered very easily by adding a Codicil, which is an extra instruction to a Will that can be added at any stage. It’s a good idea to get the advice of a solicitor, as a Will or Codicil is a legal document.
You can find a solicitor by asking a friend for a recommendation or by telephoning the Law Society. Get quotes from a few solicitors before deciding which is best for you. Sometimes they will make home visits.
Listing important documents
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Try to make sure you know where important documents are kept, such as:
the deeds of the house
the person with cancer’s passport and driving licence
any birth, marriage and divorce certificates
details of bank or building society accounts
insurance and pension policies
tax and national insurance numbers.
You might also want to list the names and telephone numbers of various people who would need to be told after the death - for example, executors of the Will and the bank manager, employer, landlord, solicitor, accountant and doctor.
Some people like to make plans for their own funeral, such as choosing what music they would like to be played, or whom they would like to attend. They may decide whether they would prefer a cremation or burial. If possible, discuss this with them. Sometimes talking about the funeral can help you begin to come to terms with their death and give you both peace of mind.
Saying important things
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Occasionally, a dying person remains aware and able to talk until very close to the end, and can have a meaningful conversation with loved ones. However, this is the exception rather than the rule, so it’s important to try to say all the things that you want to much earlier, if you can.