Not For The Dead But For The Living

Thursday, Sep 19 2019 04:59 PM

In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the USA


For something that will happen to every single one of us, death figures surprisingly little in our conversations, though things are changing.

Who does not want to grow old gracefully, pain-free, active and independent until the end of her days? Who does not want to die in the comfort of her home, surrounded by family and friends? Who does not want to cap living well with dying well?

These idyllic wishes are not, however, borne out for most Singaporeans today.

The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) released a report “Leaving Well: End-of-Life Care Policies in Singapore” on 12 July 2019. Its conclusion was that there was a big gap between our preferences and the reality in Singapore.

The report mentions a sobering 2014 survey by the Lien Foundation. One major highlight: 77% of Singaporeans wanted to die at home but only 24% did so; instead, as of 2017, almost 70% ended their days in hospitals, nursing homes, or charitable institutions.

The problem is not restricted to Singapore. In the USA, one of the richest countries in the world, 55%-60% of adults don’t have a will or engage in estate planning.

And there’s a closely related matter: we want not only to prepare for death but also to leave a legacy to the living. A very high proportion of people leave life with no Will, Advanced Medical Directive (AMD), or Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).

These steps are for everyone, not just the wealthy. We want to clearly communicate our last wishes; we want to secure the financial future of our children and grandchildren; we want to ensure that our assets go quickly and hassle-free to the right beneficiaries; and we want to cause the least problems to our loved ones.

Many of these situations can be prevented with some planning. We all know what’s going to happen (ie, that death is inevitable); we know what we need to do to ease the journey for the generations after us.

The biggest ironies of not taking action is that it’s so easy today to act, that the consequences to our family of not planning far outweigh the costs of planning. There are plenty of videos online of electronic gadgets catching fire and killing the owner / user; home invasions that resulted in a fatality; holidays abroad that ended in disaster. Our collective memory holds examples of dynasties destroyed because they didn’t plan for political uncertainty.

Accidents, acts of violence, ‘Acts of God’, etc, can happen anytime, anywhere. Why aggravate the short-term emotional impact of our death with completely avoidable longer-term inheritance, legal, and financial problems for the living?

We live in a modern city with established and adhered-to rules of law; the resources we need are all around us. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, trustees, executors, private vaults or Safe Deposit Boxes (SDBs), etc, are easily accessed.

Things you need to do include learning from life’s little lessons, maintaining a good dose of vigilance, prioritising risks over returns (ie, capital preservation over growth, especially in uncertain times), diversifying assets and private vaults, and having some cash or liquid assets handy.

Yes, these things are not going to matter when you’re dead. But they can certainly matter to the living.


* Information accurate at the time of publishing.


  1. Most Singaporeans Want a 'Good Death', But Majority Don't Get Their Wish: Study,
  2. The Art of Aging Gracefully,
  3. How to Prepare Yourself for a Good End of Life,


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