Small Change

Don't leave your loved ones in a bind

Do your homework and leave an end-of-life plan - you can then enjoy life to the fullest

This should have been a joyous moment in my life.

I have just published a third book on investments, Market Smart: How To Grow Your Wealth In An Uncertain World. In it, I discuss some of the insights that I have gathered from the stock market over the years, to give investors a handle on how to spot investment opportunities.

But the book launch takes place at the darkest period of my life.

My father has lain unconscious for more than two weeks in Changi General Hospital's intensive care unit (ICU), after his heart suddenly stopped beating while he was being treated for pneumonia there.

My family and I are still in shock. My sisters, my nephew and I take turns to keep vigil by his bedside. We want him to know he is not alone in facing this big crisis in his life, and we are there to keep him company and lend him support.

Until last month, my father was able to look after himself, managing daily chores such as eating, dressing and bathing all on his own without any help. Every now and then, he would get my helper to accompany him downstairs to the HDB void deck to chat with neighbours.

It pains me to see him in this condition. He was looking forward to his 90th birthday next month. We were also planning to make a trip to the Fujian ancestral village where he grew up during the upcoming Deepavali holiday.

For me, the cruellest blow is the unexpectedness of the situation, which leaves us ill-prepared for what we are facing.

My father believed that he would live to be as old as my aunt in Hong Kong, who is now 106.

Until this calamity struck him, he would brush off any talk about what should be done if something happened to him. He felt that he could be tempting fate if he discussed the subject.

I can understand why.

The writer at Gardens by the Bay earlier this year with his father, who is now unconscious and in intensive care at hospital. PHOTO: COURTESY OF GOH ENG YEOW

Most us don't want to face the end of life, and we don't want to plan for it. There is so much apprehension surrounding the topic that it is understandable why we don't focus on it.

But a close friend who had been caught in a similar predicament advised me that it is time to do some planning. It is a phase of life which all of us have to go through, he said.

Now, I find that I am having to second-guess my father's intentions because he has not spelt them out clearly - and I am wondering if I have figured them out correctly.

Keeping him on feeding tubes and hooked to a breathing machine is heartbreaking, considering the active life he led until recently.

But I also have to finally face up to crucial issues such as the final resting place and the last rites.

Thinking about them stresses me out completely because he can offer me no guidance on these matters.

Every day my father lives is a bonus day for me. However, staying in ICU can be very costly. Even if a patient is admitted to a C-class ward, where he can get up to 80 per cent subsidy on his hospital stay, the bill can still add up to a sizeable sum.

My father is insured under MediShield Life, which allows claims of up to $100,000 to be made in each policy year. But there is a portion of the bill which still has to be settled in cash.

He still has some money in his Central Provident Fund (CPF) Medisave account. If and when that sum is depleted, I have sufficient resources to foot the cash portion of the bill not covered by MediShield Life.

Others may not be as fortunate. That is why it is important for a person to execute a Lasting Power of Attorney to appoint one or more of their loved ones to act on his behalf as a proxy decision-maker if he should lose his mental capacity.

This move will enable them to get access to funds in his bank account to help pay for his hospital bills and maintenance if he is incapacitated.

Then, there is also the delicate question of how to handle his financial assets eventually.

Lawyers always emphasise the importance of making a will and arranging your financial matters clearly while you are still around, so that your loved ones do not have to go through the pain of unravelling your assets and money after you are gone.

As I said earlier, this is one subject that few of us want to broach.

But it would make a big difference if we knew that my father had made a will and if he had let us know where it was kept.

If a person hasn't made a will, the assets have to be divided in accordance with Singapore's intestacy laws. But intestacy rules are inflexible, and the way in which the assets are subdivided might not reflect how a person would have wanted the distribution to be done.

That could cause a problem, especially if the person leaves behind a flat and the inheritance has to be subdivided among beneficiaries, some of whom might not be living in it.

In extreme cases, and in the absence of a surviving joint owner, the other beneficiaries, who are still occupying the flat, might be forced to sell the property and be driven out of their home if they don't have the resources to buy the other beneficiaries out.

How about money in the CPF account? The CPF website spells out that, for members who have made a nomination, the distribution will be made based on what they have specified.

Otherwise, their CPF savings will be transferred to the Public Trustee's Office to be distributed to their family members under the intestacy laws.

There is also the question of the safe deposit box.

Many older folks rent such boxes at a bank to keep their valuables. But the problem is that they treat the box like a personal belonging, and some don't disclose to their loved ones details such as the bank's name, the box number or where the key is kept.

This could pose a big problem if they keep their wills and other important documents inside.

In such situations, the beneficiaries will need to seek a court order to access the contents of the box - or even to determine if there was a safe deposit box.

Most Singaporeans also own some shares. What happens to their shares in the Central Depository when they die?

The issue becomes even more complicated when they own foreign shares as well, and a different set of laws apply.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, most of us would end up engaging a lawyer to handle such matters for us. That could turn out to be very expensive if we are not careful.

Therefore, the kindest act that a person can do for his loved ones is to do his homework and leave a plan - then go out and enjoy life to the fullest.

And this plan should include having a will, a Lasting Power of Attorney, and an Advance Medical Directive, as well as naming CPF beneficiaries.

Don't let your loved ones get caught in the difficult bind that I now find myself in, with no instructions, no plan and no direction as to what to do. That only adds to the anguish which I am experiencing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 08, 2017, with the headline 'Don't leave your loved ones in a bind'. Print Edition | Subscribe