What does it mean when someone tells you to put your affairs in order?


Getting your affairs in order can be emotionally difficult to do.

A life-limiting or life-ending diagnosis means it’s time to pay attention to a few important planning issues.

Who can help you

Our BC Notaries would be happy to discuss estate planning with you:

Linda Caisley at Kelowna-Downtown
Fraser McKinnon at Penticton
Larry Stevens at Kelowna-Enterprise
Debra van Beers at Westbank

Our BC Lawyers would be happy to discuss estate planning with you:

Jaime Boyle at Kelowna-Downtown
Daniel K. Lo at Penticton
Keith Martens at Kelowna-Enterprise & Spall

We’ve all heard the phrase “it’s time to get your affairs in order” before, usually on television. But is this a real thing? Does this really happen?

How doctors give bad news

Much research has been done over the years about the way in which people receive bad news, and how they process it. As a result, the way in which doctors give us life-limiting or life-ending diagnoses has changed.

So you likely won’t hear doctors simply say to you “it’s time to get your affairs in order” now.

Many doctors will now follow some version of the “SPIKE” methodology of delivering this kind of news to patients:

  • set up an appropriate time and place to tell the patient the news
  • ask the patient about their perceptions: what do you know about your situation so far?
  • invite the patient to tell you how much information they want from you, and how it should be presented: do you want to hear a summary of the results, or should I go through the details with you?
  • share the knowledge – tell the patient about the results or diagnosis with the patient, using clear, plain language and warning the patient that you are about to give them bad news: I’m sorry to tell you that…
  • acknowledge and address the patient’s emotional response – sit (and be emotionally present) with the patient, let them express their emotions, and acknowledge those emotions

When you go through this experience as a patient, you will go through several stages of emotional processing.

You may have heard of the Kubler-Ross Five Emotional Stages of Grief – this work is one of many models that talks about how people process grief and death.

While many people think that the Kubler-Ross model applies only to how you process the death of another family member, this model has also been applied to how people deal with hearing devastating personal news, such as “you have terminal cancer”, or “you have dementia”.

The stages in the Kubler-Ross model (very generally) involve:

  • denial and isolation: a shock response
  • anger: anger at others, at care-givers, at God, at yourself
  • bargaining and postponing: “God, if you cure me, I’ll….” “I’m going to make it to my birthday…”
  • depression: mourning for the loss of what you will not get to do or see
  • acceptance: the simple recognition of facts, usually without emotionality

Using the word “stages” to describe these thought patterns can be misleading – these “stages” do not happen in order; some stages last far longer than others; sometimes you will think you are done with one stage and then you fall back into it again; sometimes 2 or 3 of these stages will hit you all at once.

Processing bad news is messy and emotional; it takes time and active care and attention to get through these stages.

How can BC Notaries and lawyers help?

You will have many questions for your health care providers about what you are about to go through.

Psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and ministers may be important additional sources of assistance to you when considering how to deal with your health or personal care issues.

Where we (your BC Notaries and lawyers) come in is in helping you get all of your legal questions answered, and helping you ensure you have a plan that will:

  • make sure your wishes for health care and personal care are carried out
  • make sure your end-of-life wishes are known, so they can be followed
  • deal with your property and your debts
  • deal with guardians or other people or pets you care for
  • ensure you have the paperwork in place to let others help you, or let others wind up your affairs for you after you have gone
  • point you to resources that you might want, need or have questions about

Making a Plan

The first thing to do is make a plan for your financial and legal affairs.

This is known as an estate plan.

We do that by helping you:

  • assess where you are at the moment with your life, focusing on your financial and legal affairs
  • determine your goals – what do you want to achieve?
  • make a plan
  • implement the plan


Assessment involves reviewing all of your property and debts, determining ownership methodologies, and what happens to those assets when you pass.

For many of us, we might know generally what our assets are, but if you have owned these assets for a long time, it may be that you have forgotten who the beneficiaries are, or how they are owned. But these details are actually incredibly important, and they tell us how your assets will pass on your death.

For example, do your RRSPs or RRIFs have the correct designated beneficiaries? Do you own your home as a sole owner, as joint tenants, or tenants in common? How are your cars registered? Are you a co-signor for any loans or mortgages?

Now, let’s consider your obligations to others: do you have any children that need guardians appointed? Any special needs beneficiaries? Any businesses that need to be wound up, sold or managed? Any obligations under contracts or agreements with any other people? Are you holding assets in trust for anyone? All of these issues need to be dealt with.

You may want to talk to a financial planner or an accountant as part of this assessment process as well.

You may also want certain of your family members to help you in this process, which is great, but please be aware that when it comes time to taking your instructions, we will want to meet with you alone, to ensure that you are making these very important decisions without being unduly influenced, or coerced, into something you didn’t really want to do.


It may seem odd to think about goals if you have just been diagnosed with a life-limiting or life-ending illness. But this is precisely the time to set goals, or to make sure that the goals you may already have are still valid. If we don’t know what you want to happen with your property, we can’t come up with a plan to make those goals happen.

Make a Plan

A plan doesn’t have to be complicated. We can help you with that, so don’t let this part of the process frighten you.

It’s completely okay to come in with no idea of what you want to do at all, and say to us “I don’t even know where to start. Help.”

Your plan doesn’t have to be fancy. Even if your plan is simply “make a Will to appoint executors and distribute my assets”, that will help. The goal is to make sure your wishes are carried out, and a plan is the way to do that.

Implement the Plan

This may mean visiting your bank, or investment firm to change up assets, or it may mean making documents like Wills, trusts, Powers of Attorney or Representation Agreements.

We will help you come up with a list of things that need to be done to make sure your plan happens.

Planning for incapacity

It’s one thing to plan for your death. But it’s also important to plan for what happens if you are going to be experiencing a degenerative disease such as dementia, Parkinson’s Disease or ALS, or a sudden catastrophic (but not fatal) incident like a stroke, heart attack or accident.

If you have a catastrophic, non-fatal health incident, your bills will still need to be paid, you still need to chose how to live, and decisions will still need to be made about your health.

You are presumed capable of dealing with your financial, health and personal care needs yourself if you are a capable adult.

If you lose capacity to deal with any of these issues, it’s important to have a person appointed to help you with these issues – we can’t tell, looking from the outside, who the right people in your life are, and in most cases, the law doesn’t allow us to make assumptions about who should speak for you if you become incapable.

  • your spouse might not be the right choice for these issues because:
    • you just married them in Las Vegas two months ago, and your adult children know you better
    • they don’t do well with illness, or faint at the sight of blood
    • they are frail or sick themselves
    • they don’t know how to deal with finances
  • one of your children might be “louder” than the others, but not necessarily a better choice for any of these support requirements
  • your best friend might know you best, but they might be constantly fighting with your children
  • any one of your family members might be too caught up in their own emotions to ensure YOUR wishes are heard and carried out

If you haven’t appointed a person to deal with these areas of your life – financial, health and personal care – then it may be necessary for your family to get a court order to allow them to deal with you or your affairs.

Your spouse and children do not have an automatic right to be able to step in and deal with these issues on your behalf.

Plan before you’re told too

Planning for these issues now can save you and your family many legal issues and unnecessary stress and cost in the future at a time when being together is most important.

Any of our BC Notaries and lawyers would be happy to discuss estate planning, incapacity planning or more with you.


			December 11, 2017 11:03 am 
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