Isn’t it About Time You Made a Will? 0

couple holding hands

Most of us plan on making a will – one day. One of these days, we think. One, far-off day, when we have a bit of time free, and nothing better to do. I should really get on that.

But every year, thousands of us die without one. 60% of Brits don’t have a will. And while that number dwindles as we get older, the consequences of dying without a will when you’re young can be, in a way, even more devastating.

Alex and Nic’s story

In 2018, Alex and her husband Nic were starting a family. A “typical London couple,” the two of them had met online 10 years before, and had been married for 4. Now settled into their own home, they’d started planning for a baby. But all that was derailed in an instant when Nic died of a pulmonary embolism.

He was just 39.

“You don’t expect someone of 39 just to drop down dead,” Alex says. “He just died very, very suddenly.” Nic had a blood clot in his leg, which travelled to his lungs and became a fatal pulmonary embolism. The condition often strikes out of the blue, and rapidly becomes deadly. Sufferers can be almost any age.

“My whole world exploded,” Alex says. “A decade’s worth of building a life, of hopes and ideas of what the future will be, was just ripped apart.”

“You don’t think the worst is going to happen to you, but, actually, it does happen.”

Nic hadn’t made a will. While the two of them had discussed it – the latest conversation being just a week before Nic’s death – the task hadn’t been high on their to-do list as future parents.

“Life just gets in the way, and you never think it’s that urgent, do you?” Alex explains. “Most of my friends are in their mid-30s, and they have kids, and they don’t have a will. Now, I try to tell people: ‘You don’t think the worst is going to happen to you but, actually, it does happen to people.’”

With Nic gone and no will, Alex had the heartbreaking task of trying to guess what he would have wanted. A funeral had to be planned; Nic’s belongings had to go somewhere; their home, with its mortgage, had to be accounted for – and all without any instructions. It was hard.

“You’re doing your best, but you don’t actually know if it’s what the person would have wanted.”

“Telling institutions that, as a spouse, you’re entitled to this, that or the other is tricky, because it’s not clear what he wanted, necessarily,” Alex says.

That lack of direction hit hard on an emotional level, as well. For Nic’s funeral, Alex wanted a cremation with a Humanist ceremony, like their wedding – while some of his family would have preferred a Catholic ceremony.

In the end, Alex chose the Humanist option. But that was “based on a gut feeling,” about what Nic would have preferred, she explains. “And that feels terrible, because you’re doing your best, but you don’t actually know if it’s what the person would have wanted.”

“I guess people get too upset to talk about these things because they don’t want to think about their death. But it meant that I was angry with him for a while, because he was disorganised – and he should have prioritised this aspect of our lives.”

“You don’t want to debase what you’re feeling by talking about money.”

The lack of will wasn’t the only issue. Nic had a pension, but as it was set up before Alex and Nic were together, the beneficiary was his mother. The pension provider refused to make a change that would recognise Alex’s arguably greater claim as Nic’s spouse, only eventually compromising on a 50-50 split. Alex and her mother-in-law had to agree a final, much fairer, settlement between themselves.

“Luckily, you know, she’s an incredibly kind woman and she was happy with that,” Alex says. “But not everyone would have done that.

It’s a terrible thing to think about at a moment in your life when you’re grieving, and you don’t want to debase what you’re feeling by talking about money.”

In the end, Alex was saved a lot of hardship by something almost incidental. While Nic hadn’t made any provisions just in case something happened to him, his workplace had a ‘death in service’ policy that meant that she received enough money to pay off a lot of the mortgage.

It could have been much worse, she admits. “We were just at a point where I was getting ready to be pregnant and to be way more reliant on him financially. I’d already taken a slightly less-stressful job, and all of that stuff that women do. And yet he didn’t have a will or life insurance. It was just sheer luck that he worked for a company that had good employment benefits.”

“I consider myself lucky.”

Alex’s status as Nic’s wife also meant that under intestacy law, she could inherit most of his estate. Other bereaved partners aren’t so fortunate.

“We were married, and so I had a certain level of legal protection, even if we hadn’t got around to doing a will,” Alex says.

“I’ve heard stories from people who weren’t married to their long-term partner, and so their partner’s parents came and took away X, Y or Z amount of money, or whatever they could take – and they’re not even considered the next-of-kin. My heart goes out to them, because it all gets much blurrier.

“I miss Nic more than I can say. But I still consider myself lucky, because it could have been so much worse.”

A year and a half on, Alex is finally in a better position, at least, financially. But she has some advice for those who are putting off making their wills: “Stop procrastinating and get on with it! And have honest conversations with your friends and family. Even if he’d told his mum what he wanted, but not me, I wouldn’t care.

“Obviously, you should formalise it in a will, but just writing down anything about what you want will make a difference. Just get on and do it.”

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What Happens to Your Body When You Die? 0

What happens to your body when you die

What happens to your body when you die? It might seem like the very definition of a morbid question. But there’s actually something fascinating – even beautiful – about the transformation the human body undergoes when life ends.

Plus, unlike the question of where your soul goes, we actually know a lot about what happens to the body after death. Here’s the lowdown.

 

What happens to the body immediately after death?

Right from the moment of your death, your body starts to change.

 

Your heart stops beating 

What happens to your body when you die - human heart

When the heart stops beating, blood stops moving around the body. This has a few immediate effects:

  • Pallor mortis: you turn pale as blood drains from the upper-facing side of your body. This may not be noticeable if you’re not light-skinned, though.
  • Algor mortis: your body begins to cool down from its usual 37°C, at a rate of about 0.8°C an hour. Sometimes known as ‘Death Chill’ (which is also a great band name).

 

All your muscles relax

Tension falls out of your face, skin sags, and your jaw may fall open. Laugh lines smooth out (a plus). But sometimes, your bowels empty as well, since sphincters stop closing (a big minus).

 

Hospital staff tidy you up

Don’t worry though – you won’t stay messy for long. If you’ve died in hospital, the staff there will perform ‘last offices’ within the hour: cleaning you and arranging you neatly. If not, the funeral director will do this slightly later.

In some cases, a post mortem will take place after a death. That’s a medical examination to find out how someone has died. It’s typically for people who have died suddenly, rather than after a long (already diagnosed) illness.

 

Your body turns on itself

The human body is packed with enzymes that help us with things like digestion. While you’re alive, they’re harmless. But within minutes of your death, they leak out and turn their attention to breaking down cells in your body, starting with your liver and brain (the tasty parts). The process is called autolysis.

 

What happens to your body in the first few hours after death?

What happens to your body when you die can tell crimefighters a lot. Starting with…

 

Livor mortis makes you black and blue

With your heart no longer pumping, your blood obeys the laws of gravity. As it drains from the upward-facing side of your body, it pools on the underside, creating purplish bruise-like patches.

Did you know? The placement of livor mortis patches help coroners determine if someone’s body has been moved after their death.

 

Rigor mortis gives you a stiff upper lip (and everything else)

What happens to your body when you die - twitching

Your body begins to stiffen up and fixes in one position. This begins 2-6 hours after your death, and starts with your eyelids and neck. Rigor mortis starts to wear off within a day or two. If you can die in an amusing position, so much the better.

 

You may even sigh, groan and twitch

Yes, sometimes dead bodies flex a little as the muscles contract. And when you’re moved, air can escape your lungs, creating the occasional groan or sigh. Disconcerting for morgue staff on late-night shifts!

 

What do undertakers do to a body?

What happens to a body at the funeral home depends a lot on the wishes of the family. But here’s a rough guide.

 

Embalming becomes an option

At the family’s request, the funeral home staff may embalm your body. Embalming is a chemical preservation process that can drastically slow down decomposition. 

Unless your body is due to be sent abroad, embalming is not legally mandatory. People can still touch and spend time with your body without it. But it does keep you looking like you did when you were alive for longer (for better or worse). You can find out more about embalming here.

 

You get dolled up

What happens to your body when you die - shave

Whether you get embalmed or not, your body is washed and groomed. Nails will be trimmed, hair brushed and styled: that sort of thing. Make-up can be applied. If you’re usually clean-shaven, you will be given a shave. Family members can bring in a picture to show staff your usual ‘look’.

 

You’ll be chilling out

Usually there is a two or three week wait between a death and the funeral. So, bodies at the funeral home are kept very cold to slow down decomposition. 

 

You may receive visitors

If your family or friends would like to come and see your body before the funeral, you’ll be taken to a visiting room. This is often called the ‘chapel of rest’ or something similar. There, they can talk to you and even hold your hand.

 

What happens to the body in the first few days after you die?

If your body is embalmed or immediately refrigerated, it may take more time before the following processes kick in.

 

Bacteria have a gas

As cells break down and more enzymes leak out, your body becomes a feast for bacteria. These start in the gut (home to trillions of “friendly” bacteria) and work their way out. Gases released by the process cause your body to bloat up, sometimes to twice the size. 

Fluids, meanwhile, are pushed out: one of the reasons funeral directors pack the mouths, noses, ears and other orifices of the dead with cotton pads.

What happens to your body when you die - going green

 

You go green – and black

Blood cells leak, and bacteria turn the haemoglobin there into sulfhaemoglobin. This gives your skin a greenish hue, darkening and marbling into black in places.

 

Your skin can go walkabout

Within 2-3 days, something called “skin slippage” occurs. This is exactly what it sounds like. The build of fluids and gases in the body causes the outermost layer of skin to loosen and, in places, slip off. The skin underneath can be very slimy to the touch.

 

You smell less-than-pleasant – to humans…

Other by-products of the bacteria party in your body are cadaverine and putrescine. These aptly-named substances give bodies their distinctive odour. This in turn attracts visitors: tiny blowflies that come to join in the fun.

 

What happens to the body after death in a coffin?

Most funerals take place two to three weeks after the death. What happens to the body after burial (we’re assuming you’re not cremated here) is again variable. In very cold and very hot places, decomposition is slowed. Sometimes, mummification happens. But here’s a general overview.

 

Bloating intensifies 

Like someone in a yoghurt advert, your body continues to bloat. Unlike someone in a yoghurt advert, it liquefies inside, and more fluid and gas will be released. It may eventually split open due to the pressure. 

 

What happens to your body when you die attracts flies

Insects get busy

Remember the blowflies from earlier? They laid eggs, and those eggs will hatch into maggots. In certain ‘perfect’ conditions, there can be so many maggots that it increases the inside temperature of the body by 10°C. These attract other hungry insects, like beetles, and spiders.

All this might sound kind of horrible. But your body helps create new life. Maggots and worms are eaten by beetles, and both are eaten by birds. Nutrients enter the soil and enrich it. It’s nothing to be frightened of.

 

Your hair and nails fall out

About a month after you die, your hair and nails fall out as the skin beneath decays. They don’t disappear, though: after the skeleton, hair in particular is one of the last things to go.

 

You dry out

Once your soft inner tissues have decomposed, your body becomes dry and brittle. You’re left with bones, hair, cartilage and the sticky residue of decay. Larger beetles move in. Skin sags, and you look “caved in”.

 

What happens to your body when you die - dancing skeletons

Skeletonisation occurs

Basically, you’re just bones. The skeleton decays at a much, much slower rate than the rest of your body. 

At around 10°C, it takes roughly four months for the skeleton to be fully exposed. But it takes years for the skeleton to crumble – although this is helped along by acids in the soil, funghi and bacteria. To the joy of archaeologists everywhere, they can survive centuries.

 


 

That’s it! Everything you might want to know about what happens to a body in a casket over time, or what happens in the first few minutes.

Feeling queasy? If you have strong feelings about what should happen to your body when the time finally comes, don’t forget to make plans ahead of time. Discover our flexible funeral plans here.

And for more information on death and funeral topics, don’t forget to check out the rest of our blog!

Comparing Attitudes to Wills 0

What happens after we die?

It’s a spiritual question for some. For others, it’s about what happens to our money, belongings and reputation – the mark we leave on the world.

The UK's Attitude to Wills

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