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Have you written your will or do you keep putting it off until later?

last will and testament imageArticle by Dr Lynda Shaw

Do we avoid writing our will? Dr Lynda Shaw discusses some of the reasons why we might be putting it off and why we fear our own death.

Our culture’s preoccupation with suppressing feelings and fear of facing our own mortality means Britons are not successfully managing their will and estate,

Is it the fear of death?

So what is the psychology behind our fear of death? To put it simply, it is the fear of the unknown or the terror of the emotional impact that there is nothing. There is a psychological concept called the Terror Management Theory. This focuses on our fear and possible denial of death despite knowing its inevitability. We try to hide from the reality of death by seeking out distractions or manage the fear by following a religion that supports beliefs in life after death.

We are scared to talk about death, particularly our own. It feels morbid.  It is very much a cultural problem, unlike in many Asian cultures where it is perfectly natural to talk about death.  As a result, we choose to sweep death under the carpet which means we are not fulfilling our obligation to organise our estate and are instead leaving it to our loved ones to clean up the mess and deal with complicated financial problems when we die. Nearly 6 out of 10 UK adults don’t have a will, including one in three over-55’s, (according to research from Unbiased.co.uk )

Needing a will should not be ignored

Smokers typically know that it will probably end up killing them but detaching themselves from this reality means they can carry on regardless. Some cultural values and religions usually promote the idea of an afterlife which comforts us as it offers a possibility that death is not the end.  Whatever your beliefs though the practicalities of needing a will in this life cannot be ignored.

According to Terror Management Theory, the anxiety caused by mortality is a major motivator behind many human behaviours and cognitions. In our society in particular, the culture of the British ‘stiff upper lip’ promotes behaviours that have led to us not talking about death making it inevitable that writing a will is something we are reluctant to address.

However,  addressing death can actually be a good thing with positive transformational effects. Becoming more aware of death can completely change ones perspective of life. It can be extremely liberating. It may lead to fewer anxieties and worries about the smaller things in life and instead help us embrace the present. Many people who have had a near death experience talk of becoming less selfish and materialistic, and more ambitious in every area of their life with less fear of failure.”

Writing a will can be a positive experience

Adopting such an attitude will help us become less afraid of writing a will. “Writing a will can be a positive experience. You are doing something responsible that is ensuring your family’s security and relieving them of the burden. It isn’t a dark experience. We must accept that death is inevitable and make peace with it and act appropriately in writing a will.”

The problem is compounded by our mistaken belief that our assets will automatically be distributed amongst our nearest and dearest in the absence of a will. “When somebody dies without leaving a will, their assets are divided up according to strict government guidelines, often incurring financial penalties for the family left behind. This can cause huge stress and arguments within the family which could easily be avoided.”

Have you made your will, or is it something you have put off until later?


Image Credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

Dr Lynda Shaw

Dr Lynda Shaw has lectured in Psychology and Neuroscience at Brunel University and conducted research on brain function and impairment, specialising in consciousness, emotion and the effects of ageing

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