未知死,焉知生?──預立遺囑

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1998 / 10月

文‧李光真 圖‧卜華志



「對不起,我的家人,我無法信守諾言與你們廝守一生……。孩子們,媽媽有錄好的錄音帶和錄影帶,可以看到、聽到媽媽的聲音,還有每天要記得刷牙、洗手,要乖乖聽話,好好吃飯,好好孝順奶奶與爸爸……」摘錄自《最後的許諾》一書中,一位血癌母親的遺囑。

「人生,是向死的存在」,西方哲學家海德格如是說。然而,死亡這普世唯一的真理,卻一向是國人的禁忌話題。誰要是好端端提起這兩個字,別人一定「呸!呸!呸!」三聲,就怕招來晦氣,「一語成讖」。

最後的欺瞞?

即使家有垂危病人、死亡陰影已迫在眉睫,這類話題依舊極少攤開來談。被尊為國內「安寧照顧之母」的台南成大醫學院護理學系副教授趙可式指出,成大醫學院附設醫院自今年六月初成立安寧病房以來,三個月間照護過上百名癌症末期病人。令她震驚的是,「臨終前知道自己罹患癌症的人,不到怳壑坐@!」

「許多病人都是糊里糊塗『走』的,」趙可式無奈地說。也有病人會私下偷偷問醫生,「我到底得什麼病,怎麼越醫越糟糕?」等知道答案後,患者自己很認命,卻叮囑醫生說,「我太太很脆弱,受不了這種打擊,請醫師千萬不要把我的病情告訴她!」

就這樣,醫生、病人和家屬三方「騙來騙去」,都假裝死亡還很遙遠,都不敢、不忍或不願意去揭穿這最後的謊言。當死亡終於降臨時,即使是夫妻、母子至親,也往往沒有留下一句交代、甚至沒有互道珍重,就這樣不告而別,空留遺恨。

有著漫長死亡過程的癌症病患都如此,那些遭到空難、車禍等意外身亡的就更不用提了。這樣的遺憾看多後,國內逐漸有一些宗教、老人社團挺身而出,希望能打破禁忌,推動「預立遺囑」。

去年因舉辦「最後的許諾」遺囑徵文比賽而備受矚目的佛教蓮花臨終關懷基金會董事長、三峽恩主公醫院院長陳榮基指出,傳統中,國人沒有預立遺囑的習慣,或許是以前的社會很單純,尊卑倫理很清楚,家中父親或長子就可以決定一切,就算發生爭執也有族長出面調停。然而時代變了,多元的價值觀加上個人主義盛行,為了避免紛爭、讓生死雙方都了無遺憾,「預立遺囑」是有必要的。

身後事,自己來

預立遺囑要談些什麼?別的不說,「自己身後這副臭皮囊要怎麼處置,總要交代一聲吧,」陳榮基說。

在台安醫院服務多年的蔡姓護理師,看過一位糖尿病引發多器官衰竭的老太太,即使七怞h歲又罹患重病,卻對自己的病情絕口不提,家人也不敢開口探問,結果老太太彌留之際,六、七個兒女竟為了「要不要趕快更衣沐浴」開始爭執、怒目相向。有的兒女深信「不能讓媽媽光著身體上路」、有的認為「身體在臨終前後絕對不能觸摸、搬動,以免干擾母親往生淨土」……。每個人都堅持自己的意見才是「對媽媽最好的」,越吵越大聲,最後被看不下去的護理人員轟出病房。

趙可式看過一個更荒謬的例子:一位有錢有勢的老先生在罹患癌症去世後,因為子女各有宗教信仰、又要藉著舉辦盛大喪禮來彰顯人脈和權勢,結果老先生死後竟歷經五場喪禮,從天主教、基督教、佛教、道教一應俱全;每次吹鑼打鼓一番後又將遺體加打防腐劑、冰回冷凍庫,等著下次重新上場!

「這簡直是把父母的喪事當兒戲了,」趙可式說,如果當初最有權利決定自己身後事的病患能白紙黑字立下遺囑,做一番清楚的交代,甚至再找幾名至親好友當見證人,也就不會累及屍身遭此折磨了。

事實上,「身後事自己來」的人並不少,住在新竹的顏老將軍,早在二怞h年前就開始預立遺囑、每年年初固定拿出來審視一番。顏老將軍往生後,子女將密封的遺囑拆開,發現裡面不僅詳細交代喪葬事宜、需要通知的親朋名冊及地址,甚至連訃文及平生事略都自己寫好了,讓子女對父親的豁達與自我負責的風範感念不已。

當然,「黃泉路上無老少」,預立遺囑絕不只是重症患者或老人的事,終日奔波、承受著事業壓力的青壯年族,同樣應該隨時做好死亡準備。只是青壯年族若要立囑,最惦記不下的,可能是未成年子女的監護問題。

心肝寶貝託給誰?

目前也大力推廣「預囑」理念的台北市長德老人基金會董事長郭均祥舉例,前年柬甫寨空難中有多位同屬獅子會的台商罹難。其中一位是個單親爸爸,他的妻子於三年前因癌症去世,自己獨力撫養兩個年幼的孩子;誰又料到老天作弄,孩子竟會淪為父母雙亡的孤兒。

由於這位台商在生前並未立下遺囑,雙方家族為了爭奪孩子的監護權、以及隨監護權而來的龐大遺產管理權,不惜對簿公堂。爭取最力的,是死者財務狀況不佳的兄弟,而太太娘家的姊妹雖然從小呵護孩子長大、和孩子很親,卻可能會敗訴。據傳這位罹難者還托夢給好友,泣訴自己的不安,希望在孩子的監護權沒有結果前,不要將他下葬。

因為這樣的案例不少,郭均祥特別呼籲,經常奔波各地、尤其是在治安不佳的大陸、東南亞、拉丁美洲經商的台商,必須要有風險意識;此外,一肩挑起育兒重擔的單親家長們,為了避免自己發生意外後孩子所託非人,一定要早早預立遺囑。

從身後事、子女監護權延伸出去,財產雖是身外之物,卻是一般遺囑的焦點所在;這也常是家人最惦記、偏偏將往生者最不願意鬆口的部份。

最後的心防──財產

在新店耕莘醫院安寧病房聖若瑟之家擔任牧靈工作已經四年的周長旗修女,看過許多臨終病人與家屬,為了錢事而心有不安、甚至互相怨懟。她舉例,有位五怞h歲的企業家,發現自己罹患肺癌後,不過幾個月病情就急轉直下,最後住進安寧病房。這位企業家的三個女兒均已成年,可是平日很少過問父親的事業。眼看著父親不久人世,母女們心裡雖著急,卻又不敢、不忍心向他提起這件事,只好請託周修女去探探口風。

「我問他,老伯,目前你還滿清醒的,你有沒有想過,你的事業要轉給誰?公司的重要文件在哪裡?你的債權、債務有哪些?家裡的人應該要怎樣幫你處理?你的家人為了這些事情滿不安的,你想不想跟他們做一點交代?」

周長旗還記得,她問這些話時,病患面無表情,聽若罔聞。但不出幾天,病患太太來謝謝她,原來病患其實有聽進去,而且默默在著手處理了。

「這種時候,往往越是親密的人越不能啟齒,反倒像我們這種沒有利害關係、也沒有太重感情包袱的第三者,可以扮演很重要的橋樑工作,」周長旗感嘆。

長期待在安寧病房,看過無數生離死別,周長旗深深體認到,金錢不光是代表購買力,還具有太多的象徵意義。能不能保有錢財,關乎一個人的安全感、尊嚴和自我控制的能力;願不願意把錢財交託出去,則代表他對周圍親人的信任、好惡甚或獎懲、賞罰。

許多人一味否認大限將至的事實,總把希望寄託在「說不定明天就有新藥物出現」的幻想上;即使病得下不了床,他們仍不肯向家人透露自己的全盤財務狀況。也有老人家把財產當做操控子女的工具,堅持要「留到最後一分鐘」,看看那個子女最孝順、最體貼,再決定財產要怎麼分。

「金錢是臨終者最後的心防,」周長旗建議,家人在鼓起勇氣提出這個問題後,不要忘了用加倍的耐心和愛心陪伴臨終者,切莫讓臨終者深感寒心,抱恨而終。

用遺囑「養老防兒」!

在《金錢心理學》一書中,美國作家魏斯曼指出,人類制訂遺產制度的起源,可以追溯到遠古時期,原始人為了安撫下一代,以免自己年老體衰時被野心勃勃的兒子們分食驅逐而做的設計;歷史上一再重演的故事也說明,最赤裸裸而慘絕的,往往是父子間的財產權位之爭。

曾在國稅局任職的郭均祥,有著豐富的遺產稅承辦經驗。他表示,國稅局每年都會查到幾件為了爭產、侵佔或是竄改遺囑而引發的人倫悲劇,這也是促使他推動預囑的原因之一。

郭均祥記得,有一位企業董事長,在病危送入加護病房時,他的幼子迫於債務,偷拿父親的印鑑去開保險箱,盜賣了父親的股票。本以為這件事神不知鬼不覺,沒想到老先生的病情居然一天天好轉,這下子兒子慌了手腳,狗急跳牆下潛進加護病房,把氧氣桶關掉三分鐘!父親去世後,精明的母親越想越起疑,把三個兒子叫來質問,果然問出了自己最怕聽到的答案,這位母親當場昏倒。

「如果這位企業家的重要文件及保險箱都用親筆簽名代替印鑑;如果他有預立遺囑,把各項財產交代清楚;如果他的預立遺囑有見證人,請問兒子還敢侵佔父親遺產,最後弄得不可收拾嗎?」郭均祥指出,「古人是『養兒防老』,現代人卻要靠預立遺囑來『養老防兒』!」這番話或許尖刻,卻是他多年來的經驗之談。

從另一方面來看,林玫卿律師指出,現代工商社會,人際關係和財務糾葛往往錯綜複雜,因此預立遺囑,是一種負責任的態度,為的是「避免孩子們繼承到這些紛爭。」

例如許多人為了節稅,把車子、股票甚至存款掛在朋友名下,由於借用人頭是欠對方人情,誰又好意思要求對方寫借據?家人縱然有所耳聞,然而一旦人死了,在沒有白紙黑字、登錄確鑿的情況下,對方若是不認帳,家人往往催討無門。

法條外的心願

此外,民法「繼承編」中,關於財產由誰繼承、如何分配,有著粗略的規定。然而冷冰冰的法條無法涵蓋人世千絲萬縷的牽掛和心意,「除非你相信每位親人都是深明大義,不貪不伎,否則最好是白紙黑字立下遺囑,才能貫徹你的意思,」林玫卿指出。

林玫卿解釋,依據繼承法,繼承的第一順位是死者的子女,第二順位是其父母,第三則是兄弟姊妹。死者的配偶雖然不排入順位,卻有著當然的繼承權。法條同時規定,死者有子女時,其財產由配偶和子女平均分配;如果亡者沒有子女但有父母,則配偶可以獨得一半,另一半才由亡者的父母平分。

然而,「法條的公平是表面公平,卻往往不符合實際需要,」郭均祥指出。譬如老先生去世後有一百萬遺產,由老太太和三個子女平分,各分得四分之一、也就是二怳飛U元。然而,子女年富力強、老太太卻沒有收入,真要靠那區區四分之一遺產,如何能安度晚年?甚至老太太住的房子因為是和子女共同繼承、「公同共有」的,如果有不孝子硬逼著要賣房子分產,老太太就要流離失所了。

為了避免老伴在自己身後頓失所依,林玫卿點出幾項一般人可用的立囑技巧。譬如繼承法中規定,自己財產的一半可以自由支配,不受法律的限制。因此老先生不妨在預立遺囑時明訂一半財產歸給老伴,另外一半再由老伴和三個子女平分。換句話說,老太太可以獨得六怳G•五萬的遺產,大大減輕了晚年的經濟壓力。如果不願意子女擅自變賣房屋,還可以在遺囑中加註「遺產在怞~內不能分割」的條款,做為一種「保持現有狀態」的手段。

怳@份同意書的難題

林玫卿特別提醒,在許多情況下,一般人籠統的、「你們兄弟姊妹要平分,不要相爭」之類的交代只會替後人增添麻煩、埋下手足失和的伏筆。

譬如一棟房子讓三個兒女平分,意味著賣房子時必須要三個人都蓋章才算數,可是老大急著要賣房子時,老二可能嫌房市景氣不好不肯賣,於是街頭巷尾多的是一「凍」抴X二怞~而無法動彈的房子,徒然糟蹋了先人奮鬥的成果和嘉惠子孫的心意。

最近就有兩個令人扼腕的例子,一是台北鬧市有棟透天厝,因為兄弟間意見擺不平而被棄置,最後淪為遊民避難所,直到有遊民暴斃其中才被媒體揭露。而國寶級攝影大師郎靜山過世後,封箱的作品遲遲無法重見天日,也是因為散居國內外的怳@個子女意見不一致。湊不齊這怳@份同意書,作品不能開箱,眼看就要潮濕毀壞,徒令藝文界人士大嘆無奈。

郭均祥則指出另一種情況,譬如一些企業負責人當初創業時,父母曾拿出大筆積蓄資助他,他則以定時奉養做為回饋。問題是這位企業主若不幸中年早逝時,除非他的子女自願拋棄繼承權,否則在繼承法上排第二順位的父母將落得兩手空空。結果公婆、媳婦為了爭產而形同仇寇,分不到財產的公婆去法院控告媳婦侵佔、遺棄,明知必然敗訴,也要給媳婦套上一個「不賢不孝」的罪名。

「遺贈」與「剝奪」

郭均祥指出,如果這個兒子當初有替父母設想過,不妨早早預立遺囑,在遺囑中表明自己若有三長兩短時,要將一定比例的財產「遺贈」給父母,就不至於發生至親間反目成仇的憾事了。

在林玫卿經手過的遺囑案件中,曾經碰過一位老太太,她早年被有了外遇的丈夫遺棄,卻堅守名分不肯離婚。多年來老太太不僅含辛茹苦把孩子養大,也靠著自己的能力購置產業。然而,當老太太罹患癌症後,想到自己一死,負心的丈夫還能來分產,分到的財產又會流到小老婆的子女手中,她就覺得怒火中燒、不能甘心。

其實,像這樣的情況,老太太可以立下書面遺囑,在遺囑中詳述自己被侮辱、虐待的情形,要求剝奪丈夫的繼承權,再經過法院的公證手續,就可以生效了。

林玫卿指出,法律不外人情,種種人生情境的曲折和無奈,其實都可以藉著有法律效力的遺囑事先規範,做好圓滿妥善的安排。只是大多數人不願花時間去瞭解、也不懂得利用,甚至認為「等老了、病了再想這些也不遲」。然而生命無常,一旦驟逝,除了家人苦惱外,最悔恨的還是無法瞑目的死者。

因此林玫卿呼籲大家,要建立「遺囑是一種健康檢查」的觀念,趁健康時預立遺囑、定期檢視修改,千萬不要像掛急診一樣,面臨生死關卡時才想到還有千言萬語沒有交代,結果在「不知從何說起」的無助感中,黯然無言地離世。

誰要聽你說!……

然而,正如許多人逃避健康檢查,只因他們不敢面對自己可能有病的現實,許多人不願預立遺囑,也是因為他們無法正視自己生命中的挫折和混亂。

前兩年空難頻傳,經營中小企業的游先生不諱言自己的憂懼,「要是我也有什麼三長兩短,我的公司一定垮。」然而,憂慮歸憂慮,他卻始終沒有預立遺囑、為死亡做準備。

「有什麼好立的呢?」游先生表示,他的財務狀況不穩定,兩座小工廠能不能在經濟凋敝的東南亞繼續存活都成問題;再說,由於和妻子聚少離多,他的婚姻處在破裂邊緣,萬一離婚,他也沒把握能不能拿到兩個孩子的監護權……。

「我的人生至今乏善可陳,現在寫遺囑有什麼意義?還是等我可以『蓋棺論定』的時候再說吧,」游先生語調悲哀地說。

有婚外情、卻多年來沒有曝光的王先生也認為自己的預囑是「寫不下去」的。對他來說,預立遺囑不啻婚外情的犯罪告白書,風險未免太高了。

「如果我要預立遺囑,我一定會將我那個沒有名分、也沒有繼承權的(私生)女兒納入『遺贈』名單,但這樣的遺囑若是不找見證人,將來我老婆就算看到遺囑,也可以一口咬定是偽造的;如果要找見證人、或是要留一份遺囑在我的小老婆那裡,萬一哪天被當做把柄、被人要脅,我也不願意。」

左思右想,「算了,真有三長兩短,她們要爭就隨她們去吧。」在員工面前最強調負責、誠信的王先生,明知這將是他人生中的最大敗筆,仍然選擇了「眼不見為淨」的逃避策略。

在母親病重時,曾經想過要不要「提醒」母親留下遺囑的張小姐,則有著另一番掙扎。

「我們家是很疏離、很冷漠、很緊張的那種家,從來沒有人會好好聽別人說話,也沒有人會向家人透露心事,」她的哥哥知道她想請母親立遺囑後勃然大怒,「死就死了,還留那些廢話做什麼!財產我們自己不會分嗎?」………

讓生死兩無憾

每一份遺囑,背後都有個曲折的人生故事,而越是人際關係複雜、世俗名利掛慮多的人,越難靜下心來,對過往人生好好做一次回顧與沈澱;也很難用短短幾頁的遺囑,將一生做個清楚的了斷。從這個角度出發,趙可式認為,思考死亡其實就是思考生命,唯有藉著觀照死亡,才能讓我們更有智慧、有力量去承擔生命的責任。

趙可式指出,一個人的死亡觀和人生觀是互相滲透的,對死亡有積極正面態度的人,往往也有比較積極的人生觀。

三怞h歲,已經立下預囑的鑫報副社長黃崇就是一個例子。雖然婚後選擇做個不生孩子的頂客族,但黃崇和太太都愛小孩,把兄姊的孩子視如己出。在目前的預囑版本中,他們將來的財物都會留給甥姪輩。

「雖然我也會顧到世俗上分多分少的公平原則,但我不會從金錢的角度去估量每件事物。」黃崇認為,遺產是一種紀念品、一項禮物,而不是錙銖必較的權利義務。未來資源更豐富後,他的最大心願是要捐贈公益事業,讓自己的努力更有意義、讓更多人分享。

「如果到了人生盡頭,我還是兩手空空,什麼也留不下來,我會覺得很痛苦、很窩囊的,」這樣的觀念,激勵著黃崇「要更奮發圖強」。

一個人生故事的終結

高雄市政府社會局長江綺雯指出,很多人會認為自己沒有什麼財產,何必立遺囑?「其實,遺囑可以包含理念的傳承、對後繼者的叮嚀,甚至人生恩怨的澄清與化解,」江綺雯說。像「國父遺囑」彰顯著那一代的革命情懷,令人緬懷再三;而一位臨終母親對幼子的細細叮囑,也同樣撼動人心。

「最怕的是生者憶及逝世的親人時,發現親人沒有留下隻字片語、沒有任何叮囑與道別,那種空虛,有時真會讓生者喪失向前邁進的勇氣,」江綺雯說。

台大哲學系副教授孫效智則認為,遺囑是個人意志在死後的延伸和貫徹,遺囑不可能做到完全公平,也沒有必要「取悅」每一位親人。然而,一份讓大家都心悅誠服的遺囑,絕不是光靠下筆那一刻的用心就能完成的,因此平日就應該和家人養成無所不談、坦誠溝通的習慣,「常談、深談,讓彼此的心貼近」。

「沒有有深度的人生價值觀、欠缺好好經營人生的能力,就不可能有好的死亡準備,」孔子曾說「未知生,焉知死?」然而孫效智卻認為這句話不妨改為「未知死,焉知生?」因此,推動預立遺囑,重點不在那張白紙黑字要怎麼寫,而是那張紙背後所反映的整個人生歷程,是生命教育的一環。

的確,每一則遺囑都彰顯著一種人生態度,是一個人生故事的終結,也是一個家庭關係的縮影。「未知死,焉知生?」你希望自己的故事有著怎樣的結尾呢?不妨現在就思考吧。

p.76

一封遺囑,幾幀照片,一個家族的故事就此綿延下去。(張良綱攝)

p.79

身後事何妨生前籌畫?可以為自己的人生劃下最合己意的句點。

p.81

遺囑在傳統社會中不是那麼必要,因為家有家規、族有族法,少有個人意志的表達空間。(邱瑞金攝)

p.83

「黃泉路上無老少」,車禍、火災、空難頻傳,若不早立遺囑,此時將空留多少憾恨?圖為華航大園空難現場一景。(陳正昌攝)

p,84

向晚人生,心頭是否掛慮重重,有千言萬語想交代?何妨藉遺囑釐清紛擾、盡情抒懷。

p.87

圓滿的臨終心境,要靠生命中踏踏實實的每一步來造就。在做死亡準備的同時,

人生也將更形開闊。

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近期文章

EN

Where There's a Will

Laura Li /photos courtesy of Pu Hua-chih /tr. by Jonathan Barnard


"Sorry, my family, I can not promise to be with you forever. . . . Children, Mama has recorded video and audio tapes, so that you can see Mama and hear her voice. You've got to remember every day to brush your teeth, wash your hands, be good and do what you're told, eat your food, and obey your grandma and father. . . ." This is a quote from the will of a woman with leukemia found in the book The Last Promise.

The philosopher Martin Heidegger described the most enlightened mode of life as "being-toward-death." Yet death, life's single absolute truth, is a taboo subject for Chinese. Anyone so uncouth as even to utter the non-euphemistic term for death in Chinese is apt to be greeted by a chant of "fie, fie, fie" from his listeners, who hope thus to avert tragedy.

The final lie

Even when a member of the family is ill, and the shadow of death looms close, it is still a topic rarely broached. Chao Ko-shih, an associate professor of nursing at National Cheng Kung Medical College in Tainan, who is known as "the mother of hospice care" for terminal cancer patients in Taiwan, points out that in the three months since a hospice for cancer patients was established at National Cheng Kung University Medical College Hospital, more than 100 patients were treated there, but "even on their death beds less than one-tenth knew they had cancer!"

"Many of the ill leave this world in a muddle," says Chao. Other patients privately ask doctors, "Exactly what do I have? How come the more I'm treated, the worse I get?" When they get the answer, some are quite philosophical about it themselves, but tell their doctors, "My wife is very fragile and can't handle blows of this sort. Whatever you do, please don't tell her about my condition!"

In this way, doctor, patient and family keep lying to each other, all pretending that death is a long way off, unwilling or unable to unmask the final lie. When death finally comes, few leave behind instructions to their spouse or children, or even have an opportunity to say farewell. It is as if they have gone and left not a trace behind.

This being the case for patients with extended illnesses, it is all the more so for those who perish in airplane crashes or automobile accidents. In light of this regrettable state of affairs, some religious and elderly groups have started speaking out in the hope of smashing these taboos about death, advocating that people prepare a will.

Chen Rong-chi, director of the Lotus Hospice Care Foundation and president of the En Chu Kong Hospital in Sanhsia, came to people's attention last year when he sponsored the "Final Promise Will-Writing Competition." He explains that Chinese have no tradition of writing wills. Perhaps traditional society was too simple, or the distinctions in family hierarchies all too clear. The father or eldest son would decide everything, or in the case of disputes, the clan leader would come to mediate. But times have changed. With the emergence of different value systems and the rise of individualism, the writing of a will to prevent arguments and regrets among both the living and the dead has became necessary.

DIY after-death arrangements

What should a will discuss? If nothing else, says Chen Rong-chi, "The one question it should clearly answer is how you want to dispose of your body."

A nurse named Tsai who has worked at Taiwan Adventist Hospital for many years remembers one old lady whose diabetic condition had severely weakened several of her internal organs. Even when she was seriously ill, she would never utter a word about her condition, and her family wouldn't bring it up either. She was nearly at the point of death when her half-dozen children started arguing about "whether they should give her a bath and change her clothes, so she would be ready to leave this world." They became very angry with each other. Some firmly believed that they "couldn't let Mama start out on her journey with nothing to wear," whereas others held that "under no circumstances should one move the body right before or after death, lest it cause a disturbance on her trip to the Buddhist Pure Land." Each was certain that he or she knew what was best for their mother. The argument got louder and louder, until finally the nurse couldn't stand it any more and told them to leave.

Chao Ko-shih has seen an even more ridiculous example. One powerful and wealthy old man died from cancer, but because his children had different religious beliefs and each wanted to put on impressive and stately funerals, he ended up with five different ceremonies. The Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists and Taoists each had at least one go at it. When a ceremony ended, they would give him a shot of embalming fluid, put him back in the freezer and wait for the next time!

"This is simply turning parents' funerals into games for their children," says Chao. If people's wishes are all along clearly spelled out in black and white in a will, then perhaps one's death won't have to cause one's corpse quite so much torture.

In fact, more than a few people take a DIY approach to managing their funerary matters. An old general named Yen living in Hsinchu prepared a will a decade ago, and at the beginning of each year would take it out and look it over. When he died recently, his children opened up the sealed will. They discovered that not only did their father make detailed descriptions about the funeral and what to do with his body, but he had also prepared a list of his close friends and their addresses, and had even written his obituary notice and a description of his accomplishments in life. His children were extremely grateful for their father's open-mindedness and willingness to shoulder this responsibility himself.

Of course, "The road to the Land of the Dead is traveled by old and young alike," so the elderly and seriously ill aren't the only ones who need to make a will. People in their primes, living hectic, busy lives and under great pressure at work, should also be prepared for death at any moment. The major motivation that these people have for making a will, however, is quite different. For them, its chief purpose is to answer the question of who should take custody of their children.

Who gets the little darlings?

Another forceful promoter of preparing a will, Changte Seniors Foundation Director Kuo Chun-hsiang, cites this example: The year before last, there was a plane crash in Cambodia in which several Taiwanese businessmen who were members of the Lion's Club died. One was a single father, whose wife had died several years before from cancer and who was raising two young children on his own. It was an unexpected, nasty trick for fate to play, one that made his children parentless.

Because this businessman had not prepared a will before he died, the father's and mother's families went to court over the custody rights and the substantial wealth that went along with them. The father's financially unsuccessful and unrespectable brothers fought harder, and the mother's sisters, who had been close to the children throughout their lives, ended up losing. During the dispute, it is said that the father appeared in the dream of a friend. In tears and obviously not at peace, he expressed the wish that he not be buried before the custody mess was sorted out.

Because cases of this kind are not infrequent, Kuo Chun-hsiang urges businessmen who do a lot of traveling (especially to places like mainland China, Southeast Asia and Latin America, where crime is rampant) to be aware of this danger and ensure that their children wouldn't be placed with the wrong people. He advises them to prepare a will as soon as possible.

And then there is the matter of money. While one's wealth may not directly involve one's body, it is the focus of most wills. It is also often the family's biggest concern and the point on which the dying are least willing to relent.

The last barrier-money

Chou Chang-chi, a Catholic nun who has worked for four years as a counselor in the hospice at the Cardinal Tien Medical Center in Hsintien, has seen many dying patients whose families were upset or even held bitter grudges because of concerns about putting the patient's financial affairs in order. She recalls one entrepreneur in his fifties who discovered that he had lung cancer. After a few months, his condition worsened, and he ended up in the hospice. His grown daughters had rarely talked to him about his business even when he was healthy. But seeing that he was near death, they and their mother were anxious about it, but lacked the guts or heart to broach the subject. They came to Chou for help.

"'Sir,' I said, 'You are still clear about things. Have you given any thought to who should take over your business? Where are your company's important papers? Who owes you money? And to whom do you owe money? How should your family help you handle these matters? Your family is quite worried. Would you like to give them some instructions?'"

Chou recalls that when she said this, the patient's face was expressionless, as if he wasn't hearing anything, but a few days later, his wife came to thank her. It turned out that the patient had been taking it all in after all, and silently set himself to put things right.

"The closer someone is to a patient, the less able they are to bring up such issues," says Chou. "A disinterested third party like me can play the important role of liaison."

Having worked for a long time at a hospice and seen many patients move from life to death, Chou has a deep understanding of the nature of money-that more than being simple purchasing power, it is fraught with symbolic meaning. Holding onto money is connected to maintaining a sense of security, self-respect and self-control. Choices made in consigning control of money over to others show who you trust, who you love and who you hate, as well as who you want to reward and who you want to punish.

Many people forever deny that death is near, holding out hope until the very end that "a cure might be discovered tomorrow," says Chou. "Too sick to leave their beds, they still refuse to clarify financial matters for their families." Some people use money as a lever of control over their children, resolving to "wait until the last moment" and see which children treat them best before deciding how to divide their estate.

"For those close to death, money is the last form of psychological protection," Chou explains. In mustering the courage to ask about financial matters, patients' families should never forget that they have to use twice the patience and love in dealing with someone close to death. Whatever you do, don't let those who are near death leave this world with bitterness in their hearts.

Protecting the old from the young

In Money Motive, the American doctor T. Wiseman explains that the practice of leaving wills dates back to ancient times, when primitive people strove to keep younger generations down and prevent greedy and overambitious sons from casting out elderly fathers. Over the course of history, the most tragic of all stories have been those describing children fighting over fathers' estate and titles.

Kuo Chun-hsiang recalls that one company CEO was put in intensive care when his condition became critical. One of his sons, who had massive gambling debts, stole his father's chop, opened his safe-deposit box, and then removed and sold his father's stocks. The son thought he had pulled the ploy off, when suddenly his father's condition improved. Desperate, the son entered the father's intensive-care room and turned off his oxygen supply for three minutes! After the father died, the mother grew more and more suspicious, until she finally called her three sons together and confronted them with her doubts. When she was told what she had feared most, she fainted.

"If this entrepreneur had used his signature instead of his chop for his safe-deposit box and important documents; if he had prepared a will, so that there were clear instructions about what to do with his property; and if he had a witness to his will; could his son have embezzled his money and the situation spiraled so completely out of control?" asks Kuo. "In olden times people spoke of 'yang er fang lao' [raising children to provide security in old age]. Modern people, on the other hand, need to prepare a will to 'yang lao fang er' [pass one's old age protected from one's children]." This may sound a bit harsh, but it's the voice of experience.

Taking another tack, lawyer Lin Mei-ching argues that in modern industrial society, human relationships and money are tied up in a complex web and that preparing a will is the responsible way to "keep one's children from inheriting disputes."

For instance, to avoid tax many people register cars, stocks and savings in the names of their friends. Imposing on the friends, the tax evaders are then disinclined to ask them to sign a statement that they are only borrowing those items. Even if family members have heard about these arrangements, once the person has died and there is nothing in black and white to serve as proof, the other party can always just deny it, and the family will be without legal recourse.

Beyond the law

What's more, in the articles of the civil code that deal with inheritance, there is only a very simple description of how a person's estate should be divided. Impersonal and inflexible, this law can't begin to cover the particulars of human situations involved in a death or division of an estate. "Unless you trust all of your relatives to have a firm grasp of what's right and wrong and not be greedy, then it would be best to write a will, so that your estate is divided exactly according to your wishes," argues Lin.

Lin explains that inheritance law states that a spouse must get a portion of an estate. As for the other beneficiaries, the law gives first priority to the deceased's children, second to their parents, and third to their siblings. When the deceased has children the estate should be divided equally among the children and the spouse. If there are no children, but a parent or parents of the deceased are still living, then the spouse gets half and the parents get half.

"Yet the law is only superficially fair. Time and again it doesn't meet real needs," says Kuo Chun-hsiang. Say, for instance, an old man dies with an estate of NT$1 million. If it is to be divided equally among his wife and three children, then each share would be one-quarter of the estate, or NT$250,000. Yet the children are young and able, whereas the wife is old and without income. Should the estate really be divided in quarters? How is the mother to pass her old age in peace and security? There have even been cases of mothers being left homeless when children have demanded that homes be sold so estates can be divided.

In order to prevent wives or husbands from suddenly losing everything they have relied upon, Lin makes several suggestions about how to write a will. For instance, according to inheritance law, one-half of any estate can be disposed of according to one's own wishes. Hence, a man can assign half of his property in a will to his wife, and leave the other half to be divided equally among his wife and three children. In which case, his wife would receive 62.5% of the inheritance, greatly reducing the economic pressures of old age. If you don't want your children to sell the house, you can also tack on a provision that the inheritance can not be divided for 10 years, as a means of maintaining the status quo.

Needing all signatures

In particular, Lin points out that often when you leave instructions such as, "You brothers and sisters should divide everything equally and don't quarrel," you only end up causing more trouble and confusion.

For instance, upon one man's death, his house became the property of his three children, meaning that its sale would require the permission of all three. The oldest was very anxious to sell, whereas the second child thought the market was too soft and wouldn't give his consent. As a result, for a decade or two, the house was left in a state of limbo. All the hard work the father had put in to pay for the house came to naught, and his wish that it benefit his children and grandchildren was never realized.

Recently, two publicized inheritance disputes have caused people great dismay. In the first case a row house in the West Gate neighborhood of Taipei was abandoned and left in a state of limbo because brothers could not come to an agreement about its sale. Eventually it became a crash pad for vagrants. When one of them died there, it attracted media attention. The second case involves the estate of photographer Lang Ching-shan, regarded as a "national treasure" by many. It's been years since his death, and his works are still stored away in boxes, because his 11 children haven't been able to reach an agreement about his estate. When all 11 finally put their names on the dotted lines and the boxes are opened, will it be discovered that the photographs have been badly damaged by mildew? The old master's students and the cultural community can only look on with dismay and frustration.

Kuo Chun-hsiang describes another kind of situation. For instance, some entrepreneurs start their businesses with a large chunk of their parents' savings. In repayment, they support their parents. The problem is, if such an entrepreneur is unlucky and dies in middle age, unless his children are willing to forsake their inheritance, then the parents, who are second in priority to the children, are left with nothing. The wife and parents end up fighting over the estate and become enemies, and the parents, without any of their son's money, might go to court, charging their daughter-in-law with embezzlement. Feeling abandoned, they go ahead with the suit even though they know they will lose, just for the opportunity to publicly denounce their daughter-in-law as "lacking in virtue and filial piety."

Gifts and confiscations

Kuo Chun-hsiang points out that if these businessmen would just stop to consider the possible consequences of their deaths on their parents, then perhaps they would prepare a will, ensuring that their parents receive a certain proportion of their estate and keeping their relatives from becoming sworn enemies.

Among Lin Mei-ching's cases was an old woman who had been abandoned by her philandering husband yet was unwilling to get a divorce and relinquish her status as wife. Struggling to support herself and her children for year after year, the woman had suffered all manner of hardships and deprivations. Then, when she developed cancer, she would seethe with anger when she thought about her cheating husband getting a share of her inheritance, which would end up being given to the children he had with his mistress.

The old woman should have established a will, detailing how she had been mistreated and requesting that the court take away the husband's right to a share of her estate. If authorized by a court, it would take legal precedence.

Lin points out that the law is not something divorced from human sentiments. Life's twists of fate can be taken into account in a legal will, so that estates are handled appropriately. It's just that most people don't want to take the time to understand wills or how to use them. They think, "I can wait until I'm old or sick before worrying about that." But life is unpredictable. If death comes suddenly, their relatives in mourning might be no more tormented than they themselves, turning in their graves over not leaving a clear will.

And so Lin calls on everyone to have the same attitude about wills as they have about regular physical checkups. When you're healthy, you should take the opportunity to write a will and revise it at regular times. Whatever you do, don't wait until you're facing death and then urgently try to write lengthy instructions. The result will be that "you don't know where to start," and die helplessly, silently and in low spirits.

What's the point?

Yet just as many people avoid taking physical check-ups because they don't dare face the possibility that they actually have an illness, many never make a will because they have no way of formally facing the frustrations and complications of their own life.

During the last two years, there have been frequent crashes of planes whose passengers have included Taiwanese. One small businessman, a Mr. Yu, doesn't deny that this is a concern. "If it happened to me," he says, "there would be nothing that could be done for my company. It would simply collapse." In which case, why doesn't he leave instructions in a will?

"What advantage is there to establishing a will?" declares Yu, whose financial situation is shaky and whose two small factories might not survive the economic hard times in Southeast Asia. What's more, his marriage is close to disintegrating because he spends little time with his wife. If they do get a divorce, it is far from certain that he will get custody of his children.

"My life doesn't amount to much right now," says Yu, with a tragic tone. "What would be the point of writing a will now? I'd rather wait for the coffin to be closed before making a judgment on my life."

A Mr. Wang, who has for years been carrying on a secret extramarital affair that he doesn't want exposed, says his own will "can't be written." In his view, writing it would be tantamount to a public admission of his sin, and that would be too great a risk.

"If I prepared a will, I would definitely include my out-of-wedlock daughter, who is not legally my daughter and would have no legal claim for a share of my inheritance without a will," he says. "But if my will had no witness, then my wife could claim it was a forgery when she found it in my safe-deposit box. If I got a witness or kept a copy of it at my mistress's house, then it could be used against me, and I wouldn't want that either. It's not worth the bother. If I die, and the women want to fight over it, let them!" Mr. Wang, who stresses the importance of responsibility and sincerity in front of his employees, knows that this is where he has come up shortest in life, but he has adopted an evasive strategy of "what I can't see, won't hurt me."

Miss Chang, who once thought of "reminding" her mother to leave a will when she was seriously ill, has other problems.

"The members of my family are very distant, cold and nervous. No one ever wants to listen to anyone else speak, and no one ever reveals their feelings." When her brother discovered that she was thinking of asking her mother to leave a will, he angrily replied: "If she dies, she dies. Why should she leave behind some useless instructions? Are we incapable of dividing her estate ourselves?"

No regrets for living or dead

Behind every will, there's a story of a life and its struggles. The more complicated your relationships to others, the more you will worry about name and status, and the harder it will be to calmly look back over your life and tie things together. It's very difficult to do this in just the few pages that make up a will. Chao Ko-shih believes that thinking about the meaning of one's death when preparing a will is in fact thinking about the meaning of one's life. Only by looking at death will one have the wisdom and power to shoulder one's responsibilities in life. Chao points out that a person's conception of death is tied up with their conception of life. People who have a more active and positive attitude about death always have a more active attitude about life.

Huang Tsung, an assistant publisher of Fortune Daily who is in his thirties, is one such example. Although he and his wife have decided to enjoy life as "dinks" (double-income, no kids) and do not have children themselves, they both love kids and treat their nieces and nephews like sons and daughters. In their current will, their entire estate goes to their brothers and sisters' children.

"Although I have recognized society's ideas about what would be fair for each of them to receive, I don't think it's all about money," Huang declares. Inheritance money should be regarded as a gift and keepsake, not a sum that one should obsessively compare with other beneficiaries. He hopes that as his wealth grows he will be able to contribute to charities and public interest groups, thus giving his own hard work more meaning by letting even more people share in its benefits.

"If I got to the end of my life, and I had nothing to show for it, I would feel very hurt and inadequate." With this sort of attitude, he is that much more compelled to work hard.

The ending to a life

Chiang Yi-wen, head of the Bureau of Social Affairs for Kaohsiung City, notes that people with little property often think that they have no need to make a will. "In fact, wills can also express values that you want to pass along, exhortations to future generations, or even passages meant to resolve resentments," Chiang says. Sun Yat-sen's will, which is read by all Taiwan students in school, is a memorable document because it reveals the revolutionary spirit of his generation. "A mother's detailed instructions to her children as she nears death are also moving," she says. "It is terrifying for the living to recall the dead and then discover that they haven't left a word behind-neither instruction nor farewell. It leaves an empty feeling that may cause those who have been left behind to lose the courage to go on."

Sun Hsiao-chih, a professor of philosophy at National Taiwan University, on the other hand, believes that by their very nature wills can't be expected to please every relative. And a will that meets with everyone's submission cannot be completed in just the time that it takes to sit down and write it. Families should get into the habit of talking about everything as a part of their normal lives, so that they become accustomed to this sort of open communication. "Talking often and deeply causes people to feel close to each other."

"Without a deep conception of human values and an ability to manage one's life well, then it will be impossible to prepare well for death." Confucius once said, "If you don't know about life, how can you know about death?" And so the main point of preparing a will isn't in how those black words appear on the white page, but rather in the total human process that is reflected behind it. It's one of life's lessons.

Indeed, each will reveals the attitudes of the person who made it. It's the conclusion of a life history and also an encapsulation of family relationships. "If you don't know about death, how can you know about life?" What kind of conclusion do you want your own story to have? Wouldn't it be better to start thinking about it?

p.76

A will and testament and a few photographs. . . herein lies the story of a family. (photo by Vincent Chang)

p.79

Why not prepare for your own funeral? It would give your life an ending of your own design.

p.81

There was little need for wills in traditional society, because families and clans had their own rules. People had little space to express personal wishes. (photo by Diago Chiu)

p.83

"Death's road is open to old and young alike." With auto accidents, fires and car crashes all too common, not taking the precaution of establishing a will might end up being deeply regretted. The photo shows the China Air crash at Tayuan. (courtesy of Chen Cheng-chang)

p.84

In life's twilight years, a will, by recording one's concerns and exhortations for the younger generation, can help put one's mind at ease.

p.87

A feeling of completeness as one nears death is a result of slow and steady efforts taken during life. In addition to preparing one for death, such steps give life new meaning.

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