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Can't take it with you (BBC2) or "no pockets in your shroud"

Why bother
Why bother

An editorial by Andrew Cates, SOS UK CEO, discussing death, wills, children and what we achieve in life and death

I missed the first episode of "Can't take it with you" (where Gerry Robinson helps people write their Wills) but I hope to catch the next one tonight.

Talking about death is sometimes considered a modern "taboo subject", whereas I understand the Victorians were endlessly fascinated by it. I am not fascinated by death but now in my mid forties I have certainly got past the stage in life of having great ambitions and dreams. I have settled down to see my own contribution to society realistically.

What is certain is that my life will end in my death and in the years after there will be no 169 foot high column in Trafalgar Square by which to remember the humble contribution of Andrew Cates. In years and centuries to come perhaps a few direct descendents will take an interest in my life details. But more likely, as far those living on the future earth are concerned, I will become as utterly anonymous as almost all of the millions of men and women who have built up our lives, country and world are.

Ironically it is all these people have gone before who have built our country to the point where we can live so safely and healthily. So much so that is even possible these days to put thoughts of our own deaths aside for decades in a way which has never been previously possible. Perhaps they, ever conscious of death, made sacrifices for those to come more thoughtfully than any contribution we might make. Especially true, I imagine, amongst those who fought in wars for us. Theirs was so clear a vision for our better life that they were prepared to die for it.

But for us, what is the point of the whole thing? I mean of life, achievement, ambition and so on? At the beginning of life ambition is important as a way of achieving what we want later in life, but that whole perspective dissolves into middle age or retirement. For some people the whole process can repeat with the same ambitions for our children. However, whether we are religious or not, it seems to me the only way in which our lives can make any sense is in the context of a bigger picture, an overarching narrative in which we are contributing towards a vision we have for the world (or a world beyond it). For many of us that vision is about the future world in which our and other people's children will grow up. And if the only way in which our lives make sense is to build a better world for children, surely that vision should influence the way that we draw up our wills.

If you want an illustration of helping someone's life I recommend the BBC documentary about Esther and Tino, or the shorter seven minute extract on youtube: The many people who have sponsored or leave small legacies to SOS have helped to create a better world for them now. For advice on legacies click here.