Change Maker - 'Peace of Mind' document aims to help those left behind if tragedy strikes

  • 12/11/2021
  • Sponsored by - Dell

For many Kiwi families, considering how they would deal with the practical consequences of something tragic happening to a loved one is something that's easier to simply ignore than to truly contemplate. 

But one woman from Otago is hoping not only to spur more people into thinking about 'what-ifs' but to go one step further and actively plan for how they would cope in the event a family member were to suddenly pass away or become seriously sick or injured.

Paige Wills has created Peace of Mind, a document where people can write down a trove of practical information for family members to access if the worst-case scenario were to happen. The planner is intended to make life easier for those who are left behind and will need to pick up the pieces and step in and manage someone else's life, home or finances.

The downloadable folder contains fill-in-the blank prompts, triggering questions and helpful reminders covering everything from details about personal finance, investment income and insurance policies to your child's favourite song and any special memories you want to pass on.

Paige Wills is this month's Dell Change Maker. Dell and The Project have been recognising New Zealanders who have made a positive social impact in the community through the Change Maker campaign.

Wills, a mother-of-two who lives on a farm in north Otago, says she first began to compile her own peace of mind folder after the birth of her first child in 2009, when she was "bowled over" by the sense of responsibility she felt having someone so dependent on her.

"I got really overwhelmed with these feelings of what if," says Wills.

"What if something was to happen to me, what if I got sick, what if my husband passed away...I sort of started spinning down this very unhelpful spiral."

Paige Wills and her family.
Paige Wills and her family. Photo credit: Peace of Mind

In order to calm her anxieties, Wills decided to write down everything she could think of that would make things easier for anyone who had to care for their child if she or her husband suddenly passed away or were affected by a serious injury or illness.

"It was just this very cathartic process where once I had everything on paper it was like oh my goodness I can breathe; and all of that anxiety and all of that worry just completely melted away. I just felt really at peace, I had peace of mind."

After spending years adding to the folder and discussing it with others, Wills decided earlier this year she wanted to make it available for other people too, so they could attain the peace of mind she had found.

"I just had to act on it," she says. "I was like, I can help people with this, I can make a difference in their lives - so I decided that I was going to create it as a product that everyday Kiwis could purchase."

Wills says she hopes the folder will inspire more people to get their affairs in order sooner rather than later, in the event a worst-case scenario should occur.

"We know we should have all of this information organised in a way that people can pick it up and carry it on if we were injured or if something happened to us, but it's just one of the things that kind of goes on the to-do list and you're like I'll get around to that but you never do."

After deciding she was going to share it with others, Wills spent months researching and interviewing a wide range of people to make sure it was as comprehensive as possible.

As well as speaking to lawyers, funeral directors and palliative care workers, she also spoke to people who had had loved ones pass away or suffer injuries and had first-hand experience of having to deal with the practical consequences of such an event.

"Every single person I reached out to were so generous with their time, everybody was happy to talk to me because they genuinely felt that it was something so needed and they had seen so many people themselves go through these awful experiences and it was just so hard to watch," she says.

Grandparents on a walk with their grandchild.
Grandparents on a walk with their grandchild. Photo credit: Getty Images

"It was quite emotional too, and I didn't expect that. Some of these stories were just harrowing. Some things I had never even considered happening had happened to these poor people and they were trying to pick up the pieces. And just not having that information made everything so much harder and so much more painful and stressful and worrying at a time when they were already in crisis."

The planner is split into 10 sections covering a mix of practical and emotional topics, ranging from banking information to letters to your loved ones.

Wills says the planner is not a legal document, but rather a how-to guide for family members or the executor of a will in the case of an emergency.

"You don't need to look at it until you need it but if you haven't got it that makes it really hard."

And while considering the possibility that something awful may happen might be difficult for many families, Wills says the most important thing she's learnt through her research is "the importance of doing it today, rather than putting it off for another day, because unfortunately, another day might be too late". 

This article was created for Dell.