I need a will. I’m perfectly healthy but this pops into my head every now and then because you never know. I have an old will in place but it has my late husband’s name all over it for important decisions like whether or not I should be kept on a ventilator if there is no hope of my survival. (That answer is no, by the way.) We think this stuff won’t happen to us or that we have lots of time but that’s not always the case.
Ken and I looked around one day and discovered we had two children (how did that happen?!) so we had all of the necessary estate documents drawn up. I never thought I would have to exercise that power of attorney, but I did. I couldn’t imagine unfolding the blue cover on my husband’s living will to show his attending physicians but that’s exactly what happened. I thought those papers would yellow with age and eventually crumble to the bottom of the lock box after decades passed, I needed them in less than one.
Thanks to our fabulous attorney who was uber thorough and the fact that we followed his advice carefully, I had only one small account that took much effort to probate. That was a good thing because let me tell you grieving widow and estate executrix are two jobs that don’t fit together nicely. Even worse would be having to work through the process when there is no will in place. I can’t imagine.
So I’ve been meeting with that same attorney and my updated documents will soon be in hand. I’ll breathe a little easier knowing that.
Do you have a will? You need one too, you know.
But how do you get started? I’m no expert and this certainly isn’t legal advice but I can tell you what worked for me. With something like this I feel pretty strongly about getting an estate attorney involved. I know there are cheaper routes like software you can buy for $39.99 but this is serious stuff. As a widow, if I die before my children are adults my will has to speak for me about who I want to care for them and how I want their inheritance entrusted to them before and beyond the date they turn 18. I want to make sure my documents hold up with the state. If I write something that is declared invalid it’s like having nothing at all.
I have no family in the town I live in so to find our attorney I asked close friends whose judgment I trust who they used. (None of them had used software, by the way.) I also asked at my church. Not only do churches have congregants who are lawyers but generally they will have some sort of stewardship committee and you may find some help there. If, however, you find that you are getting undue pressure to plan for the church in your will then…well, I would run. In my case, both my friends and my pastor recommended the same person. Did I mention he was fabulous? OK, good.
An attorney can walk you through all of the questions you need to be prepared to answer. Doing as much leg work as you can before you meet will save you all some time and resulting expense.
Here are some questions to think about:
- What do you want to have happen if you are in a terminal condition, coma with no expectation of regaining consciousness, vegetative state, etc.?
- Who do you want to make your health care decisions if you cannot speak for yourself?
- To whom do you want to give responsibility for carrying out your wishes after your death, your executor? Who do you want as that person’s backup should they not be able to serve?
- What do you want to happen with your body: burial, cremation, donation of body or organs, etc.?
- What should happen to your personal property? This won’t be an all-inclusive list of every item you own but if you really want to make sure that your niece receives the china she has always admired without argument then that should be documented.
- If you have children, who do you want to care for them and who do you want to handle the money from your estate for their benefit. This does not have to be the same person. You should be prepared to name backups for these individuals too.
You might have been able to answer a few of those questions in your head. Get it down on paper. It will be one less (significant) heartache for those who love you to know exactly what you wanted.
Rewriting my will got me to thinking about practical matters…those things we need to take care of for ourselves like wills and life insurance. And when the inevitable happens you’ll find a whole mess of little things those who are left behind need to know like where the important papers are, how to accept help, how many death certificates you will need and sooo much more. I’m going to devote some space to these things on the ALAL Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ArtfulLivingAfterLoss. I hope you will pop in there and check it out.
Even organization is an act of creativity.