Tiny Steps to Adulthood: Don’t Make Your Loved Ones Guess

The time to get your affairs in order was probably yesterday.

by Elisabeth, Contributor

Tiny Steps to Adulthood is back! Doesn’t it sound like a new edition of American Girl dolls, complete with a tiny briefcase and calculator? We can only live to dream.

Last month we talked about the emotions of budgeting and making money work for you, and how you might begin by totaling up your debt, reviewing your monthly bills, or starting to identify your financial values. The comments felt like a million different complicated and sensitive conversations cracking wide open, and there is lots of writing to do about all of them. This month, let’s focus on another critical aspect of being a grown-up: getting your health-and-death-related things in order.

Wills, Living Wills, and Health care Proxies.
or: Don’t Make Your Loved Ones Guess

Here’s what I originally thought about Wills: They’re for rich people, right? Wouldn’t I only need a will to make sure that someone knows to feed the cats the super organic expensive food?  I live a pretty uncomplicated life as a young(-ish) renter, free from debt, except those billion dollar student loans that die with me, and I don’t have a ton of, um, assets. However, after perusing the inimitable Get Your Sh*t Together site, which you should bookmark, I now understand that a will is not necessarily about the fancy stuff. The will exists so that my beloved does not have to guess what I would have wanted, should the horrible day ever come that I die before her.

I like to think that day’s not going to come; that K and I and the cats are all going to just slip away together in our sleep, holding paws, fifty years from now. But, and this is the theme of the whole Tiny Steps series—avoidance gets you exactly nowhere. Whatever the great hereafter, I don’t want to be ghostly cringing and apologizing while a grieving K sorts through a billion journals and financial accounts, trying to figure out what I might have wanted. (P.S., K: Lena gets all the college journals, and while it’s up to her, I am just suggesting that she create a one-woman musical using the poems from sophomore year.)

The other night, we met with a lawyer to begin the will process. You don’t necessarily need a lawyer to do this, because there are excellent templates online. Although I am not a lawyer, so you should not take my word for it. But as a queer couple, it’s in our best interests to make sure this is sealed airtight. Our marriage is legal in our home state and according to the federal government, at the moment, but what happens when we go to K’s family’s house in Virginia or happen to get into a car accident on the way there? Neither of us is thrilled at the thought of one disgruntled hospital attendant preventing us from being together if something bad should happen. Hence the need for legal counsel.

In retrospect, I think we both sort of thought that we’d have these conversations while with the lawyer, like we did not need to have them before we met with the lawyer. And wow, what a mistake that was. She helpfully fired off a million questions about temporary guardianship, estates, executors, and other important sounding terms. And we stared at each other, stared at her, and basically were all, “My, those do sound interesting, don’t they.” As if we were at Downton for tea, instead of disaster planning for our life. So do as I say, not as I did! Start talking about this stuff with your spouse or intended or sibling or your close friends or the APW community. And then, when you have a clearer understanding of your wishes, then think about seeking legal guidance. Consider the following:

What is precious to you?

Inventory your stuff. My financial directives will be pretty easy, at this point: there’s just a few retirement accounts to consider. But there are some sentimental items that I might want to call out. There’s the little pad and pencil that hung on my great-grandmother’s college dorm door where all her friends scribbled quaint little notes, a wonderful precursor to the dry-erase board I used many years later. While it has no real financial value, it has endless sentimental value. For you, maybe that’s the many years of costumes and fancy dresses you’ve amassed that would be much appreciated by the drama department of your beloved Girl Scout Camp. If you think you might have specific guidelines about your belongings, financial or otherwise, start assembling those instructions.

Health care Wishes

If you aren’t able to make decisions about your health care, then someone else needs to do that for you, and even if you think you are the healthiest, most youthful version of yourself, you should identify who that person might be. If you’re married, that’s likely your spouse, but if you are engaged or dating or single, you should still talk to someone close to you and see if they’re willing to take this on. Once you’ve identified them, then it’s your job to talk through the sort of decisions you’d want them to make on your behalf, should you become incapable of making them. If you are in an irreversible coma, do you want tube feeding? If you’re pregnant and in a car accident, do you want to be kept artificially alive to keep your fetus growing? What about palliative care, if you learn that the cancer is untreatable?

In New York, where I live, you can outline your health care wishes through completing advance directives, also known as a Living Will, and you will also need a health care proxy, which identifies the person you want to manage your health care decisions if you can’t. Many states combine these documents or call them different things, which makes this stuff seem intimidating and unfairly complicated. It all boils down to asking someone to make educated decisions about your health issues if you cannot, and having conversations about your wishes with that person.

Guardianship: Who gets the kid?

We don’t have a kid, but we have a hazy idea that we might someday. So when the lawyer asked who we would want to appoint as guardian in the event we can work the logistics of having said kid out, we both had ready answers, they just happened to be entirely different ones. So now we know the theoretical guardian for the theoretical kid needs to be added to the list of conversations ahead of us. Do we want someone related to us? Or do we want someone who would raise the kid with the values we would have hoped to impart? Is it going to matter if the kid stays in the town where we were planning to raise them? Does it matter if the theoretical kid and the theoretical guardian get along? This is a lot of currently theoretical questions, but I can only imagine that our future baby-having selves will be relieved when we start talking them through now.

Holograms: Not Just for Jem

If you don’t have a printer, or your wireless keyboard has stopped working, or if you really can’t borrow from the office copier or go to the Staples down the street, then at the very least consider writing your intentions out by hand, signing them, and saving them in a safe place. This is called a Holographic Will, and while it won’t be considered legal in all states, at least you’re documenting something. It won’t work in my state, but see if yours will accept it. At the very least, you’re giving your loved ones a little bit of guidance as to what you would have wanted.

This Month’s Homework:

  • Consider your valuable and sentimental stuff. You don’t have to inventory down to the last teaspoon, but make a list of the things that you know you want to go somewhere in particular. K, reading over my shoulder, adds, “or the things you think will stress out your partner/family.” Noted! Are you okay with your person doing what they wish with your stuff, or do you have other plans?
  • Start thinking about what you’d want, if you couldn’t speak for yourself, and begin to outline guidelines for your proxy to consider if it ever comes to that.
  • Think about who you want as your health care proxy, and ask them! Check out what your state requires. If you live in New York, print out the New York State Health Care Proxy Form, which is clear, easy to understand, and super fast to complete.
  • And for AP credit: Guess where Rachel’s important documents are? In her fireproof box, of course! I was so impressed by this, as ours are currently shoved in between back issues of Cooks Illustrated somewhere. I am committing to you in a public forum: by the end of next quarter, I will have secured a fireproof box in which to store these documents safely.

Lastly, if you’re starting to feel paralyzed by avoidance and indecision, refer to the post-it note I tacked up on the mirror when I was trying to finish graduate school: Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of Good. That goes for homework, for wedding planning, for financial planning, for future career planning, for getting outside for a ten minute walk, for just about anything. Everything is easier when you start small.

Tiny steps, folks. Tiny tiny steps.


Elisabeth is an MPH working in public health in New York City. Her old okcupid profile said she’s really good at: fixing socially awkward situations at parties, return trips to Ikea, whipping up excellent mac and cheese on camping trips, leaping into the ocean, being chronically late, and having Friday night adventures all over Brooklyn. In September 2013, she married her introverted, punctual K.

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  • Amy March

    Contrary-wise, if you know how your state would divide your property on death, and you’re fine with that, and you don’t have complicated assets, I don’t think you need a will. It’s the same idea as a pre-nup, a way out of the standard contract state law provides. Not a bad idea, but I’d either pay to have it done properly or not at all. You don’t want to accidentally create a mess for your family to clean up after you’re gone.

    • Jenny

      I think that’s true, however, as someone who went through my dad’s stuff after he died with my mom (they had a will), I would have loved to know what books were most important to him, or which signed books were important. So it’s not all just the legal stuff.

    • rys

      However, a will can help with logistics upon death. That is, sure the state has its way if divvying up assets, but someone still has to be the executor of the estate. And a will that identifies that person will make it easier to get probate started. It will also help with documenting this for other institutions, like banks, that can only talk to designated people (because someone still has to deal with the bank accounts, even if they have small amounts in them, and the documentation from probate court is not always immediate).

    • Shotgun Shirley

      I’m not sure that’s true (said the not-a-lawyer); from what I’ve read, you still want to avoid probate since that can tie up assets (shared ones too) for a while and cause issues.

      • rys

        Yeah, ideally you set things up to avoid probate (ie, create trusts….not just for rich people), but if you don’t get to that, you still want everything else clear and orderly.

    • emilyg25

      I can’t speak about the will, but EVERYBODY should have a living will/advanced directives and should specify a medical power of attorney. Unless you really don’t care whether you get hooked up to a feeding tube or have to rely on artificial ventilation for the rest of your life.

    • EllaByNight

      If you take this approach, though, you should make sure you have all your ducks in a row with regard to beneficiary designations and joint ownership in order to reduce the headache of administering an estate where the decedent was intestate.

      My husband and I don’t currently have wills because all our assets are either owned in retirement accounts with up-to-date beneficiary designations or are owned in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship (which means they will be owned 100% by the surviving spouse if one of us dies). All of our assets will pass to our intended beneficiaries without us having a will and without the state’s involvement.

      However, if you own assets in your name only and don’t have named beneficiaries on the accounts, administering even small estates without a will can be a paperwork headache even with simple assets. So not having a will can be more cost effective, but it still involves a lot of planning if you want things to be transferred smoothly.

    • Meg Keene

      UNLESS YOU HAVE A KID. Huge unless.

      Advance directive isn’t a bad idea either. And probate can be a bitch.

  • Anon

    Estate planning attorney here – excellent post. A few additional points off the top of my head:

    1. Your attorney will hopefully assemble your signed documents in an organized binder for you. If not, make one with a table of contents. Also, in the event you lose your documents, there should be a duplicate set of signed originals on file with your attorney. Along those lines, you should only have one original signed Will – which, ideally, is kept at the attorney’s office (to eliminate family squabbles over the most recent Will or to avoid a family member marking up your Will – it happens more often than you think). A conformed copy of your Will should be in your binder.

    2. If your attorney does not provide a set of worksheets or questions to consider prior to your first meeting, do not hesitate to ask. We provide both so that the individual or couple can give thought to and discuss some of the big issues prior to the initial meeting.

    3. Elisabeth mentions this above, but I cannot stress enough the importance of these documents if you are in a same-sex relationship – regardless of whether you live in a legal marriage or marriage-prohibition state. The guardian issue is huge in the marriage prohibition state where I practice because only one partner is considered the legal or natural parent and the other parent essentially has no legal rights to the child. So, if the “legal” parent dies without naming a guardian, there is a distinct possibility that the child will be taken from his or her “non-legal” (but very much real) parent in favor of some other guardian (often the legal parent’s surviving parents or siblings). This is an awful and disruptive result.

    4. If you do not have children, consider who you would want to get your stuff after both you and your partner pass away. Siblings? Friends? Sell and give proceeds to charity?

  • EF

    As I expect many other lawyers with chime in here…….PLEASE go see a lawyer about wills and wishes. It’s more than just dividing up property upon death, much of it has to do with healthcare before death (as Elisabeth wrote about). And those are conversations your lawyer should make you have: do you want to be kept on a feeding tube? Are your organs up for donation? Does your partner know you want/don’t want your organs donated, and how do they feel about that? Do you have religious traditions to take into account (particularly important to some orthodox christians and jews)? Do you want to be resuscitated, or want a DNR order?

    They aren’t fun conversations, but they are really necessary. Remember, in the end, it’s about making things easiest for your partner if they get a terrible phone call. You wouldn’t want to have to sit there trying to figure out health care directives based on a few conversations-in-passing; having it written out makes life easier for everyone. Plus once you do that, you can lock it away and hopefully never think about it again.

    Also somewhere between last month’s finances discussion and this month’s wills discussion, it’s probably a good idea to know if you or your partner have family members holding money/assets in trust. Once for the mega-rich, trusts are pretty common these days and not everyone knows about it. For example, your partner’s family might have a trust for them that they’ve been paying into for a number of years, to be used for buying a house. If your partner is the named trustee, and passes away, will it revert back to the family, or to you?

    If you aren’t comfortable bringing up these sorts of topics, a lawyer will be. And honestly, it shouldn’t cost that much for a standard will, plus a couple of hours to make sure you’ve talked about certain topics (or make you talk about them). In the USA, your state Bar Association web site should have a section for that. In the UK, if you are worried about solicitor’s prices, the local university law school should have a clinic that will help you set these things up. But talk to someone. It’ll help in the end.

  • ruth

    Can we have a “tiny steps to adulthood” conversation about dealing with these issues with ones aging parents? My folks don’t like to talk about financial, legal or medical stuff, and I don’t like bringing the topic up, because it’s basically talking about them dying, and that’s really upsetting. But at the same time, I know we need to have these conversations – would just appreciate some guidance on how to have them, especially when everyone gets really emotional about the subject

    • Lynsey

      Yes! I Second this request!! My parents have always been very open about finances and have planned well for the future. My husband’s family is the exact opposite. I am concerned about what will happen if/when they can no longer work, or if/when one or both needs expensive medical care. The hardest part is that they do not talk about it, and my husband is too uncomfortable to bring it up. I would love a post on how to deal with these types of difficult conversations with family. How do you plan for it? What are the expectations?

      • Michelle

        Yes yes yes! I tried to bring this up with my inlaws about how my partner and I are starting to learn more about the process of documenting end of life wishes and they actually laughed at me thinking I was joking! I am so worried that things will be very messy and uncomfortable when they pass someday, because they do not feel comfortable talking about it and planning now. It’s a strange dynamic when people you love that are older than you kinda don’t have their shit together in some area of life.

    • Annie

      I found The Conversation Project super helpful (http://theconversationproject.org/). I used their resources to start the conversation with my parents, which in turn helped them have the conversation with my grandmother, who had been totally averse to discussing end of life wishes. I really liked their “where I stand” scales and questions for breaking the ice.

      • ruth

        This is a great resource, Annie, thank you for sharing!

    • Meg Keene

      I like this idea! It’s interesting how differently this works in different families. My WASP-y family is like “Let’s talk about our deatttttthhhhhhh.” I swear to god that my Grandmother’s end of life directives is sitting where I can see it in my office, because she wanted us to have a copy and I haven’t filed it yet. My mom is working on her funeral service (because why let someone else have the fun of writing it… she’s a liturgist). David’s family? Totally the opposite, totally emotional taboo stuff. It’s so interesting how cultural (family culture cultural) it is.

      • rys

        Even within the same family! My mom has always been the no-holds-barred, let’s talk about it, here’s what I want sort, whereas my dad was squeamish about it. When he died, there were (thankfully) no medical decisions to make and we knew where the cemetery info was, but some of the financial stuff was less orderly (though that also had to do with the suddenness…which is of course why it’s important to get everything in order when it doesn’t seem to matter).

      • I laughed out loud reading “Let’s talk about deeeaaaaaaattttttttth.” Everyone in our families seem to want to talk about it and then get all emotional and crazy about it immediately. Oh, death.

        • Meg Keene

          My family gets oddly cheery about it. I think this may be one of those terrible but amusing super-WASP qualities. Like, who doesn’t love a good, “I’ve been waiting around for the good Lord to take me” conversation, or a cheery “Well, at my age you just never know when you’ll go!” or “It’s bad, but the alternative is worse! Cheers!” No WASP in my family ;)

          • Kara

            YES! My Mom recently said (in a very cheerful manner), “just have me cremated and then you and your brother can take turns keeping my urn and ashes with you”. That’s uhhh, sweet?

            I’m my parents medical proxy and my brother is the executor of their estate. My mom tends to joke about me knowing to “pull the plug, but not too soon”!

          • Meg Keene

            Our mother’s are cut from the same cloth, clearly ;)

          • My mom said the other month that my dad had made her start taking her own car to get it serviced at the garage so she would know how to handle that kind of stuff if he went (you know, died) before her.

      • ClaireElizabeth

        I would happily volunteer to write this post. We’re currently watching both my mum and MIL handle different stages of their fathers’ aging/deaths, and starting to think about how A and I will approach the process of our parents aging. There have been a LOT of conversations about finances/health/dying around our place lately, and the cultural and family differences in approach (WASP vs Eastern European) are fascinating and intricate.

        • Meg Keene

          SUBMIT SUBMIT. Please, we’d love that.

          • ClaireElizabeth

            On it. And thanks to the whole APW team for this series. Super helpful, and for me at least, a much needed kick in the pants.

      • Alyssa M

        Oh good Lord, after my grandfather died, my grandmother went around cheerfully handing out wads of cash because “we don’t want to wait for it to get tied up when I die! :)”

        Like, she grinned at me and said that as she handed me two hundreds to go grab a newspaper on thanksgiving. How does one even respond to that!

    • Jules

      This is interesting. In one branch of my extended family (aunt/uncle), they have an annual “family meeting” with only the kids and spouses that addresses allllllll this stuff in advance. My aunt and uncle made their way up from dead poor as children (like 7 kids in a cabin type poor) and now are fortunate to have so many assets that this process was complex. They go over it ever year in case something has changed. It is so routine for them that I’m not sure it phases people – I think it actually eases their worries.

      I want to be like them when I grow up for so many reasons.

  • Rachael

    My husband and I just half-assed talked about both the financial aspect but also the health/living will stuff recently. Half-assed as in we acknowledged we should really get something down in writing, but that was about it. In addition to what was mentioned here, I was thinking we should have some paperwork outlining all of our financial accounts in the event that both of us went at the same time. The other thing we talked about was having all of the information for auto bill pay, email accounts, his facebook account, etc., so that if one of us went the other could manage / disable those things. Nothing disturbs me more than when my dead friend’s email is hacked and I get a random garbage email from it. Same with lingering facebook accounts.

    • jashshea

      So glad someone else brought up socmedia. I hate ghost FB pages and find them v. upsetting.

    • Price of Tea

      I second the comment about internet profiles, auto bill pay, etc. It took years after my father died to sort out all of the accounts that we didn’t have passwords to or didn’t even know about. We also still have a computer that we can’t figure out the password to, but that I know has a lot of his writing and work saved on it. I think everyone should keep a list of accounts and passwords somewhere safe…like a fireproof box!

      • Laura C

        You know, we were just yesterday talking about email passwords etc, and the thing is, I change mine pretty regularly. There’s almost no way he’d ever be able to keep up with it; that’s something we need to figure out.

        • Kara E

          You (and we) need a password book stored somewhere safe. My husband and I haven’t joined accounts yet and we REALLY need to, because I can’t access 75% of our assets if something happens to him. :(

      • ElisabethJoanne

        In my work as a lawyer, I’ve watched, after the fact as I review the documents, bank accounts dwindle from $1,000 to $0 with $10 maintenance fees, etc., because only the deceased could deal with the account, until the lawyers got involved years later. It was sad.

    • Great reminder about the accounts. Very important. I need to get on this right away. If I died before M she wouldn’t have the slightest clue how to access our bills, etc. (although it’s not a secret she doesn’t pay attention). We just made a copy of the keys to our townhouse for her brother and a friend in town as another “in case.” One never knows.

    • Mezza

      A friend of mine lost her husband very very young and unexpectedly, and she had such a hard time getting access to his email account. I think she actually had to contact Google somehow and jump through all sorts of hoops, which of course just added to the misery she was going through at the time. Definitely important to plan for online accounts.

    • Meg Keene

      Yeah. We need to get a file of passwords, stat.

    • Lindsay Rae

      Never thought of the online profiles… got chills reading the part about your emails from your friends who have passed ::shudder:: Great advice, thanks!

    • May I suggest KeePass? We use it at work with super confidential stuff. It’s a great free resource that allows you to keep all your passwords in one place, so you basically just have to remember one master password. It also helps you generate really, really difficult passwords, if you’re into that.

    • Sharon Gorbacz

      Found out an old friend had died when his widow contacted me – my Yahoo had account sent spam to both of their addresses. His still sends spam to me randomly.

  • Yes for fireproof boxes!! So useful because then not only is stuff somewhat protected, but you also know where it is in a pinch. I’m going to just start making that my standard wedding gift.

    Making my will with Eric was…surprisingly romantic? Like talking about end of life wishes wasn’t as upsetting as I thought. (In fact, it made me feel LESS anxious, as I tend to be a worrier about that stuff.) Also even if you don’t have much in the way of monies or possessions, consider your creative work too. Most of my will is saying who has the rights to my published and unpublished work when I die. That’s the kind of thing that could lead to a nasty court battle for family members.

    • Lizzie

      That’s a genius idea for a wedding gift. Dollars to doughnuts no one winds up unwrapping two of them.

    • MC

      THANK YOU for reminding me to add a fireproof safe to our registry. I was looking at them at Lowe’s a few weeks ago and realized how much I want one/how much of an adult I really am.

    • april

      haha – we keep all our important documents in a ziplock bag in our fridge. From what I’ve read, a fridge isn’t 100% fireproof, but it will withstand a smaller house or apartment fire.

      • Ha, that’s a great idea!

      • That’s a great idea, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have room… perhaps I should throw out some old frostbitten stuff…

        Also, that is a genius wedding gift! I wish I had thought to put it on our registry.

    • Meg Keene

      OHHHH. I never thought of rights to my work. Rachel, you’re a genius. I mean, I would assume the legalities are clear, and David would inherit my copyright on everything, but I should look into it. I might also want to give royalties directly to the kiddo. It never OCCURRED to me to think about intellectual property.

      • Yeah, Eric would inherit most of mine, but I wanted my mom to have the rights to the stuff I met before Eric/wrote in college. Not that I’m expecting that a huge amount of my work is going to be published/profitable posthumously, but I just wanted to be clear. I also have instructions for what should happen to my blog(s) but I’m not sure those made it into my will/fireproof box, so I’m making that my to-do for this month, along with our email passwords (which has coincidentally been on my mind anyway)!

    • ktmarie

      Haha we totally put a fireproof box on our registry and received it as a gift! I did feel a little lame when I put it on there at first, but it feels so much better to have our passports and birth certificates,etc in there than shoved in our bookcase constantly getting lost.

    • How big is your fireproof box? Do they come in different sizes? I have been thinking about getting one for years, but have just never looked into it.

      • It’s about 14 inches wide by 6 inches tall. It’s great for documents but if you have any mementos to put in it (which I do), I’d recommend something slightly bigger. Mine is getting a little full!

        • Ah, thanks! That is super helpful to know. I will make a note to get something bigger than that, when the time comes. And that time will probably be soon, because my good friends’ house almost burned down the other day because an adjacent house had a HUGE fire. They escaped safely with their kids, and their house thankfully is mostly fine…but only because it is brick and didn’t have any windows on the wall beside the other house (which is now black from the flames). Super scary.

    • And good point about including your published and unpublished work….I hadn’t thought of that, but that is something I need to think about too..

    • Sharon Gorbacz

      I was just thinking about picking up a fireproof document box, as we just got certified copies of our marriage license yesterday.

    • Sorry to be a wet blanket, but your safe protects against fire and water only. If you ever get robbed, that safe is going to be the first thing to go…all you important documents, passwords, all of it, in the hands of a criminal. You would be wiser to invest in a safety deposit box in a bank.

  • Awesome post This is the kick in the butt I need to stop avoiding this stuff. Thank you!!

  • jashshea

    Know how much I needed to read this? I saw it pop up in my feed reader and ignored it for over an hour. Then clicked the link and read several other websites for WORK before I started reading this. (not to mention I’ve had the GYST checklist in my inbox, flagged since January 2013.

    Avoidance in this case is very very bad. Thanks for the buttkick.

  • I can’t THIS enough. Getting your stuff together before you die (yes, there is the euphemism “if something happens to you” but let’s get real: we’re all going to die!) is a HUGE help to your loved ones. More than you can possibly know. Don’t leave them guessing. It’s not just for rich people. You need to do this! ASAP. And it’s not just old people who will die. I could get a call today about my partner who I’m about to marry in three days that something happened to her at work (and she works a desk job for pete’s sake!). The future is uncertain. Thank goodness we created our documents last spring. We created a dropbox folder with these documents and gave access to our parents, we have the originals at home, and we have a copy in a safe deposit box at the bank. It’s that important. We don’t want it ever said that we didn’t name each other. We have done everything we can to say “she is mine and I will protect her and her rights upon my death.” We also have the healthcare power of attorney and have made it clear to everyone who is in charge should either of us be incapacitated. Don’t leave them guessing!

  • macrain

    Elisabeth, YES to this. I think this stuff can seem so daunting and scary, and you are making it manageable.
    My parents, who are in their mid 60s, do not have a will. My siblings and I have been pushing them on it since forever ago and they keeps saying that they will and then they never do. (They also have used the excuse, but we don’t have anything! Um, yes you do!) I can’t tell you how anxious I am about the prospect of figuring this out with my siblings without a will, when the time comes. (Did you guys see that episode of Girls where Hannah’s grandmother is sick and her mom and aunts are fighting like crazy? I was like THAT WILL BE ME.)
    Anyways, if anyone has been in similar situations with their parents and have had any success convincing them, I’m all ears. At this point I’ve kind of resigned myself that there is nothing more I can do. They are adults, after all!

    • Emmers

      I haven’t had that situation with my parents. But dealing with my grandparents and their end of life, I’ve seen how if your wishes aren’t crystal clear (about any number of things), then basically whoever’s left standing gets to decide. This can apply both to what happens to stuff/money when they die, but also what their feelings are about nursing homes (ie if they have a facility that they prefer), and also end of life decisions (ie do they want to be kept alive at varying qualities of life, and what happens if they would not want to be kept alive, but their spouse ends up wanting this? with my grandma, it was really good that was written down).
      With my grandparents (on both sides), this meant we threw a lot of stuff away. Like many many truckloads, and some of it they probably would have preferred we do something else. But with limited time, and no clear instructions, you do what you have to.
      You could couch it that “I know you guys don’t feel like talking about this now, but just know that if you do pass away, then we’re going to decide to do things with your stuff, and it may not be what you’d want. And it stressed me out to think about it, so please write stuff down! “

      • macrain

        My mom had huge falling out (that led to estrangement) with her brother when their father passed away (I don’t know all of the particulars, but dividing this things was an issue), and only reconciled with him shorty before he passed away from cancer. To me it seemed to be the most gut wrenching, awful situation and I have a very hard time justifying why she would want to risk putting her own children in a similar situation. It’s probably just too painful to confront or think about, is my guess.

        • Emmers

          That’s fair. I’m sorry– stuff like that sucks. If it’s something that worries you and you’d be comfortable doing so, you may try talking with your siblings about this. So even if there never is any will, maybe you guys can at least be on the same page.

          • macrain

            That’s a good idea and could give us some control over the situation. As you can I’m fretting about all that’s out of my control.
            Thanks for the advice and support!

    • EllaByNight

      One thing that might help convince them is that in some states, if a person dies intestate (i.e., without a will), their assets won’t all go to their spouse. In my state, when someone dies without a will, half the assets go to the spouse and the other half are divided amongst the children. You may be able to convince your parents that wills are necessary if the way your state requires assets to be transferred when someone dies intestate doesn’t jive with their plans.

  • Nina

    Thank you APW for writing about these important issues! I am digging this new “tiny steps to adulthood” series because E and I have not talked about these things but clearly we need to. Most wedding blogs are all about love and centerpieces (which are great!) but it’s also important to think about the seriousness of marriage and everything that comes with that commitment to each other.

  • lady brett

    no no no. can i go back to last month’s lesson?
    more seriously, how do you have these conversations without losing your mind? i mean, i’m okay with the parts that are just “hey, we need to get off our lazy asses and fill out this piece of paper” – and i’m pretty okay with the will, now that you’ve framed it as making life easier for other people (’cause i don’t care where my shit goes).

    it’s the living will/health care proxy stuff i can’t figure out. my honey worked in emergency health care for like 10 years, so they’re pretty blase about all this (and know most of the terrible questions that need to be answered), but health care gives me hives in the simplest forms (like physicals, going to a physical gives me stomach cramps), and i can’t even form words around the idea of something terrible happening to my spouse. guh, so how do you get “rational brain” to kick in for these conversations?

    • Laura

      For me, I just frame it as the less unpleasant of two possibilities. Would you rather have uncomfortable, anxiety-filled conversations now that fill you with dread? Or would you prefer to be confronted with a situation in which your partner cannot communicate and you have to make some medical decisions without knowing the person’s wishes?

      The first one is damned unpleasant for a lot of people. But the second option? Oh, that has the possibility of leaving me guilt-ridden and questioning my own judgment for YEARS to come.

      I also think that starting with your own wishes and privately thinking things through is a great way to get going. Would I want a feeding tube in XYZ situation? How does that fit with my values? What, exactly, are my values when it comes to life and health and living with dignity? Framing it as a “values” conversation makes it a lot less daunting than framing it as a catastrophic illness conversation.

      • lady brett

        thanks y’all. that’s all very helpful stuff to think through.

        also, laura, your last part made me realize that some of what i’m mistaking for panic is really more of an out-of-my-depth lack of understanding. like, i have a vague “context clues” understanding of words like “life support” and “feeding tube” but it doesn’t feel like the kind of information you need to make any sort of decision (which isn’t much of an excuse, because it would be worse to not know this stuff if i need it than for this, but is an interesting thing to be aware of).

        • Alyssa M

          I’m kind of in the same place, and don’t really know where to start educating myself… Like I have a vague idea I’m not interested in living in a coma for years… but beyond that? I don’t even know what the options and choices really are, and its not to make decisions…

    • Rachael

      My husband and I had casually talked about the living will stuff before, mostly because he is in a profession with inherent risks. But what really prompted conversation between us was a family member being kept alive unnaturally or, in my opinion, inhumanely long. I was horrified at the whole ordeal and when I saw that he wasn’t as much I knew we had to talk about what each other would want. It’s good to figure out what each others beliefs, wishes, and understanding of what it is that goes into keeping people alive artificially. Some of the differences between us stem from me being a scientist in a biomedical field and him being uneducated in that area. From your comment it sounds like you and your honey might have some of those differences as well due to different levels of experience with health care.

      The Radiolab podcast episode “The Bitter End” (http://www.radiolab.org/story/262588-bitter-end/) gave me some insight into the differences between how I was thinking about it versus how my husband was thinking about it. My suggestion is to learn more about it and think about it more abstractly – as in what are your thoughts in general on the topics as opposed to if it were your significant other.

    • For me, it was helpful to think about this only being relevant when we’re very old and gray. Like I said above, it was surprisingly romantic…I think because it was like, “Well, this will be good to know when we’re an adorable 80 year old couple who has been married for 50 years.” Also I get WAY more stressed envisioning the absolute worst-case scenario (which is something awful happening AND not knowing what he wants) than I do imagining an extremely, extremely upsetting scenario (something awful happening but being prepared for it financially/legally/etc).

      • Meg Keene

        Though. I think everyone I know with kids (and we were just involved with friends wills) thinks about it in worst case scenario terms. If my kids are grown, I care less, fight it out. If they’re still dependents, it’s my responsibility to protect them NOW, just in case.

        But somehow wanting to provide for my kid feels different than thinking about worst case with just my partner.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      My advice, having worked with this stuff as a law student, but I don’t think this is legal advice, is to get the Uniform Health Care Decisions Act Advance Directive for Health Care form, have each partner just read it through, maybe fill it out but don’t sign it. Then go over each other’s. Really, there’s only one truly medical decision. The rest is appointing health care proxies.

      Alternatively, there are even simpler forms, designed for non-native English speakers and people with little schooling, that may kick off the thinking and talking. Maybe google “simple advance health care directive.”

  • Laura

    I, for one, absolutely love talking about end-of-life issues. And working with people with dementia has driven home how important it is to hammer out these things way, way before you think you’ll need them. So after dragging my partner (who doesn’t find it as thrilling to talk about our deaths, for some bizarre reason) through these conversations, we filled out the paperwork for advanced directives and medical proxy in our state. And there they’ve been sitting for a year, as we keep forgetting to grab two witnesses so we can actually sign the damn things.

    Not at all avoidant about the end-of-life conversations, but when it comes to making it legal, that avoidance could last decades. I’ve put it in my calendar. Witnessing/signing/filing/distributing to relevant parties will happen by May 1st. No excuses.

  • Katie

    Dumb grown-up question… are those fancy office file cabinets (ex Hon) fireproof?

    • kcaudad

      Probably not officially, but they might be able to make it through a small fire. We have a cheap ‘fire proof’ box that was $30 and is made of plastic… so I’m not convised that it is actually ‘fire proof’ either! A bank safety deposit box is probably your best bet. But, make sure someone else has a key or access to it.

      • rys

        Yes — make sure someone else is listed and has a key to the safety deposit box. When someone dies, if their name is the only one on the box, the box is sealed until the court opens it. Which can be a problem if that’s where the will or other key documents are stored. It can be tricky to convince elderly relatives to do this but it’s handy if someone is on 92-year-old great aunt Gertie’s box and knows what to do when she dies.

        These days, it seems to me original documents should be in a safe, fireproof place, and there should be copies at home and in the cloud. That way, even if it takes time to get the original/notarized/official one, people know what it contains or instructs.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          There are various reasons lawyers don’t like to give official documents to clients. One is that clients can accidentally cancel or change the documents, making all kinds of headaches. Example: My grandmother wrote on her will something like “$3,000 to each of my grandchildren for their education.” Did she mean to change her will? Was that just a note to think about it? Are we sure it’s her writing?

          But it’s especially important that funeral arrangements be easily accessible. The bank accounts, even the cats to some extent, can wait. Funeral arrangements are usually made before the family meets with an attorney, especially if death is sudden.

          Misplaced wills stories, first, the sad one: There were a lot of wills stored in the World Trade Center. Hopefully, those affected have taken the appropriate steps.

          I’m sure everyone who takes Wills, Trusts, and Estates hears some version of the funny story: Man dies. The family is absolutely certain there’s a will, but no one can find it. They search the house top to bottom, etc. They finally have to proceed without the will. Years later, they’re rebuilding the chicken coop, and they find a jar underneath with some papers in it. They open it up, and it’s the will, which begins, “You will find my will in a jar under the chicken coop.” Don’t be that guy.

  • Longtime Lurker

    Hello! I’m a long time lurker. I love the site and all the articles. This article is mostly awesome.

    BUT – the recomendation to use a template online for your will is HORRIBLE advice. Those templates are not tailored to your specific situation. You want an attorney who specializes in estate planning to look at your will or trust to make sure you are creating a good plan. I have seen so many situations where loved ones left behind were so so so screwed because of bad estate planning. An estate plan is as unique as the people involved and is so important.

    I work at a trust company and the trust officers here read those templates and sigh. They are so vague and unhelpful. There is a reason those templates are cheap or free.

    • Lena and Aggy

      I’m not going to put words in the author’s mouth but when I think about spending $1,000 to protect one (slightly paltry) retirement account, not to mention that I grumbled for a week about getting an $80 eye exam that wasn’t covered by insurance, I am tempted to create a word document, email it to my family and friends, and hope for the best. I think (and Liz can correct me if I’m wrong) but the point was at least to prod those who aren’t even thinking about this to do something…anything! Perhaps not the best compared to an official will, but better than head-in-the-sanding. It may be frustrating and vague but how frustrating and vague would a blank piece of paper be?

      • Caroline

        Yeah. I think the idea is, if going to a lawyer is not an option for you,(say, because you can’t afford it) you should still have these conversations and make a will. Even if it isn’t the best will ever, it seems like having talked a out it and having some will is better than none. These are baby steps, and going to see a lawyer is not nessicarily baby steps. If it will take you months or years to save to see a lawyer, does that mean you shouldn’t do end of life planning until then? Of course not.

    • Meg Keene

      Exactly what the other commenters said. I agree a lawyer is best, but if you can’t afford one, putting your wishes down on paper is better than nothing.

      Though interestingly in CA, we’re paying a lawyer to do this right now, but she and other lawyers in our life, were like “you know you can just do a template right? They’re FINE.” So it might be a little state by state (and how complex your finances are.)

    • Stacie

      Are you talking about things like LegalZoom here? Thanks!

  • Liz

    Hey folks,

    Lawyer here, and one who specializes in trusts & estates and elder law. Elisabeth brings up excellent points; however, there are a couple of things I want to point out:

    -Do not use an online form for your Will or advance directives. It may seem fine to do if you have minimal assets, but often these forms result in many complicated legal problems down the road. It often costs people far more money (in legal fees) and time than the $1000-1500 a lawyer would probably charge a young couple for a Will. It is especially important for LGBT couples to see an attorney with expertise in same-sex planning (in this case a Revocable Trust may be more appropriate depending on the state/family situation).

    -The same goes for the holographic Will…not legal in my state (NY) but I suspect it will cause more harm than good.

    -If you really don’t want to pay a lawyer at the very least make sure all of your accounts are joint and that your partner/spouse is listed as the beneficiary on any retirement accounts.

    Those are my two cents.

    • MisterEHolmes

      $1000-1500!? O.O

      • Ours in North Carolina was less expensive than that. Yes, it’s expensive but for my peace of mind it was worth it.

        • MisterEHolmes

          I appreciate the price figure: I’d probably have embarrassed myself when I showed up to a lawyer with $50. I just had no idea.

          • Liz

            That’s a ballpark figure–but it typically includes power of attorney, health care proxy and a living will (directs your wishes regarding artificial nutrition/hydration). I practice in New York so it’s a bit more expensive than other parts of the country. Some lawyers might be willing to work out a deal though, so it’s worth looking into. It’s always worth sitting down with a lawyer who will consult with you for free so you can get an idea.

          • Meg Keene

            Also! I know this is weird (we know lawyers, I have a business) but we’re doing ours in trade. I just mean to say, there are ways, and people that will work deals with you. So don’t let money hold you back from at least ASKING.

    • Anon

      Trusts & Estates attorney here. I posted a comment earlier this morning with some additional tips, but it disappeared(?). Anyway, FWIW I practice in Michigan and it would typically cost a young couple $800-$1500 to have a simple estate plan prepared (Wills, financial Powers of Attorney, Healthcare Directives, and Beneficiary Designations for retirement plans).

    • Caroline

      So I’m curious. If that type of expense is just not on the table any time soon, there’s just no way to save up that kind of money in any sort of near-ish timeframe, do you really think it is better to have no will? Not a lawyer, but it seems like having a potentially badly written will (maybe with the help of a NOLO book from the library) makes more sense than having no will.

      • Liz

        It really depends on your assets and the nature of your
        situation. If all of your accounts are joint with your spouse and
        retirement accounts have beneficiary designations then it’s okay not to have
        one…no reason to go through the process of putting together a poorly written
        Will. If you have assets in your individual name I would still suggest
        shopping around for a lawyer before resorting to a poorly written Will…in my
        experience a bad Will can create more harm than no Will at all.

        Also, it depends on the office but we only ask for half up from and half when
        the documents are complete. A lot of lawyers also take credit
        cards. Some may be willing to work with you in terms of a payment
        plan–especially if it’s a young couple/person…the lawyer will want you to
        keep her/him in mind when you are an older couple with substantial assets!

      • Meg Keene

        NO. Please have some sort of will, even if it’s not legally binding, it at least gives your survivors a sense of what you would want. And as some of my friends joke, you’re not going to be around to be bothered, so sometimes the best you can do is let them know what you would have wanted, even if they end up fighting it out ;)

        You know?

        Holographic wills are legal in CA, btw. Because we don’t have formal wills drawn up (working on it as we speak) we have holographic wills in the interim.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          I’d be curious about the experts’ opinions on trying to make something binding v. making your wishes known but in a clearly non-binding way. If you know it’s going to be a mess, is it better to have a poorly drafted will to provide structure to the fighting, or does that just mean they have to get the will tossed out before continuing the battle? meanwhile, maybe a non-binding letter would make sure the cats are cared for and Grandma’s notepad goes to the “right” person.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      My opinion, if you can’t afford a will: It’s just as much about knowing your people as knowing your assets. Dealing with my grandmother’s estate could have been h-ll because she tried to (or did) change her will without consulting her lawyer. But her children got along; the issue didn’t involve a big part of the estate; the possibly “wronged” individual just let it go.

      OTOH, I’ve seen families spend the entire value of estates on lawyer bills fighting over the property for years and sometimes decades, even with well-drafted estate plans, because they were petty and distrustful with one another. A lot of the fighting was because the estate plan tried to both deal with the distrust and continue it.

      Though they’re not lawyers, I come from a very paper-work-competent family that gets along very, very well, even in crises, even when it involves lots of money. Putting my wishes in writing is therefore less of a priority for me. But if they were different, what I’d say is that making your wishes as clear as you can, even if unenforceable in court, will eliminate some of the people/issues from what may be an inevitable mess.

  • emilyg25

    I have a question. So we’ve been looking at the Get Your Shit Together website and have had a lot of discussions about this stuff. My husband and I know each other’s desires, but we’ve been putting off seeing a lawyer because we wanted to wait till we had a kid. But reading this made me realize that maybe we don’t need to wait till we have a kid to make a guardianship plan for said kid. Can you make a plan for an imaginary twinkle in your eye? Or will we just have to go back and change a lot of stuff once that twinkle is a person?

    tl;dr: Will now, or after we breed?

    • Anon

      You may make a Will now :) The Will should include language applying its provisions to any children existing at the time the Will is signed or any future-born children. We do this pretty frequently for newly married couples.

    • Meg Keene

      Yeah. Think of it this way: our will will include language about stuff going to our children. IE, we’re not going to draw up a brand new will necessarily, every time we have another kid. (That makes it sound like we’re going to have a bunch of puppies, but you know what I mean.) You talk about “decedents” and such in vague terms all the time.

  • Teresa

    For the Christmas after we got married, my husband and I asked for a paper shredder and a fire-proof/water-proof box. Man, did that feel like adulthood.
    We have had these kinds of conversations, but we need to make them official. Thanks so much, APW, for that kick in the pants.

  • casey

    Another trusts and estates lawyer here… walking people through the process of beginning to think about these questions is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. You don’t have to know all the answers (or have thought of all the questions!) before meeting with a lawyer. A good lawyer will be able to tell you what you need to think about, and what isn’t worth stressing about.

    And to second, third, and fourth some of the earlier comments– please be careful with the online forms! They often cause more problems than they
    solve (and as a result are more expensive in the long run). Yes,
    talking to a lawyer now isn’t free, but a well thought-through plan is a
    really lovely gift to leave your family. Queer couples, especially–go talk to someone.

    • emilyg25

      “a well thought-through plan is a really lovely gift to leave your family.”

      I love thinking of it this way.

  • Kara E

    Our stuff (we still need wills – especially now that there’s a kid involved) is all in our safe. Yes, our safe that I don’t remember the combo to. I do know at least now know where it’s hidden though. *sigh*

  • Ok. I haven’t read through all the comments, but 1) thanks for this topic. Absolutely. 2) thanks for finding Get Your Shit Together. I’m definitely going to have to spend some time with that one. 3) Question, has anyone considered or put together life insurance? We have a mortgage and I keep thinking this would be a good idea, but it also seems like such a creepy sales pitch. Any advise?

    4) I think Jem and the Holograms was spelled with a J. ;)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I looked into life insurance. You can do it all online, or you can do one with medical underwriting, which will usually be less if your health is good. I applied for a policy with medical underwriting. They sent a medic to my home outside of work hours, he took my weight, a blood sample, and a urine sample. I was supposed to get the results, but there was a problem with the paperwork, and I didn’t follow up.

    • emilyg25

      Yes, we bought additional life insurance after we got married. My husband has had a small universal life policy for many years, and I opted to get a universal policy for myself in the same amount since I’m under 30 and it’s cheaper to lock it in now. That way, we’re guaranteed to have something to cover funeral expenses. We’ll get term life insurance when we buy a house or have children (to pay for college expenses), but we’re glad to have the small universal policies too. FWIW, we also both have policies through our work, but those will end when we quit.

      What you need/want is super personal, so it’s worth doing some research or talking to qualified people. I found the whole process to be very confusing and overwhelming. We were fortunate enough to work with a great agent who was really patient and not at all pushy.

  • Kayjayoh

    Thank you for reminding me of this stuff. More conversations to have.

  • Lindsay Rae

    “Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of Good” – currently on a post-it on my computer :)

    Thanks as always for the advice, APW, especially on the tough stuff. xo

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I’m a lawyer, but I don’t practice in these areas. This is the not-quite-legal advice I give my closest friends and family:

    1. Yes, an Advance Directive for Health Care. I’ve looked at lots of templates, and for young, healthy people I like the statutory form in the Uniform Health Care Decisions Act. I don’t like hospitals’ forms. Even though I’m in favor of life-prolonging measures under most circumstances, I have not found a better form for those priorities than the statutory form, but people interested in those issues can contact the Life Legal Defense Foundation or the Patients Rights Council for resources (both non-profits).

    2. An Advance Directive for Health Care is especially important for Californians and anyone who may have unusual wishes about who should make healthcare decisions on their behalf. It’s important for Californians because California did not pass the decision-maker hierarchy in the Uniform Act. In other states, the law is clear about who should make the decisions when a patient can’t and there’s nothing in writing. It’s about what you would expect: Patient’s spouse, then adult child, then parent, then sibling. In California, there’s nothing official to guide healthcare providers regarding whom to listen to.

    As for unusual wishes, I prefer my parents make decisions, rather than my spouse, so an Advance Directive became very important when I married. If my parents did not have similar views to me or to each other, or just couldn’t get along in crises, it would have been important to me to specify one over the other long before I got married.

    3. You can file your Advance Directive with your state, usually. Hospitals are required to check this registry under various circumstances. You just send in the paperwork. It costs $15. Recommended.

    4. Lots of hospitals have their own forms and will want you to use them over your own. Read your admissions paperwork carefully! The later-signed form will trump the earlier, more carefully considered form. Also, make a habit of bringing a copy of your Directive to every new doctor appointment and ask that it be included in your chart. The more copies that are out there, the more likely it will actually be used when necessary. (Also, the more difficult to make changes, so keep that in mind.)

    5. Many states null Advance Directives for pregnant patients. This is something to research, and really something you’ll need a paid expert to work out if you want it locked-down.

    6. There are special forms available for other special conditions. For example, I’ve read Advance Directives for Mental Health Care. This is something to look into if you know it’s relevant to your family.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    The less important issues, money and stuff.

    1. It’s my understanding that a will must go through the probate courts. In California, just beginning that process is $400, with additional fees along the way. For these and other reasons, I personally think wills are overrated for young, single people. Better to keep your family informed of your wishes and assets less formally, and let the last one standing work it out and hopefully avoid probate fees.

    2. Your student loans may die with you, but they can still go after whatever assets you have when you die. For me, when my assets were less than my loan balance, this was a reason not to have a will and not to tell my family where my savings were. Let the creditors work it out months after my family had cleaned out my apartment. No good lawyer would ever advise this strategy, but maybe just take this example as a push to learn and think about your loans and intangible assets (money in the bank, brokerage accounts, including 401Ks and IRAs).

    3. I had a holographic will from right after law school until a month after my marriage. They have the same problems as regular wills – including that they need to be revised/canceled with certain procedures. Better would be any kind of non-binding letter to your loved ones. It’s better than silence, or “frequently promising” but never putting anything in writing, and worse than paying a lawyer to do things formally. I think such letters would take care of most of the stories in advice columns (“Aunt Mabel always promised me her china set when she passed, but there was no will, and now my sister wants it…”), even if such letters would take care of none of the situations in the case law.

    • Anon

      Understanding that state law may vary widely depending on where you live:

      1. Not necessarily. For example, there is an informational requirement that the will of any Michigan person must be filed with the local probate court following that person’s death (free), but this does NOT necessarily mean that the estate must go through the probate process (which costs money). An estate must go through the probate process only if you have probate assets – that is, anything that does not pass by beneficiary designation (retirement plans, life insurance), was not owned jointly during life (bank accounts with a partner, parents, etc.), or does not pass under a trust agreement. If you have no probate assets, the terms of your will are still respected and all you have to do is drop it off at the court.

      2. Disagree. If a probate estate is necessary, better to file the documents and trigger the claims period. In Michigan, creditors have 4 months to come forward with claims once the period is triggered; after that, the claims are forever barred. If you never trigger the claims period, creditors could come out of the woodwork in the future.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        1. My state has procedures for avoiding probate of even probate assets if the estate is small enough. A will would throw a wrinkle in those procedures.

        2. I said no good lawyer would recommend it. But if the entire estate is going to creditors, isn’t it easier on the family to put the creditors in charge, rather than a family that doesn’t hope to inherit anything? Even if all court costs are eventually paid by the estate, spearheading a legal proceeding is major headaches, better to be an inactive party than an executor.

  • Kirstin

    This is an awesome post! I am terrible at thinking about the money/health care parts of this. We definitely need to talk about it and probably plan to meet with a lawyer too.

    I will admit that I think regularly about who would take my cats if something happens to us – mainly, who will put up with the special meal times and portion control for the hangry obese cat who hates her diet, and the rascally other one who enjoys shoving cat toys down the floor vents and tipping over water glasses in the middle of the night. This is why I can’t begin to think about the possible future kids yet.

  • We’ve talked health stuff. Our local hospital even has paperwork for me that we signed at my last surgery about it. It was interesting thinking who would be back-up to my husband on that in case he’s incapacitated. I picked my dad because I don’t picture my mom having the emotional where-with-all to do it.

    One thing I really want to put in my will is that nobody is to call me “late” when I’m dead. I’m dead. Call it like it is. But my husband says I can’t make that wish legally binding.

    • YOQ

      Okay, that is an excellent wish. “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered to remember the ever-prompt, but now dead, Giggles…”

  • CorrieS

    As someone who has worked in healthcare for the past 6 years, my one piece of advice on this subject is this: advance directives and living wills aren’t worth the paper they are printed on UNLESS you have also listed a power of attorney and have discussed your wishes with them. If something happens and you are unable to make your own decisions, next of kin overrules a living will every time. So, if you put you don’t want to be hooked up to machines for a prolonged time, etc. but your next of kin is making decisions for you they have the power to make whatever decision they want (and I see family members going against the patient’s wishes all the time). So, have the conversations. Makes sure the person you want to make decisions for you knows what decisions you would want made. Also, it is perfectly acceptable to list someone outside of your immediate next of kin to be power of attorney. I don’t ever want my mom making the decision to take me off machines so I bypassed the parents and listed my sister and my best nursing friend as decision makers. And then talked with them both about what I want.

    • Alyssa M

      Maybe I should ask one of the lawyers on here instead, but is it possible to assign power of attorney without a lawyer? Or is that one of those things you just have to suck it up and pay for. I have a friend who listed me as her decision maker in her advance directives (she does NOT want her emotional family in charge), but I’m unsure if she has a document giving me power of attorney… And if next of kin overrides, I know it’s going to cause an intense fight with her parents…

      • CorrieS

        I think it depends on the form. I am from Kansas and we have separate forms for the most part for the advance directive part and the healthcare power of attorney part. My POA form doesn’t have anything listed on it as far as what kinds of treatments I would want, just states that if I am unable to make medical decisions as determined by my healthcare provider than A, B, or C have the authority to do so in my stead. If her advance directive has a section that specifies who will make decisions for her if she is unable, and she lists you, and that form is properly witnessed/notarized, etc, than it should cover you. That being said, make sure you have a copy of the document(and if you are expecting there to be a fight a notarized copy wouldn’t hurt) because without that form her parents trump you. You would be shocked at how many people claim they have a form stating they have POA but are unable to produce it.

  • Thank you for this post!!! It’s been on my list to take care of this stuff for a few years now. I must admit that I am, however, now glad that I never got around to doing that with my ex because that would have been one more annoying (and painful) thing to undo with him. Anyhow, I need to work this kind of stuff this summer because I’d like to make sure my wishes are clear. I have almost no assets, but still. The intellectual property stuff is something that I never would have thought about had I not read Rachel’s comment. Reading the post made me feel icky in my stomach from the stress of thinking about that stuff, but…it’s probably better to get it over with and move on knowing it’s not a concern anymore. I still have no ideas about how to deal with all the digital stuff as a single person… I’m not sure who to ask to be the one to deal with that, you know?

    Thanks for the kick in the behind, APW…

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Not to Jenny but to everyone: In most states, the statutes will nullify estate-planning provisions benefiting an ex-spouse. So, you don’t have to draft a new will or healthcare proxy the day your divorce is final. Of course, you should use the same care in reconsidering and possibly redrafting such documents after major life changes as you did originally, but don’t think that the estate planning needs to be an express part of the divorce.

      But be very careful and speedy if your partnership is not recognized in law for whatever reason. Apart from marriage, registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, etc., the law of wills, trusts, and estates doesn’t have a good way of distinguishing the person you loved deeply and wanted to give everything to until the day you died, and the person who turned out to be a jerk and you stopped speaking to 5 years before you died, but never followed through on the paperwork. And if yours is anything other than a heterosexual marriage, you still need to be very on top of these things.

  • Sydney Eyrich

    My Dad recently got a job as chaplain at a hospital, and now he is very gung ho about me getting my medical directives squared away. At 20, I really don’t wish to think about death. I deal fairly poorly with death and/or terrible medical emergencies, so I was pretty much a disaster when he handed me the forms when I visited them over Christmas-all of the tears and all of the anxiety. All of that being said, I do feel that it is so so important to do this. As I was looking through the forms, it occurred to me that I really do have opinions about medical directives and who is going to make those decisions for me should I be unable to. It also brought up a lot of opinions about situations I hadn’t thought about before. My fiance is in the military, and it occurred to me that should I be injured and put on life support while he was deployed or away for training then I wouldn’t want to be “unplugged” until he could get there-whether that was in 2 hours or multiple months. Never in my life did I think that something like that would be important to me. All that said, I still haven’t filled out the forms. They are sitting on my kitchen table, and every time my fiance comes over he comments on them. We are getting married in July, so I sometimes think I should just wait till then… but this article reminded me again of the importance of it, so I guess I have some new weekend plans.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Oh, gosh, can our estate planning specialists come back?! Here were are on a wedding-planning website, and no one’s mentioned how you have to be careful about marriage changing the effect of these documents. Like, depending on the circumstances, if you make a will leaving everything to a future spouse, and marry that person, and never make a new will, the spouse could actually get less, depending on the laws of the state and the language of the wills. A good lawyer will address these issues, but someone using forms without a lawyer needs to be aware of them.

  • Ella

    Hm, it’s saying that Maddie wrote this piece, but it’s Elisabeth. Just an fyi that it should be changed! :)