Last year, David and I thought we might want to have a second kid, and realized that meant that we needed to get our lives organized. So a little over a year ago, I published a list on APW of some of the tasks we needed to accomplish in our household, as a way of holding myself accountable. Happily, looking back at that list, we’ve crossed every item off (high five, self!), but some of those items were way more emotionally difficult to take care of than others.
In short, we really dragged our feet about conversations involving… our own deaths. SURPRISING, RIGHT?
I didn’t want to think about dying; I didn’t want to think about losing David. But I also knew that, particularly with kids involved, it was vitally important to get things like life insurance and wills and things taken care of. I called them “difficult conversations,” and we slowly started slogging through them.
And then the last few months happened. In the span of time since summer started, it feels like we’ve lived a lifetime. Since I left on maternity leave, the following happened: I was sick during the end of my pregnancy, we welcomed an amazing baby girl, I had a life threatening emergency after giving birth, we got to know our amazing baby girl, we lost my father-in-law to cancer, we lost my grandmother a week later, and we’ve worked on executing her estate. It’s been awful. But it’s also changed the way I feel about these conversations. It’s made them feel less about death, and more about love.
What I’ve learned in the last few months is not just that you never know what life is going to throw at you. I’ve also learned that a well-planned estate is the kindest and most loving thing that you can give those that are left behind. Nobody wants to think about their own death, but for your survivors who are going to be thinking about nothing but death, and trying to sort through your paperwork while grieving, you can show your love by making that paperwork clear and organized. So, today we’ve partnered with Trusted Choice, a company that represents independent insurance agents, to talk about doing just that.
1. Write Your Wills: When we sat down to write our wills, we hired a friend who works in Estates and Trusts to walk us through the process. She had us start by filling out separate questionnaires, and then identified places where we needed to have conversations, and let us know what our options were. There are a number of things that you’ll need to figure out when you write your wills, but big ones include how you want to pass on your assets (for me, this included what should happen with my business if I died), who you want to appoint as the guardians of your children if you have them, and how you want to provide for people left behind (kids, siblings, partners, you name it). At the end of the process, our wills were pretty straightforward documents, but it took us tons of conversations about our values to get there.
Independent lawyers who focus on family law can be much more affordable than you’d think, but if you don’t want to pay for legal services you can find basic forms for wills online. (Here’s an example provided by the state bar of California, along with frequently asked questions about wills.)
2. Life Insurance: APW has, blessedly, written extensively about life insurance. However, knowledge is not (in my case) the same as action. David and I started our life insurance quest by maxing out the life insurance we’re able to purchase through his job. However, we wanted to get some additional insurance beyond that. The true pain-in-the-ass issue with life insurance is it generally involves receiving a basic medical exam, and then having the insurer go through your medical records. Amazingly, we managed to get our shit together enough to actually go through the process… and then I got turned down with a particular insurer. Why? Because I’d had complications with my first pregnancy. The honest (if embarrassing) truth, is that after that frustrating experience, I haven’t gotten up the nerve to apply for additional life insurance a second time.
That is, until I found out that our kids were getting a small portion of my father-in-law’s life insurance to help them pay for college. Amazing, right? Magical. A really profound way for their grandfather to keep loving them, even in death. It was also a huge incentive for me to get my own shit together, and find an insurer that will actually… insure me. (I am, after all, pretty healthy when not pregnant.)
If you’re starting at square one, Trusted Choice answers basic life insurance questions (like what it is and how it works) right here and more advanced questions (like how to name beneficiaries and the difference between whole life and term life insurance) here.
3. Advance Medical Directives and Living Wills: During our premarital counseling, our Rabbi handed us a form called The Five Wishes, and asked us to have a conversation with each other about how we’d like to be cared for, in the event of a major illness or while we were dying. We didn’t particularly want to have the conversation. But then, within two weeks, we went through the painful process of two of our loved ones dying. (Sensing a theme here?) It turned out that my grandmother had filled out The Five Wishes form, as well as talking about her desires with family. It meant that we were prepared for her needs and wishes. But more than that, when we pulled out the form a week after her death, I was able to read about what she hoped for us, as survivors. Knowing that she wanted us to think of her death as a time of personal growth sounds… cheesy I suppose, until you’re in the awful moment itself, and then it’s not cheesy at all.
You never know what’s going to happen, and you owe it to your partner and family to share your wishes with them, in case a situation comes up where they need to make decisions, and you can’t guide them. Having a living will, or working through a worksheet like The Five Wishes, can give you a format for that difficult conversation.
4. Document, document, document: Does your partner have all of your passwords? In case of an emergency can they log into your computer, your email, and your social media accounts? (I ask this as someone still going through notebooks and guessing at my otherwise meticulously organized grandmother’s computer password.) Do you both know how to access all of your checking accounts, savings accounts, mutual funds, retirement accounts, and credit cards? Do you have documents relating to all life insurance policies stored in a safe place? If you have a safety deposit box, do people know both where the key is and where the box is located? Only you know everything in your life that should be organized and documented, which means only you can take care of the list. If you’re not sure where to start, Get Your Shit Together is a pretty exhaustive resource the kinds of things you should be thinking about as you… get your shit together. And they make it feel less overwhelming with checklists, free templates, and emotional guidance in the mix.
Planning is caring
Planning for death is the worst. It pushes us face to face with our fears about mortality and with the fact that we can and will lose people that we love. It also happens to be the only way that we can properly care for the people that matter to us the most when we’re no longer here to do it in person.
Grieving is awful. Grieving while trying to figure out how to locate a mutual fund, or fighting with loved ones over how to divide assets, or guessing at the deceased’s wishes? Well, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
This post was sponsored by Trusted Choice. Every Trusted Choice agent has signed the Trusted Choice Performance Pledge, which is based in the philosophy that you’re a person, not a policy. Trusted Choice independent agents can offer almost any kind of insurance you can think of—life, rental, auto, RV, motorcycle, valuable collectibles, helicopter, internet business, and the list goes on. Click here to get in touch with a Trusted Choice insurance agent today, and find the right policy for your needs.
The information provided in this post is intended by Trusted Choice and APW to serve as general advice and guidance for all readers. The advice herein does not constitute legal or financial advice, and Trusted Choice and quoted professionals do not take legal or financial responsibility for this information. This article does not take the place of a consultation with a legal or financial advisor.