The Will. . . and the Won’t

Surprisingly (to me), I got a lot of fear reactions when I told some friends and clients I was getting a will made in Arizona.

Hand-written wills can be legal if witnessed and notarized, but ask your attorney, it varies from state to state.

“Are you dying?” is the question I got most often.
“Yes. We all are. Every day we get one day closer,” I’d say. What really surprised me is the reaction to that statement.
“Don’t say that. I’m fine.”
Well, sure you are, but everyday we are one day closer to the day we won’t be on this planet anymore. There are two important facts connected to that:

1. How are your living your life? You know those journal prompts, “What would you do if you knew you had 6 months to live?” It’s even more interesting if you ask, “What if you didn’t know when you would die–it could be years from now, it could be in a hour? How would you live your life differently?” That’s the prompt to think about. That’s the plan for your life.

2. How are you planning your death? You know you are going to die sometime, right? You know how much you love to control the details of your life. If you hate surprises, don’t be caught by the ultimate surprise.  A will is a legal document that spells out what happens after you are dead. But you want to think about some things while you are still very alive. Here’s a few things to think about:

  • If you have children under the age of 18, who will take care of them?
  • If you have adult children living with you because they can’t make it on their own right now, who will take care of them?
  • If you have a lot of credit card debt, or general debt, or a big (or upside down) mortgage, what are the banks allowed to take when you die? Who is responsible for your debt? The one thing you can be sure of is that the banks don’t forgive your debt when you die. Your executor may be burdened with all your debt. Good enough reason to have a will.

For people who own their own business, there are other questions that need to be thought about:

  • Who will tell your clients? This is particularly important is you are a sole proprietor, a coach, a consultant, or a therapist. You’ll need to make a client list with email and phone contact information, and keep it updated.
  • If you have clients, will you recommend someone to take your place?
  • If this list is on your computer, and there’s a password, you’ll have to include that information. In fact, there may be a lot of passwords you’ll need to classify and keep track of.
  • If you are an artist, writer, or do other creative work, what should happen to your unsold collection of work? Don’t assume you can donate it to state archives, libraries or museums. Many of them simply don’t want material that doesn’t have a high resale value.
  • Avoid fights after your death. If you have jewelry or heirlooms, write a list of who gets each item, and leave it with your will. You can change it as often as you like. Date and sign it with each update. Ask your attorney what sort of problems come up if you do this. I don’t own much high-value items, so it works fine for me. Your results may vary.

With social media the way to communicate, do you want your Facebook, Linked In and Twitter accounts closed when you die? It’s probably not a good idea to keep them open, because they become spam targets when not used regularly.

  • Write the statement you want distributed on your social networking sites and leave it with the passwords for each site. You might want to add the contact information of someone who will know about memorial information.
  • Let people know if you want your account “deactivated”–but kept accessible for information or “deleted” so no one can get information from those accounts.
  • If you do online banking, have  PayPal account, or do any shopping online, those access points to your money should be closed.

The major reason I started creating plans is not for when I’m dead, but while I’m busy dying. One attorney suggested spelling out every contingency–do I want to be given water? Fed via tube? If there is a 70 percent chance I’ll survive? How about a 10 percent chance? That sounded like an impossible task for me, so I created a small network of people who know my philosophy of living and dying, made my wishes known to them, and put their names on a separate document, to be used before the will goes into effect. These are called living wills or medical directives and every adult should have one. You don’t want a hospital, medic, or emotional family member making those important decisions. In face, two members must agree on what is to be done for me. My husband may be overwhelmed by a decision, but another person may be clearer on what I want.

For many people, this discussion may be difficult, something to avoid. Again, I have some clear ideas what I want, and I thought it would be a good idea for others to know. Your ideas might change over time, so update the documents if your convictions change.

Some other simple precautions to take: have a trusted relative or business partner as an additional signer on your bank accounts. If you die, your family should have access to the joint bank accounts.

If you are wealthy, have many children, need to set up a trust, or have other complicated financial situations, you need to see an attorney to explain your state rules to you. I was surprised to find how my will from another state didn’t cover the issues in the state I live in now.

Making a will does not mean you are ready to die, willing to die, or not afraid of dying. It simply means you care enough about your family not to leave them to clean up your mess. It’s the bigger equivalent of rinsing your own dishes and putting them into the dishwasher. If you don’t leave that for someone else, clean up your used dishes of life, too.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach who has lived a full life and hopes to live many more years. She felt far more relaxed and organized after taking care of the will paperwork.