Got Will? (No? Get Busy)

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

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

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.

Two friends, both of whom would raise their hands if asked for a roll-call of control freaks, have no wills. That surprised me. Wills give you control over what happens to much more than your stuff.

2. How are you planning your death? You know you are going to die sometime, right? 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.
Barbara Sue asked to have a parking meter on her gravestone. Her children made sure she got it. Yep, it says, "Expired."

Barbara Sue asked to have a parking meter on her gravestone. Her children made sure she got it. Yep, it says, “Expired.”

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. A living will or medical directives is paperwork every adult should create.  You don’t want a hospital, medic, or emotional family member making those important decisions. In fact, 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.

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.

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. Cleaning out the garage and making a will seem like good ideas.