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.

24 thoughts on “Got Will? (No? Get Busy)

  1. Last week I had new carpet laid throughout my home . . . it was like moving house! Everything that sat on the floor was taken outside and put back two days later. My son helped me with the removal and while we laboured I apologised for having so much for him to sort when (not if) I die because like you I see it as simply another, inevitable, life event.
    We think about the more valuable things, those possessions that may give rise to dissention, and plan for them in the will, but what of the small stuff? Another reason to simplify, pare back. Another reason to make clear your preferences.

  2. Everyone needs a will. If you are over 18, especially if you are a single parent. We don’t like to think about our mortality, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s absolutely essential. A “Living Will is equally important – these very simple documents can prevent family squabbles, eliminate guessing & provide a tiny bit of peace amid the storm caused by the death of a loved one.

  3. One very important reason to have a will: divorce doesn’t invalidate a previous will (at least not in Canada) – only a new will revokes an old one. Re-marriage makes it more complicated, and if there are children from one or both previous marriages, it can get real ugly when one partner dies intestate (without a will). It took us years to get around to having our wills, PoAs and personal directives done (all done just a few weeks ago in fact) but it’s absoltely worth the peace of mind. We both have adult children from previous marriages and the complicated mess would have been a terrible burden to leave behind.

  4. What a great post! Thanks for this kick in the butt, I have some of this organized but had not dealt with the on-line stuff. I really appreciate this list of things that I need to attend to.

    • A quote from a reputable legal newsletter: “In short, despite a disclaimer that their [Legal Zoom’s] document preparation services are not a substitute for the advice of an attorney, they try to convince you that the advice of an attorney is simply not necessary.”

      • Sounds like a lawyer talking. I’ve used LegalZoom and found it to be exactly what they say; as long as you know what you need and simply want the right forms selected and properly filled out, it’s a good service that saves money and reduces errors.

  5. This is an issue that has recently been talked a lot in the media around here. It’s just wise to have a will – especially if you don’t have kids of your own. And even if you have, it might be wise to discuss about this stuff while you are still around. It’s amazing into what kind of a mess it can turn. And those bank accounts and bonds and whatnots. Oh, boy. Some of the odd shares my grandpa had turned up YEARS after he had died.

    And when it comes to dividing household items – all the stuff that has more sentimental value than anything else – there’s great urban legend (though this might easily be true) about it. Apparently, when an old, old lady had died and the relatives gathered to clear out her apartment, they found out that every piece of furniture, art, lamp, etc. had a small sticker with a name on it. The relatives realised that the old lady had quietly found out who liked what and had herself decided who should get what. Quite a nice gesture, I think, like a parting gift or something. Instead of “I inherited this from aunt Sylvia” it became “I got this from aunt Sylvia. She wanted me to have it.” 🙂

  6. Wow, Quinn! I thought “will” meant “be willing to art journal even though you don’t feel like it, just start & do it anyway,” or something of the sort. I’ve never read a blog post from anyone who has spoke so frankly, honestly & thoroughly about this who isn’t a lawyer or doctor. I’m a little speechless & am going to have to read it over to let it sink in. Guess all I can do is stand at attention, salute & say, “Yes ma’am! WILL do!” 🙂

    • I write about all sorts of things that touch on creativity. And taking care of administrative tasks that mold your life and the life of people around you gives you more time for creative pursuits.

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