Wills and Trusts: What are your plans? #Nitty Gritty#advice#death#emergency#legal issues March 5 2013 | Guest post by Beretta Fleur Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter. To my husband, I leave my My Little Pony, oh and don't forget to water my plants. My Little Pony © by kaktuslampan, used under Creative Commons license. Call me morbid, but since age six, I've had a living will or last will and testament of sorts. I've changed it over the years (pretty sure Husband wouldn't want my Moondancer My Little Pony and would instead want to know what to do with my 401k). But I now know to make it a legally binding document. I just don't want to ever leave my family with (what I would assume would be) not only the grief over losing me, but also what to do with all my crap. Or whether or not I would "want" them to keep me alive. Or how to close out my email accounts. Or how long they should leave my Facebook page up. Or who to absolutely (or absolutely not) contact about the funeral. If this is something that weights on your mind, I would recommend meeting with a lawyer or researching which documents would work best for you in your situation, as well as under your local or federal laws. This page on Legal Zoom, has information and comparisons regarding wills, living wills, and trusts to get you started. I am by no means a legal expert, but here are points I've deemed as important to include in my will: If I want life support treatment or not (often called a DNR) if I should suffer brain or head trauma, am in a coma, am in an "end-stage condition" (such as with cancer) or can otherwise be declared "brain dead." (I also have been advised that this needs to be specific, as in do I consider breathing machines, medications, tube feeding, etc. to be life support.) Who is to be determined my "health care proxy" should I become incapacitated but still technically more "alive" than what would necessitate life support. What is to be done with my remains (full medical donation/organ donation/burial/cremation, etc). Who is to be named legal caretaker of my pets. Who to contact as friends and family and their emails, addresses, and/or phone numbers for funeral or memorial services. Any wishes I may have for the type of service I would prefer (I want a rowdy wake, not a somber Funeral Home affair) Where all my financial assets are and who has power of attorney over my "estate." A letter to my partner, along with last parting words to loved ones and a general reading at my services. Lastly, I've made sure my family knows this information exists and where to find it should anything happen to me. What about you? What are your feelings, experiences regarding final wishes, wills, or trusts? Reporter Name * Reporter Email * Original text Enter the original text here. Edited text* Enter your suggested copyedit here. Notes You can add a note for the editor here. * Required information. Fix Typo Guest post written by Beretta Fleur Beretta Fleur is a writer and graphic designer living in Los Angeles. She cooks, models, paints, and shoots sporting clays. Her book, Hosting With Style: Beretta Fleur's Guide to Parties and Homemaking, will be available Fall 2012. http://berettafleur.wordpress.com/ PREVIOUS My daughter wants a Doctor Who-themed Bat Mitzvah and we're lost: help us plan her party! NEXT I am the parent of a weird kid, and I know I'm not alone Show/Hide comments [ 51 ] In Canada, a Will is not enforceable until death, and is often not looked at until after a funeral has occurred. Health care proxy and health care decisions should be set out in a separate document called a Personal Directive (often called a living will) and should be discussed with whoever will be your health care proxy. Also, information about types of funeral service and burial vs. cremation if left in a will are not binding, but we often put them in there as a wish so the information is available. Reply I was going to make this comment. In the US, they are called Medical Powers of Attorney, and should be a separate document than your will. Reply Power of Attorney / Health Care Proxy can come up in the case of mental illness — e.g. a person hospitalized for depression, and deemed to be a danger to self and/or others, does not have the right to refuse treatment on their own behalf — it's important that someone else be able to make decisions on their behalf at that point, and certainly preferable that the patient have conveyed their wishes to their proxy *before* it becomes an issue. That being said, I don't actually have a living will or anything yet. Probably should, I just hate legal stuff and paperwork and so on. Reply Beretta! So nice to see you here, I love your blog. I feel it is very important to think about, and discuss with your loved ones, these subjects. As a future civil law notary in the Netherlands (totally not the same thing as an American notary btw). I have been dealing with these subjects for over two years. It's amazing and disheartening to hear how many people just leave their estate behind without any information regarding their wishes. Now I'm not sure how things are meant to be taken care of in the US, but these subjects you've mentioned in your post cannot simply be arranged in a will here in Holland. For example, if you want to donate organs after you've passed away, you need to register your choice in a seperate system. If you make a will, which can only be done at the civil law notary, you can decide where your money goes, who gets the house and how you wish to be buried. The latter can also be written down in a codicil (which can be changed at any time without the help of a notary) and lately a lot of funeral homes have the option to write other wishes down in a document detailing your funeral (music, cascet, burial or cremation etc.). these wishes are not binding, but many people really appreciate the info. The living will is a seperate document you can have drawn up at the notary with a proxy (for example to have someone being able to handle your estate when you are still alive but unable to do it yourself -think missing persons or dementia-, details about your medical wishes and, if you so choose, a Euthanasia request. The medical part can also be taken care of at your doctor's office, by writing your medical wishes (DNR, declaration of no further treatment, wishes for a certain treatment etc.) down and signing it, then handing it over to your doctor. In the same or a seperate document you can give a medical proxy to a certain person, for example a family member or good friend. All these things and more should, in an ideal world, have been taken care of early in anyone's life. But most of the time they aren't. I hope your article will remind people, especially those who can't, have not yet gotten or don't want the legal safety of marriage, that such things are important. Reply In Italy you can't decide for Euthanasia. Doctors have to keep you alive. You can't even decide to refuse treatments should you be brain dead. It's something we hope the new government (as soon as there will be one, yay for crappy political scene) will take care about. It's ridiculous to think one can't decide for his own life and death (I *suspect* this has something to do with the Vatican – by the way, no better scene there). Reply Hi, and thank you! It's good to know about these differences in more clarity, and helpful to have a community dialogue going about it for the US and for other countries too. Reply We still need to do this. I spoke to my husband about it shortly after we got married. I even have the software to do it ourselves and then have certified. He is having a hard time thinking about it, however. Reply Mine, too. It's definitely a subject that needs much thought, research and planning,which is why I like to dialogue about it within my family on a "tiny bites" basis over time. It's also good to hear what the differences are between the US and other countries. Reply Sounds like what I am going through right now with my husband, especially since we have a daughter who is autistic and I have some medical issues that has rise in a few years that if my family wasn't there or if I didn't make it know that he is my power of attorney, then God/dess know what the fuck might happen to me. Right now I am trying to get him to see that we need a family attorney, especially with our daughter in case anything happens to us. He keeps thinking that going to Legal Zoom, no offense to anyone who has used it, is going to be enough. I have heard enough horror stories where when people did not have the right documents in place for their special needs kids that things were bad and families has to fight to just to be able to just take care of the kid. Also I am in bad health at the moment and I guess he thinks it will not happen to us. Anyway have any advice on getting shit like this through your partner's head…….?!? Reply I'm going to make a big assumption that you're in the US, though if you're not, some of my advice may still be useful. It sounds like you need to make a list of all the things you want for yourself, for him, for your daughter. You don't have to know which documents, specifically, you need, but rather something similar to what the lovely Beretta has done here. Make it long. Make it scary as hell. Then tell him he's got a week to figure out whether or not a "supplemental needs trust" is valid in your state/territory and if it will cover everything on your list. If he can't answer you in a week, make it easy for him by doing the research on a few local attorneys who might be a good fit your family, getting a cost estimate on the work you want, and being able to tell him what to expect. When you take away the unknown, it's harder to push back. For the stubborn spouse, I often appeal to analogy. There's something in his life that, no matter how capable and handy, he always calls someone else to deal with because it's too dangerous or expensive or time-consuming if he tries it and it breaks. For me, this is anything electrical more complicated than changing a light fixture. I learned that from my father, by example – there are only so many times you can see a man electrocute himself before you know it's not for you. Even he always calls a plumber when a problem goes any lower than the garbage disposal. Fact is, you may not get another shot to do it right. Reply thanks for the suggestion. I think I may try it this week since the little one goes on spring break with my mother and he may have new job @ the end of the month. Will keep you posted on how he reacts. Reply I'm so glad this is an OBHL topic, because it's something I have vaguely thought my husband and I need (especially medical directive stuff) but don't know all that much about. Another financial issue to consider is that of access to assets if you're incapacitated but alive, or after you pass away but before the estate has been settled. My parents recently asked me to become a co-signer on their checking account for this very reason. This way should something happen to both of them, I could handle any financial needs immediately like their mortgage, funeral costs, healthcare costs, etc. Reply There's probably a better way to do that without exposing you or your parents to some of the risks that come with having multiple names on a bank account. Being added to an account is one of the easiest ways to give someone else emergency access, but it's very, very limited in the powers it grants (just being on the bank account wouldn't entitle you to receive checks on their behalf, for example) and can cause unforeseen problems with taxes and credit. Ask an attorney in your area about a Durable Springing Power of Attorney – Durable means it will still be valid if they are alive but incapacitated from making decisions personally; Springing means it only goes into effect if something has happened to them; Power of Attorney is grants you a portion of the same power to make decisions that they would be able to exercise. That might be a better option for you. Reply Yeah, I need to do this. I know what I want, and I know what the partner wants, but we need to make it official. Especially since we have a kid. It's a little bit daunting though. Reply The local Pagan church I attend has this… I guess you could call it a "checklist" posted on their website: http://www.elderfaiths.org/endoflife.html I have found it very helpful in organizing what I would want on that sort of paperwork. I'll definitely keep this post in mind once my fiancee and I move in together, which is when I would want to get started on a will and all that jazz. Reply Wow, that's a very thorough checklist & a really useful place to start in the process. The only thing I'd add (being an online type) is something about leaving passwords to important websites you'd want shut down, whether blogs or social media or whatever accounts you're active on. Anything that your survivors would need to have closed after you're gone. Yes, this stuff changes fast, but it's also one of those really hard things for those left behind to deal with, due to online terms of service agreements. I've seen some friends have to sort this out, unfortunately. Reply Everyone should, at very least, have a will. It doesn't have to be fancy at all. In fact, you an create what is called a "holographic will" wherein you write it in your own hand, and it does not have to be witnessed. Check with the laws in your country, though, as holographic wills may not be accepted everywhere. Also, discuss your wishes with your loved ones; your death should not be the venue used to discover the location of your grandmother's wedding ring, for example. Write this stuff out, make sure everyone knows where the important stuff is and who should get it. A well planned will will make your passing much easier on your loved ones. Reply A HOLOGRAPHIC WILL IS NOT AUTOMATICALLY VALID. IN MANY STATES THEY DO NEED TO BE WITNESSED BY AT LEAST TWO NON-RELATED PERSONS TO BE VALID. For the love of all that is holy, please please please consult an attorney before writing a will, even before handwriting a holographic will on your deathbed. I have seen terrible cases come out because somebody wrote a holographic will on their deathbed, didn't appoint a personal representative, and didn't consider things like taxes and other aspects of the estate. In some cases, it is worse to write a holographic will that doesn't include everything than to just let the state handle matters. These things vary SO WIDELY state-to-state. Attorneys consider wills to be a loss leader, and typically do not charge a ton of money for them. Please don't think you are priced out of having a professionally done estate plan. Reply This is really useful advice, but does anyone have any advice on how not to be terrified of this entire subject? I have this weird superstition that making plans will make things come true (ie if I say I want to donate my organs, I will be in a position where I will, etc)… dumb, but scares me to (ha) death. Reply This has been my issue for years, since 2 friends died when I was 18. I went through a lot of anguish basically fighting against the simple fact of death (this is called denial). What has helped me is a) to become more embodied through good diet and movement, and b) study yoga and Buddhism. A) Because I was basically having an existential crisis–and being more embodied helps you feel like you exist more solidly, and b) because these are reality-based practices that help you be at peace with what is, even scary shit like death. Yoga therapy, acupuncture, and health coaching have all played big roles for me. Good luck. <3 Reply Margie, I too feel really creeped out about the whole Will issue. But because I have kiddos I had to pull up my big girl panties and get one done. The thought of my kids having to hang out in foster care while they figured out where to put them? Not gonna happen. I will tell you that having the Will done is a relief. There is a plan for what should happen…everything may not go according to the plan, but at least I've made things a little less messy and painful for everybody. Yeah, the Will is scary…I'm not even a fan of looking at the big white envelope it came in…but I do like knowing its there. Try to look at it as a security blanket. Reply a somewhat related side-note – if, when your kids are old enough to watch the house, you decide to go on an extended vacation, please do not make a "if we die" folder that is covered in happy faces and give it to them. My mother did this for me, and it was so weird it gave me anxiety to glance at throughout their entire trip. She left it on her desk, and I never touched it, even though I had to see it every time I went to the house to water plants, etc. I think the better approach is to have a specific place in the house where "emergency documents" go — in case of anything, not just deaths — and make sure your kids are aware of this & at least one other trusted family member/adult. That way, if there's a fire/earthquake/flood or even a death, there's one place that your kids will think, "this was an emergency, I should check the file cabinet/safe/hidden envelope." but otherwise, they don't really have to think much about it. Reply Margie, nothing makes these conversations easier except the attitude you bring to it. I usually tell my clients to make a big pitcher of margaritas and grill out while they talk about what health care and property decisions they want to make. I'm sort of a tough love type on this, but it works. You're absolutely going to be in a position to donate your organs and pass on your property because the only thing you know for certain will happen in your life is that you're going to die. What planning before you get there does is give your loved ones a map to follow – that plan's not really for you, it's to comfort and empower them in the decisions they're going to have to make anyway. Reply I would suggest that you approach it very matter of factly. The truth is, there's no real mystery – we're all going to die at some point, so thinking about it isn't any weirder than trying to figure out what you're going to do with next summer's vacation. It's coming, so you have to plan for it. Having a will doesn't mean that you want to die, that you're ready to die, that you're hoping to die. It means that you've thought about it. Nothing else. When you get in the car, you put on your seatbelt, right? That doesn't mean that you're magically "making" a car accident happen (or that you want one to happen). It means that were something unfortunate to happen, you would be prepared. That's all a will is. A seatbelt for those left behind. Reply "When you get in the car, you put on your seatbelt, right? That doesn't mean that you're magically "making" a car accident happen (or that you want one to happen). It means that were something unfortunate to happen, you would be prepared. That's all a will is. A seatbelt for those left behind. " THANK YOU FOR THIS. This is an amazing way to put it in a context that makes perfect sense. I cannot get my husband to discuss this and attempts to do so usually end with me threatening to throw his body to wolves since he won't make any plans. That sentence is a must better way to approach this and will be stealing it and will I love you forever for it. Reply 🙂 Reply Okay, so I am a lawyer. Who worked in estate planning and administration, and anyone who is even considering DIYing their Will should consult an attorney. There are a lot of strange estate laws out there that you don't necessarily know, and can't assume. For example, do you know if your state statutorily requires you to leave a certain percentage of your estate to your spouse, whether you are ten minutes away from getting divorced or not? Do you know if your state requires one witness, two witnesses, a notary, or those witnesses to come and testify in court after you are dead? Do you know if your state requires that all property pass through probate even if you titled your house as a joint tenancy with right of survivorship? Attorneys really do not charge all that much for wills, and they certainly do not charge all that much to talk to you on the phone about the requirements and give you a quote, so please give somebody who knows the law more than you do a call before sitting down to draft anything. In a lot of cases, half-assing a will or power of attorney because you "couldn't afford a lawyer" will only cost you more in the long run. (I've seen heartbreaking cases where an incapacitated person signed a power of attorney that wasn't valid, and therefore the loved one had to go through a guardianship, which is a months-long, expensive, complicated procedure.) As for the checklist, it's a good start for what to think about, but saying that those are the things that should be in your "will" is like saying that in your suitcase for a trip, you should pack your car and an airplane. Now, I am only barred in Maryland, and this is not legal advice, but this is general information about what a will consists of and the other SEPARATE documents and terminology that you should think about, research, and CONSULT A LEGAL PROFESSIONAL ADMITTED TO THE BAR IN YOUR STATE OR COUNTRY about: An estate plan consists generally, of 3-4 documents (or more). One is a Last Will and Testament. Assume that nobody will read it until you have been dead for at least a couple weeks. Do NOT put medical information or funeral directives in it. DO put in language about how your funeral will be paid for – especially if your state has a statutory cap on funeral expenses. Go ahead and designate who takes care of your pets, who you want to get your stuff, but make sure you know the property tax laws in your state – in a number of states, your friends will pay a tax if you leave them property. As will an unmarried cohabitant. In some states, certain family members will pay a tax and some will be tax exempt. Know how it works in your state with either an executor, personal representative, or what have you who administers your estate – appoint somebody, and a backup, to that job. Talk to an attorney to see if it makes sense to appoint joint persons (it often doesn't, but again, this varies.) Advance Medical Directives or a Medical Power Attorney or a Living Will is often available from a state as a pre-printed form that you can fill out, so do a little googleing to see if your state provides them. (Maryland does, it requires two witnesses.) An attorney can often prepare a more comprehensive medical directive plan, so consult one. Also find out if your state has specific requirements or definitions of things like "persistent vegetative state" versus "end stage illness". This also allows you to appoint a medical power of attorney or health care agent. A Power of Attorney is only in effect while you are alive, and allows another person to have either limited or complete financial control. Make sure you trust this person immensely. Some states have statutory form power of attorneys (Maryland does, it needs to be witnessed by two people and notarized); but I STRONGLY encourage you to consult an attorney before designating a power of attorney. Funeral directives, bank account information, and everything else that your loved ones will need to figure out how to access non-probate assets (things like joint bank accounts, jointly owned real property, life insurance policies), as well as passwords to all your online data so that people can make sure bills are paid, etc. should all go in a separate document. A trust may be necessary as either part of your will or as part of a separate document. Trusts are especially necessary if you live in a state where it is beneficial to avoid probate, you own property in multiple states, you have a child or family member with special needs, or you have minor children. If I've made this seem really confusing, that means I've achieved my goal. This stuff is really complicated, and you need to think about it and you need to consult a professional. Generally, if you put a solid estate plan in place when you are young, you shouldn't need to update it for another 20 years – Wills tend to be pretty broad, rather than specific, for exactly that reason. So yes, you might have to pay as much as a few hundred dollars, but that cost, spread out over the course of years, adds up to pennies a day. Reply Thank you! I read half your comment then copied over the whole thing to the running document I have to get our will/POA planning started. Right now it's just a list of questions for us to sit down and look at sometime soon, but that's more progress than we've ever made before after years of saying "Yeah, we should do that…" Reply I'm an actor and writer, and in my post-death documents, I also list who is executor of my artistic estate, and who is the beneficiary of any work of mine that receives royalties. This would be important to include for any artist or creator. Reply Neil Gaiman wrote a blog post a few years ago that was about how important it is for creative people to have wills that cover what will happen to their work, and included a sample PDF document to help people get started with writing such a document: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2006/10/important-and-pass-it-on.html Reply I highly recommend checking out Get Your Shit Together (http://getyourshittogether.org/) It was started by a woman whose husband died in an accident a few years ago, who now has the idea that people who are dealing with a sudden traumatic loss of a family member definitely do NOT need to be worrying about whether or not their shit is together (as it were). Guides to making a will, a living will, organizing insurance information, financial planning in case of sudden loss, etc. VERY good things that every family should spend time thinking about, and on that site they are presented in a format that I think is quite friendly to the offbeat home crowd. Reply Another thing to be aware of is divorce–it seems like some things (power of attorney, etc.) are automatically invalidated in my state, but that's probably not true anywhere. These documents should definitely be revisited anytime you have a major relationship change or children. Reply Don't forget to include passwords for email and social media, so these can be shut down. Perhaps best to use some kind of password keeper software? And leave the admin password to get in to your computer in the first place? Reply Ugh…Mr. Bear and I put off making our wills for as long as we could, over the unpleasantness of thinking about having to live without each other. Once we got pregnant, though, we knew it had to be done. Thankfully, being military, we had a law office available to us to make the whole thing less confusing/scary. Reply I'm so glad to see this brought up from the perspective of someone who's making the decision, since it's opening up discussion. Like Ellie above, I'm an attorney as well and I help a lot of families with their estate plans. It's an excellent idea to have a list of things you'd like when you go see an attorney, but seriously, don't even look at LegalZoom. Forget you ever saw that link. Burn it with fire if you need to. I'm not saying that because they're competition for me, I'm saying it as someone who routinely needs to re-write estates plans for people who had them prepared by attorneys who knew what they were doing. Why rewrite good plans? Because my clients didn't know what their plans actually said and assumed their plans would do things they would not. What you pay for when you pay for a lawyer's time is their advice on whether/how you can do what's on your list of things you want. Sites like LegalZoom don't give you that at all. Most of the things on Beretta's list CANNOT be put into a will (which is a specific document), but they are excellent components of a larger estate plan. A DNR, a living will/health care directive, and a health car proxy/power of attorney are all very different documents. Here's a comment I made recently on a similar post in OBB that talks a little about the difference in the US: http://offbeatbride.com/2013/02/your-offbeat-marriage-needs-a-lawyer-seriously-by-dara#comment-193478 Lawyers are people, some of them are cool. Several cool lawyers post here, in fact. The easiest way to have the tough conversations this kind of planning requires is to make an appointment with a lawyer who can help you walk through it. Reply Thanks for commenting! If there are descriptions and information or items on LegalZoom that are inaccurate, that's good to know. The article was mainly meant to guide people in the direction of discussion and completing their own legal research. LegalZoom is part of the internet, and information on the internet, especially information so important as legal or medical advice, should ALWAYS be cross-referenced by a professional or expert in the field of your choosing. The link was posted to show a page that compares the differences between Living Wills, Last Wills, and Living Trusts in brief descriptions…. Not to necessarily draw up your plans through LegalZoom. (Although it's your choice if you choose to do so… and is it too irreverent to say "Hey it's your funeral!" ? wahwahwaaaahhhh….) I am loving that there are legal advisors who are posting in these comments, since I am as much at sea as the next person 🙂 And I hope that the article is doing what it was meant for: spawning conversation and getting people sharing, planning, and discussing these important points with their families. Thanks again, everyone, for adding to the discussion! Reply Shame on me, I do not have a will (yet): But my parents and sisters used to talk about our plans, who will be responsible for what and such over and over. It's a good thing to prepare for the inevitable, so you won't leave your family not only grieving, but also fighting about what should be done. Reply One other related thing – please get life, and even more importantly, disability insurance. You might think "I'm young and healthy and have no kids, I don't want the expense." So wrong. It's such an unbelievable safety net. The older you get, the harder (and more expensive) it is to get both kinds of insurance, and as soon as you really need them, you can't get them. If you have a house that requires two incomes to pay the mortgage, do you want your partner to have to sell in the event that you die? If you get in a bike accident and can't work for 6 weeks, do you want to have to choose between groceries or pain meds? The best thing that you can hope for is that both insurances are a huge waste of money. But as someone who spent the better part of a year relying on (private) disability payments, that money invested is soooooo well spent. Reply Yes–this is one area my partner and I have covered. If he were to die suddenly, I would want the freedom to grieve and take my time making major decisions. I wouldn't want to worry about having to sell the house. Also, make sure your life insurance covers student loans or other debts. In the US, private student loans do not have to be discharged upon death (federal loans do). From my quick research, it sounds like things get even stickier for joint debt (for instance, if a parent co-signed your student loans). Reply Can I just say to the lawyers — please don't knock all the DIY options immediately. While they may not be perfect or have all the legal t's crossed & i's dotted, what articles like this & those websites & lists really achieve is to get people THINKING about a topic that most people don't want to think about. Death, dying, & wills are stuff people put off for "later" & then it becomes too late. (As several of these comments have mentioned.) So if someone reads this article's tips or uses one of those online checklists to start a plan, that's awesome. Because I would bet that leads them to realizing that they'll need a lawyer or at least to find the 80 zillion official legal forms for their state/country & hours of research that is actually necessary for the process. But at least give folks a chance to start, m'kay? Reply Trystan, I appreciate where you're coming from, and I agree to a large extent. The biggest and hardest part of any estate plan isn't my part, but the questions and conversations that client needs to answer and have herself. Articles like this make that fear and the need to plan more accessible to people, and that's essential. Where I do take issue is that you're essentially asking us to stop telling people the difference between apples and oranges because people really need to think about eating more fruit. This article is fantastic as a jumping-off point and several of the links provided in the comments are great and should be a first step for thinking about plans that an attorney can help put in place. Those are *fundamentally different* than DIY documents that you find in an office supply store or through a service like LegalZoom because they aren't representing themselves to be the solution to problems, merely the starting point for thinking about how you want problems resolved. Not having all the legal i's dotted and t's crossed is how loving partners of 30 years get turned out of their homes and how people spend ages lingering in vegetative states under long term care plans they would not have chosen. That's not a scary "what if," that's what I see in my job all the time. Believing you have correct protections when you don't is as dangerous to your family and health as lead paint and asbestos insulation and I'd warn people about that, too. Reply Most of the estate litigation we get is from t hose people who have done DIY stuff that ends up not being legally binding for some reason or another, so instead of having everything sorted out like they thought they did, it becomes a huge headache and estate expense. Reply But more people get turned out of homes & lose money from having *no* will at all – bec. nobody talked about it, everybody put it off. I still say it's better to have articles like this & online checklists get people thinking about the topic than nothing at all. The fact is, in the U.S., most people die without leaving any will or instructions. Reply First of all: "morbid" or not, it's practical and important to have your last wishes taken care of, as is life insurance. (Both things I need to get on, actually). I have nothing to add except an anecdote. My dad got some sort of a booklet to fill out for this sort of planning. (He has a proper will also, through the family attorney). I got a glimpse at this book and he was a total smartass. Under favorite psalms he put "ALL OF THEM" and under pallbearers he put "Anyone dumb enough to do it". While I'm not sure how helpful this book will prove when he's gone, I know I will have some levity to brighten up an otherwise sad time. Reply Ha ha – that sounds fantastic! Reply I have yet to make anything "official", but I need to. My husband doesn't want to talk about this stuff AT ALL, and it literally took him two years to fill out the "killed in the line of duty" packet from his law enforcement job. I want to donate my body to science (usually expressed with fist pumps and hissing "SCIENCE!!!"), and I've only just got him to come to terms with this idea. This is what I want: if I die in a way that doesn't leave my body too mangled, donate it to the University of New England medical school for research. That's option #1. If a die in a more mangled manner that the school can't use, then I give permission for my organs and anything else to be harvested. That includes corneas, skin, limbs, whatever. I'm not going to be needing it. The rest can either be cremated, or preferably just buried "as is" in a pine box in one of the two natural burial cemeteries here in Maine. That's option #2. Option #3 is when my body is so completely mangled that they can't harvest anything….in which case, revert to the second part of Option #2 and just bury that crap. Reply My boyfriend of 7 years recently got into an automobile accident. Because his family lives on the other side of the county and had not been in his life regularly since he was a junior in high school it was up to me to decide if we were going to take him off of life support and if he would have wanted organ donation. Because we were only 23 we never discussed such things and having to make that decision for the person you love most in the world is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Please AT THE VERY LEAST have this discussion with your partner, a friend, anybody so that those you leave behind are not left with the guilt of not really knowing. I would also add that if you trust your partner enough, add them to your bank account (or your parents… or somebody). Having to pay bills that were previously split 50-50 all by yourself is incredibly difficult and being able to quickly access funds can help those you leave behind when they are trying to re-negotiate their life. My boyfriend's mother had to fly down from NH and is staying here for a few months to try to get everything in order and we have discovered that people do not work with you. No one ever wants to think about this happening to their partner, but it does happen and being prepared for it will give you at least a little peace of mind. Reply Thank you for bringing this up – I think about it sometimes, but (aside from not really being on the ball about it myself) when I bring it up, my husband doesn't really want to talk about it. Time to try having that conversation again! Also, I'm all for organ donation, but it freaks him out so I think we need some experts on the topic to come to some kind of compromise on that. Anyway, at least we got all aligned on our bank accounts so there's something, ha ha. Thanks to the lawyers who commented too – it's great to hear from people who see a lot of cases and to hear about some of the pitfalls. Thanks for watching out for us! Reply My husband and I are a mil-mil couple, so we are pretty good about keeping our wills, POA, and medical directives up to date. But the one thing that we didn't really think of was what did we want in terms of our funeral services. I just got a new job in Special Operations, and one of the first requirements was to fill out a packet about my burial arrangements and desires. I knew that I wanted to be cremated, but that's where it stopped. I had to think about where I wanted my remains laid to rest, what scriptures or readings I wanted, any music, who I wanted to write/read my eulogy… TOO much to think about!!!! But by taking my time, and answering the questions and filling in the blanks at my own pace, it became easier. It took me about two weeks to finally complete it, but it made me feel a LOT better once I was done. The hardest part was having to ask my husband if he had any preferences. Personally I don't want my remains stuck in the ground, but I wanted him to have somewhere to visit me. And I didn't know what his thoughts were on any of it. It took a few tries before we could get through the conversation without getting upset, but they were good talks. And I've asked him to fill out the same packet, so that if he leaves first I don't have to make the decisions myself. Not to repeat what most commenters have said, but please please PLEASE talk to you partner at the very least about your wishes!!! Reply I know I'm way late to the party here; I've been catching up on old posts, but I really feel strongly about this topic. It is super scary to think about, as many have said, but it's better to just get it done. You always think you have plenty of time, but then the unexpected may happen. When I was six, my dad passed away in a car accident. He left my brothers and I each with a trust fund to be used for college, emergencies, etc. through the court and turned over to us on our 25th birthdays. However, my old brother is technically my half-brother (though we never felt/feel this way about him, but that's another story) and my dad hadn't officially adopted him yet. Getting him his trust fund became a huge hassle. I guess my point is, the legal system can bite you in the butt, so better safe than sorry. Reply You are very smart. Some people may not think about leaving wills and trusts but I believe that the earlier it's created, the better. Even small things can be declared in a will and I think that it is really a good idea to also leave in your testimony your wishes in case you become disabled. Reply Join the conversation Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published. 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