I'm taking it upon myself to give each and every one of you a talking to about getting your affairs in order. I've dealt with a bit of death in the last few years, so I feel like I can take this liberty. When our girls died it was fairly simple. We were their parents so we had the right to take care of final things. Of course, there was no life insurance or assets to deal with, but we still had to cancel certain things like medical supplies and pay certain bills. There was no fuzzy area because we were responsible as their parents. Since my Dad died there have been different things to deal with. His wife died 2 years ago, so as his children we were the next of kin. We have been very fortunate in that the boys and I aren't ones to fight over stuff and Dad had enough things in order to make things possible to deal with. It's not just people with millions of dollars to fuss over... everyone will leave things to take care of... bills, taxes, etc. Someone will have to take care of these things on your behalf and it would really be lovely if you had a few things in order to make that a bit more manageable.
Speaking of taxes... I am reminded of my statistics professor in college. One of his favorite sayings was, "There are three things you can count on in life... death, taxes and ______(fill in the blank with whatever statistical principle he was teaching)." I'm not sure about the statistics thing, but I do know that death and taxes are certain. I also know that death does not cancel out taxes.
I really want to just take this moment to emphasize the importance getting your affairs in order. Sure, it feels a bit morbid, but it's not like signing your own death certificate. What you are really doing is giving your loved ones one last gift by clearing up some of the gray area of who is responsible for what. This isn't to keep family from fighting (though it may do that, if necessary), these are simply things to do so that your loved ones don't feel unsure of what needs to be done, who should do it and when. I'm no attorney, so don't take this as legal advice, but I do feel like there are four things that everybody REALLY NEEDS.
1. Power of Attorney- make sure that if for any reason you are not able to make your own decisions or care for your own affairs (bills, bank, etc.) that there is someone legally able to make them on your behalf. It also stands to serve as a way for that person to care for your responsibilities should you die. (Really, having a simple piece of paper saying that your designated person is legally allowed to deal with your affairs will make things so much easier.)
2. Living Will- I think you should also have a living will stating what you do and do not want done should you be unable to make your own medical decisions. For example, are you okay with a feeding tube but not okay with a respirator? Are you only okay with these things for a certain amount of time? Or not at all? Be specific.
3. Medical Power of Attorney- In addition, I would suggest that you have a Medical Power of Attorney so that there is one person that understands your wishes and will take the responsibility of making sure they are carried out. (This is different than a regular Power of Attorney... this is just for medical issues.) Talk to that person so that they know what you've done. Tell them about your wishes, should a situation ever necessitate difficult decisions.
4. Will- Again, it doesn't matter if you have pretty much nothing to your name. There will still be things to deal with when you die and having it written in black and white will clarify a lot. For example, Drew and I will be having our wills rewritten soon. We've had wills since 9/11 when we knew that Drew would very likely be sent to Iraq. We didn't have kids then, but we got the wills. When Alex was born (and before Drew left for Iraq), we had them rewritten and then again after Emma was born. Sure, it served to say that if Drew died then I got everything (and vice versa), but it also made sure that if something happened to both of us then our girls would be cared for by the person(s) of our choosing. That was important and I'm glad we did it. Say you are young and have kids... you aren't thinking about dying, but you have to admit that unexpected and awful things sometimes happen. Have you set things in place to make sure your children will go to the person(s) you want? Do it. Please. Now that our girls are gone, Drew & I need to rewrite a few things. We no longer have to designate guardians for them, but we do need to clarify where our assets would go if we both died unexpectedly and who would be responsible for wrapping up our affairs upon our death.
Do you see my point? Kids, assets, debts... the list of things to protect in case of your death is lengthy. Your family will thank you. Also make sure that someone knows where all these things are located. Paperwork does little good if nobody knows it exists. If you have life insurance, make sure your beneficiaries are up to date. Same thing for bank accounts.
I am so completely serious about these things and I am grateful that my Dad had enough things in order that the boys and I haven't had to deal with much trouble while taking care of his affairs. If I may joke a little... I'd like to mention storage units. They are a pain in the butt, costly and largely a self imposed problem of our first world existence. (Really, we have so much stuff that we don't use that we feel the need to store it away?) I'm thinking that there should be a legal process for storage. If you feel like something is important enough to put in storage, you should have to have the signature of the person who will have to clean it out if you die. That person should have veto power. I joke, of course, but it is another thing that your loved ones will deal with when you die. (Yeah, I said WHEN. Not IF. You will die. I will die. Hopefully not for many many years, but it will happen.)
One last thing. It's not necessarily legal, but it is very relevant to this conversation. Funeral. Embalming? Burial? Where? Cremation? Services? Talk about it with your loved one. Write it down. Even better... make your own arrangements. My arrangements were made years ago when we began making the girls pre-arrangements. Drew's will be made soon. There will be no confusion about what we want, where to go or how to pay for it. Then it's taken care of. Dying isn't free. There are many many choices to be made and making those choices in the emotional state of grief is even more difficult. There are payment plans available. I think you can even make the arrangements without paying for them... lay it all out so that there are fewer things for your loved ones to deal with later. If you can't do that (and I understand that it's a lot to handle, believe me), then just have that conversation with your loved ones. Don't wait until you think it's necessary... do it now. Do it when everyone is healthy. It will save you stress and heartache later and your loved ones will find peace knowing that they respected your wishes.
Okay, that is my sermon. Again, remember that I'm just a regular girl who has lost my grandmother, two children and my dad in the last 6 years. I'm also the girl caring for my 79 year old grandpa and I am hyper aware of the things that may be encountered as he ages and when he does pass away. Get your affairs in order and encourage (or harass) your loved one to do that same. Talk to an attorney, get actual legal advice and assistance. Get that stuff in order and then go live your life! Amen.