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PSA, or, Do what I say, not what we did
If there is one lesson for everyone to draw from my current situation, it is this: make a will. If you have any opinion whatsoever about what happens after your death, it's terribly important to make a will. Most people blithely assume, "Oh, my spouse will get everything", and the reality is that it's not that simple. Yes, Jane died intestate, and that's going to make the next year quite a bit more complicated for me.

My understanding is that I will inherit *most* of Jane's estate, but there's a non-trivial amount that's up for grabs legally. It's unambiguously clear that Jane intended for me to get everything, but we kept putting off actually formalizing that. We finally got a lawyer in the final weeks, and Jane dictated the instructions for a will to that effect, but by the time it was drafted it was too late: the last week she wasn't coherent enough to sign it, and in the final days before that when she *was* coherent enough, she was too emotionally fragile for me to push the point. (I was damned if I was going to upset her over money.)

The time to deal with such things is when it doesn't actually matter, when you can think about it clearly and calmly without it slapping you in the face with your own mortality. So seriously: if you have a spouse, or kids, or parents, or indeed any opinion at all about what happens, just go do it.

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You guys probably didn't have this problem, but I would add: Make sure everyone involved knows what is being paid from which account, make sure everyone who *may* need access can get access, and that the passwords are in a known location. Wolfie and I never talked about this, but it's been a gigantic pain in the ass this last year.

I never even thought about that. I manage the finances and it's... labryrinthine. Time to make a new spreadsheet, I think.

Yaas. I'm very disciplined about that at this point: I have a master password manager, and a single well-guarded, high-security master password. Still need to figure out who should have access to *that* now, but the problem's nicely tractable, at least. (I had to get that right once I decided that I wanted to be good about passwords, and really start using different passwords per-site.)

Jane was a lot less disciplined, but she gave me at least the most obvious passwords in the last couple of months (and wasn't anywhere near as security-paranoid as I am in the first place), so I haven't had problems logging into anything important so far...

an idea or those very security minded but yet recognize the need for people to have them in death... Write them down and seal them in an envelope and put them in a safe or security deposit box with the combo or key released from the bank or a lawyer upon death to the executor.

Yaas. I already had much of that in place, albeit specifically for Jane; now, I need to rethink some of those details. But that's approximately the plan...

Thank you. Yes. I even have legal insurance, so the lawyer will be free. Why haven't we done this?

We have assets. We have a minor child. He has an adult child and an ex-wife. We probably need it more than most.

Hear that hon? We need to get this done. AND the living wills.

Thank you.

I'm sorry you're having to deal with all that.

I made a will prior to surgery some 6 or 7 years ago. Being a single parent, it seemed to be the best protection for my son.

However, it's not enough just to make a will. You also need to keep it up to date. I review mine every January.

And Tasha's comment about bills, bank accounts, passwords and notifications is also pertinent. I've been somewhat lax about that and need to update the spreadsheet that I keep all that stuff in.

However, it's not enough just to make a will. You also need to keep it up to date.

this. When my mother died, her father was still listed in her will - he died before my parents were even engaged, I was born a few months before their third anniversary, and I was 13 when she died. This meant that my father had a giant PITA finding the death certificates of her parents and two predeceased siblings.

Now I need to go tie my husband down and make wills... we're not too far behind, it's been less than a year.

Not long after new_man and I bought the house, I realized the potential nightmare of our unmarried situation.

Yes, yes, yes. After Johan died I designated one friend as my kids' guardian and another friend as financial executor (and the two friends get along fine, thanks). I not only have a will but I also have a set of instructions on what should be done upon my death, including contact information for all of the important people. And the financial executor friend has a password to get on my home computer.

But thank you for the reminder - I do need to update my will.


It's been a big wakeup call for me in a number of ways. I don't even have a legal Massachusetts medical proxy yet, because even though I know who I want to ask, I haven't known how to start that conversation. Or who to ask next if they're uncomfortable with the idea. And the truth of the matter is that I have a huge stack of legal issues that need to be dealt with to keep my biological family away if anything happens to me - up to the point of and including who claims the body, so that I can't be stolen and stuffed in the ground somewhere in Minnesota. How do you even ask someone to be the person who takes that on? Ugh.

Until I marry, they're probably also the most logical people to leave everything to in terms of money and property. I really have nothing to leave so I hadn't cared about it much, but now I'm buying a house.

Right now you've got a great line to start with in that conversation - "Jane didn't have a will, and now Justin has to deal with all sorts of crap. That got me thinking..."

If you need someone as backup and are willing to have me do it, I'll do it. I helped pick out the casket and such for my mother when I was 13, I had power of attorney for my father in case of emergency when I was 18, this kind of stuff doesn't bother me any more.

Also, don't just think of physical property. If you have any writings you care about the disposition of, even LJ posts, make sure to cover those in your paperwork as well. John M. Ford's unpublished work remains still unpublished because he didn't do this, much to the chagrin of many of his loved ones and fans.

"The time to deal with such things is when it doesn't actually matter, when you can think about it clearly and calmly without it slapping you in the face with your own mortality."

I agree with most of what you write here, but have some quibble here. It *always* matters, which is why you should do it before it's too late -- you never know when 'too late' will suddenly happen. And it *always* slaps you in the face with your own mortality, which makes it very painful to do.

I started working on 'contingency' paperwork for Kes and myself shortly after Franz died unexpectedly. I've made a lot of progress, but I'm not done yet, largely because working on the project eats up a huge amount of emotional energy.

Truer words were never spoken. My husband refused to leave a will. His mother had left one, he about to turn 18 and his brother only 16 when she died, but the executor absconded with the monies. (Some family friend he turned out to be. I came across legal papers that tried to track the bastard down across the greater part of a decade. I hope there is a special place in Hell for someone like that.) So the Keveney brothers were orphaned and grew up fast on the mean streets of the Bronx and Upper Manhattan in the mid-to-late 1960s. These were the sons of an accountant who walked the halls with, and had worked for, the Rockefellers and the Mitchells (yes, those Mitchells).

Except for one pension that listed the spouse of record as beneficiary, all of Brian's other assets were delegated to the estate. The house was the only thing left to me in its entirety, in joint tenancy with right of survivor-ship, and I took a bloodbath in the selling of it to keep from foreclosing.

I don't think he knew that in New Jersey, the spouse of an intestate person is entitled to $50,000 plus half the balance of the estate, the rest to be portioned out to any heirs after all debts have been paid. I have paid almost all of his debts, the last two being the final radiology bill and the niche for his and his brother's ashes, which will be paid for by the end of the month. There will be just enough left over to satisfy the bond. I am bonded to portion $7,000 among his three children.

So his daughter in particular feels I am cheating her. The portion of his hospital bills not covered by insurance was a bear, as were the back taxes which I paid for in part out of my pocket. I saw the side of her that Brian's friends warned me about, in any case. I had tried to be her friend in our mutual grief, but she chose instead to become my enemy.

I could not agree with you more. Leave a will so that there can be no doubt in anyone's mind. A will can be contested, perhaps, but at least the contesting person has to be up front about it.

Edited at 2011-02-11 04:06 am (UTC)

Thank you for the PSA - I've just put "make a will" on my to-do list.

We are doing that this month.

By the end of the month we plan to have a legacy folder with a full suite of things including

A todo list
contact info (Family, rabbi, lawyer, work etc)
Bank Account info
Life insurance policies
If we owned a house the deed would be there

And then we will have a family meeting so everyone knows where it is and how to use it

My company sending me overseas prompted us to start working on this. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to get anything concrete done between the Christmas holidays and my January departure date. I think we will make a priority for the brief time I am back stateside.

And for anyone reading who has a relationship that's not bog-standard by federal lights, you can still put together a pretty decent set of protective documents. Massachusetts legal people tend to be particularly good at this, having had longer than anyone else to figure out how to handle relationships that are legal here but not at the federal level.

Our lawyer is good, and there are others in the area that are very familiar with this sort of thing. Particularly if you are expecting trouble with family, get all this stuff. It is worth many times what you'll pay for it.

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