Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Let's Prepare...For Death

This topic came up because I met with my attorney today to update my Will and realized that it had been almost ten years since the last time I did this. Obviously you can just do nothing and when you die, it will be someone else's problem, however, one of the kinder things you can do for your loved ones is to be prepared enough so that all they will have to do is basically show up at your funeral to give you a final farewell. I have seen more than enough situations where someone dies and you'd have thought the rest of the family was raised by a pack of feral dogs. Underhanded tactics, legal maneuvering, even stealing from the estate...obviously grandma never thought this would happen after she died but all too often this is a common occurrence. Here's what you need to do to be prepared:

  • Have a legally binding Will. This document will provide instruction on how you would like your assets and personal affects distributed after your death. Depending on your estate, an attorney can be worth his weight in gold. You can get a "do it yourself" Will kit and prepare this document yourself, however a good attorney can enlighten you to many things you should consider that will affect your estate planning both now and after your death.
  • Have a Medical and Financial Power of Attorney drawn up. these are two separate documents that you should have in addition to your Will. Give some thought to who you want to have this power. Although my spouse is named as my first choice on these documents, I chose two separate people--one for the medical and one for the financial--should my spouse and I die at the same time.
  • Have a Living Will (also called an Advanced Medical Directive). This is different than a Medical Power of Attorney and specifies what kind of care you would like if you are unable to make your own decisions.
  • If you have a chronic or terminal disease, consider having a POLST form. You can get this form from your doctor and it spells out what kinds of end of life measures you want taken in regards to resuscitation and the like.
  • Plan your funeral. When families are grieving, they tend to spend way more than is necessary or even needed just to give the deceased a fabulous send off. Unfortunately, this leaves the family paying for the funeral long after their loved one has passed. One of the best things an old friend did was plan every detail of his funeral then pay for it. All his friends and family had to do was show up at the cemetery on the appointed day and celebrate his life (and death) without having to worry about all of the details.
  • Check up on the things that will sustain your family after your death. Both you and the spouse should have a thorough understanding of what life insurance, military benefits, social security, annuities, trusts, and other sources of support that you (or the spouse) would be entitled to if one of you should die.
  • Consider the kids. If you have minor children, there are a number of additional things you need to consider. Primarily, you will need to decide who would be their guardian at your untimely passing (and talk to your choice prior to them finding out about it at the reading of your Will). Ensure that you have enough life insurance to support them until they reach adulthood, and consider who will have fiscal responsibility over this money (sometimes it isn't the guardian which can get sticky so chat with an attorney about this). Generally, you will want to leave the kids out of this discussion unless death is imminent since it is more likely to freak them out then be a productive part of your planning. As a side note, many people consider their pets to be their "kids"; in the event of your death it will be important to have a plan for what to do with your pets since pets often end up at the Pound if no one volunteers to take them.
  • Let your loved ones know your wishes now while you still have the opportunity to do so. Apparently this topic came up ten years ago but the spouse had mostly forgotten what I said. Today I clearly laid it out in front of them (and the attorney), that when I die I want to donate my organs or whatever else can be used by someone else, cremate the rest, stick the ashes in a box, throw a small party for me at home and be done with it. If I am on life support with no hope, pull the plug. Pretty simple. In the days ahead I will also write an obituary and leave a "to be opened upon my death" letter with information about the location of my important documents/passwords/financial info/etc. then leave the letter with my attorney.
  • I'm going to start giving away the things I want other people to have. I would much rather have the opportunity to see someone enjoying something I gave them now than to have all of my stuff in a pile in the front yard and cause my loved ones to put together the mother of all garage sales in order to liquidate my assets. Worse would be to start a family feud because X took something that Y knows was supposed to go to them.

That's basically it. Most people try their best to NOT think about death, but a little pre-planning can make a world of difference for those you leave behind.

1 comment:

  1. More excellent advice, thank you for sharing this important information.

    My significant other and I were just discussing this yesterday and your article on the subject spurs us to action.

    For example we have some ecologically sensitive land (what some might call useless wetlands - but the less ignorant know its true value to the community) that developers are just waiting to get their hands on. It's smack in the middle of town and we want it protected after we are no longer here to look after it. The only way to insure this is to set that protection in place now while we are still alive.

    Its an interesting concept, being able to reach out from the grave, so to speak, and direct how you want things done.