I am in my forties and I have been a drafter of wills for fifteen years. I have formed a few ideas and conclusions over the years of doing this type of work and thought it might be interesting to share a few with you.
The first is that however odd you think your life and family are, you are not alone. There is no normal in this world. Every single person you meet is dealing with something; therefore, be kinder than necessary.
The number of families that are confronted with parent-child estrangement is higher than you would expect. I would almost characterize it as an epidemic and one about which no one talks. So if you are facing this, again, you are not alone.
Most people want to be cremated. If there were an option for green burial, many would take it. The older you are the more likely you want to be buried. About half my clients express a lack of caring over their remains. At that point, they figure the gig is up. A majority want to be organ donors. Not many opt for full body donation.
Most people do not want to be kept alive if there is no hope and almost one hundred percent do not want food or water at the end of life.
Probably twenty percent would actively seek euthanasia if it were an option. It is very wise to speak with the person you have named to make your health care decisions ahead of time so that they can act accordingly and not be burdened by doubt.
Your tangible items will cause the most problems among your children. Do what you can ahead of time to help them with this part of your estate.
Many, many people forget to check their beneficiary designations on their IRAs, 401ks, and life insurance. Check them. It will make things go better in the end.
Worry about what will happen to your pets at the end of your life. Make a plan for them and put it in place. Leave instructions about their care, their routine, who the vet should be, and where you would like to see them placed. Carry a card in your wallet to alert people that you have a pet at home if you live alone and are elderly leave a letter explaining your plan or better yet, talk about it ahead of time with them.
Consider leaving a separate document bequeathing your values to your children. These are sometimes referred to as ethical wills. The document can take any form you like but in essence its purpose is to share your life philosophy with your loved ones. You might also include an autobiography or stories that are unknown to the family. This can be your greatest gift to your loved ones. Imagine getting a letter from your parent telling you what they valued most in life. I can guarantee it will not be wealth.
Finally, don’t delay in putting a plan in place for your incapacity and for your death. Avoid the difficulties of guardianship and probate for your family by naming people to make financial and health decisions if you become incompetent and by executing a will and revocable trust (if appropriate). You’ll be remembered as a hero. And last but not least, get an estate planning attorney to help you.
Originally published in Southern Neighbor, October 2010