The topic of wills and health care directives has come up with a few of our friends and family recently so we thought we would revisit this from a few years ago.
If you are an avid reader of our blog, you are most probably aware that in the union of David and I, I am the less fearless. David has always been the adventurer – I am the homebody, the helicopter mom, the worrier.
Selling the nest and heading out into the big, wide world, for me, was stepping outside the box. WAY out of the box. There were scores of box-escaping baby steps I needed to undertake before I could become a bona fide GypsyNester.
My biggest concern was to have our affairs in order, in the event of my certain demise. It was essential for me to be certain that the kids are not burdened if I go down in a hang gliding / bungee jumping / snowboarding / street food eating blaze of glory.
The Spawn will have enough on their plates explaining to their friends how Mommy was gored by a long-horned steer in rodeo clown school. They don’t need estate probate problems to boot.
So David and I hauled our butts to an estate lawyer. It was probably the most inappropriate client meeting ever for this modest, very serious lawyer. J. Biffington Goodmannerlyness, Esq. has a somber job and he is very good at it. J. Biff’s gig is like the prequel to the funeral home director – weighty, uncomfortable subjects are handled in a most serious and solemn way.
Enter the GypsyNesters.
I’m not going to lie, talking about my death – and what happens afterward – is not my favorite topic. When David and I are uncomfortable with ANYTHING, humor is always our first line of defense. Right off the bat, we started in with the tasteless death, taxes and lawyer gags. Bless his heart, poor J. Biff never knew what hit him. To his credit, he held fast to a calm demeanor and strained smile.
J. Biff did his best to keep us fairly focused on the task at hand and in the end was successful. We discovered having J. Biff’s knowledge and experience in person garnered huge advantages over the do-it-yourself-type route. We could ask stupid questions, had a mediator for the inevitable “heavy discussions” and a sounding board for the intricacies of our family dynamic.
First up, assets
Prior to our meeting, we were unaware how blissfully vague a person can be when distributing one’s possessions. We were under the impression that each item had to be separately bequeathed to an heir. Not so.
By forming a Revocable Living Trust we were able to avoid almost all of the end of life legal hurdles. Almost any holding – securities, bank accounts, real estate and even personal items like vehicles or jewelry, may be included. As long as an asset is held in the trust, it is exempt from probate hassles.
When one of us kicks the bucket, the trust continues unchanged. If we croak at the same time, the trust is split three ways between The Spawn. We added a stipulation for The Boy’s remaining college tuition and a stipend for our oldest daughter, The Piglet, for her duties as trustee/executor.
The sixteen boxes we have in storage were are properly marked “For The Boy on his 21st birthday”, “Grandma’s china for Decibel”, etc. The few unmarked knickknacks, pieces of art and photo albums are left for them to fight over. What’s a good funeral without a scuffle or two? It’ll keep their minds off of our death (am I the most considerate mother, or what?).
Next, Uhhhhh… the dreaded Living Will
Having gone through the “pull the plug” process twice in my family, once with a Living Will and once without – I am a HUGE proponent of the advance planning option. Making grave medical decisions under duress is not a burden I want to dump on my offspring.
By this time, J. Biff was catching on to us and allowing himself to crack a timid smile or two at our inelegant comments. David, when asked about life support, self-confidently said, “First time I poop my pants – pull the plug.” I’m more willing to give adult diapers a shot and J. Biff gently ran me through some end-of-life scenarios.
It was decided that middle-daughter, Decibel, be in charge of medical decisions. She is our toughest kid and would faithfully stick to the program. The Piglet would second-guess herself for the rest of her life and The Boy was too young for the weight of that kind of task. J. Biff suggested we put our Living Will in an online hospital database so Decibel wouldn’t have to jump through any more hoops than necessary. What a great invention! We enrolled with enthusiasm.
Two weeks later, J. Biff handed over a large notebook containing copies of all the necessary papers. Entitled “Estate Planning Portfolio” (aren’t WE the hoity-toity ones?), the binder also houses many other handy-dandy items such as:
–Lists of locations — so The Piglet can find the sixteen boxes, our safe deposit box, tax records and the like.
–Life insurance information
–Detailed instructions for incorporating banks accounts and insurance companies into our trust
–Forms for the donation of organs
Best among these is the “Directions for the Trustee”. This document is obviously lovingly put together and is in checklist form. #1 is “If you are alone, telephone a friend who can spend the next few hours with you. Shock and trauma can take unexpected forms.” How unlawyerly.
The remainder of the checklist will help The Piglet deal with caring for family members, funeral arrangements, important papers and all of the other matters she wants to avoid discussing with her living, breathing parents.
The most beneficial part of this process is knowing that The Piglet will have sweet, compassionate J. Biffington Goodmannerlyness at the ready.
He’ll know just how to act when she starts wisecracking away her grief.