A month ago in my post “In the Event of My Death,” I discussed the importance of having key family legal documents drawn up, updated, and accessible in the event of a medical trauma, accident or death.
I challenged readers to follow a 6-month plan to get these documents in order and stored safely. Month One was dedicated to engaging your loved ones in a frank discussion about their plans and our own wishes. For some people, this step would be the most challenging, since they have family members uncomfortable talking about end of life issues.
So, did you make it? Did you have a talk with your family about wills, life insurance, funeral plans, living wills and power of attorney (POA)?
Unless this is something you deal with daily as part of your profession, nearly everyone feels awkward having discussions about death. Most families would rather avoid the subject, and then wind up with an ugly situation to deal with it later.
2 Sets of Plans
If you were able to have a talk with your loved ones, “congratulations!” You are well on your way to getting your plans set up. Remember, you want to make sure that the necessary family legal documents are in place for both the generation before you and the generation after. If you are the one responsible for executing your parents will, or being there at hospital making decisions if they are on life support, you need to know how they want things planned and where any family legal documents are kept.
In the case of your own legal documents, you want to have things in place so that someone can make these decisions on your behalf. Your funeral preferences and living will information should be clarified. Most importantly, if you have small children you need to specify who will take care of them, who’ll be legal and physical guardians in the case of your unfortunate demise.
Interestingly, since getting divorced the likelihood of my son’s father and I both ending up in an accident at the same time is tremendously decreased, so that is much less of a concern. Nevertheless, I need to have a plan in place for my son. Even if his father would get primary physical and legal custody after my death, I may want to specify that my parent or sibling be appointed to also look after his interests, specify how and when he is to receive an inheritance from me, or have a trust in place.
During a recent visit with my Mom, we went over the arrangements my parents and grandmothers have made regarding their funerals, wills, etc. We have always been able to talk openly about these issues, and I am grateful that they all have family legal documents drawn up and plans in place. I was also comfortable talking to my new husband about what kind of arrangements we would each prefer. I have documents drawn up that need to be updated since getting remarried. He will need documents created for him by an attorney. That is part of next month’s challenge!
What if They Won’t talk?
Some families, for whatever reasons, are just not comfortable at all discussing end of life topics. For those who are in that situation, try to stick with a very brief and minimal information sharing session at first. Basics to begin with are: Is there a will and a power of attorney document? Where are those legal documents located should they be needed — in a file drawer, safe box, or at the bank? This way at least you will have a starting place to work with should something happen. (Bonus points if you get to have a copy of the will, family social security numbers, lawyer information and health history.)
If your parents are just too skittish about having such a discussion, at least make sure that you handle your own legal paperwork. One of the responsibilities you have if you are a parent is to prepare for the welfare of your children in case you are incapacitated. Make sure that you have communicated with whomever will be your power of attorney, and with whomever you would like to care for your children and be their legal guardian.
For the next month’s challenge, find a reputable attorney and set up an appointment. At minimum, have a Power of Attorney appointed and a basic will drawn. If you already have these in place, make sure they are up to date. Consider adding a Living Will, Trust or other useful documents. My attorney’s office can make changes over the phone as needed, and then I schedule to go in and sign the new documents at a lower cost than a full appointment. This helps reduce costs while keeping my records current.
I will check back in a month to share our family’s progress and see where you are in making these arrangements!