A Grief Recovery Project Post
This week I had the privilege of being a guest on a podcast about life insurance, something we don’t like to discuss. Something I didn’t want to discuss. But it got me to thinking about the other important icky things that W’s (and all adults, really) should consider taking care of as soon as possible.
As if going through their clothes and personal belongings weren’t already miserable enough, there are a few more things we need to do after losing a spouse, even in the midst of our worst grief.
A few months after losing Dan, I found myself sitting at the conference table in my attorney’s office. I didn’t want to be there but knew that I had some responsibilities to address. Without a living spouse or offspring, I had to designate what my final wishes were in the event of my untimely demise. Morbid? Not really. Unpleasant? Yes, definitely. Necessary? HELL YES. And now as I get ready to depart on my big adventure, it’s time to review and make sure all those documents are up to date.
I still have non-W friends and family that refuse to designate legal guardians for their children or prepare their wills or trusts. I think it’s mostly because they don’t want to think about the inevitable end we will all face. To them, I ask, “could you be more selfish?” Yeah, that’s right. Selfish. Using your discomfort at thinking of your death (or hurting someone’s feelings) as an excuse not to take care of this leaves those you love with heart-wrenching decisions to make, or legal battles to fight, while they are at their most vulnerable. File this post under reckless truth telling and get over yourself.
Even if I weren’t a childless widow (aka single person), I’d still want to minimize my family’s burden any way I could. Here’s my list of icky things (besides life insurance) to think about:
1. WILL OR TRUST. You need to be able to speak for yourself, and this is how you do that. Make sure your designated executor or trustee has the original because they will need it. Digital copies are fine for your files. Putting it in a safety deposit box will only work if your executor has a key and is listed on the account, so think long and hard before stashing it there. And be specific about your real estate holdings as some states will require that. A good estate planning attorney can help you determine whether a will or trust is more appropriate for you.
2. LEGAL GUARDIANSHIP OF YOUR CHILDREN (or pets in my case). This is a $hitty conversation but imagine the person you want LEAST to raise your kids, and know that it will be THAT person who will fight the hardest to get custody of them. For the love of God, please make this decision in writing. You can always change it later. Most of you say you would die to protect your children. If you’re willing to do that, why wouldn’t you take care of this?
3. BENEFICIARIES. Your spouse was likely your automatic beneficiary on life insurance, retirement accounts, etc. Time to get that updated.
4. ADVANCED MEDICAL DIRECTIVE and POST INSTRUCTIONS. This is probably the worst. And in my case, the one I received the most pushback on, most notably by my doctor who had to sign it, which should be all the evidence you should need as to why this document is necessary. (FYI, never question a person’s decision here, especially not a W). I learned that paramedics and emergency room staff would not honor your wishes UNLESS you have your POST instructions on you, as an Advanced Medical Directive isn’t good enough for them, at least not in my state. I posted mine on the fridge (where paramedics are trained to look), registered with the state, and I carry my POST instructions in my wallet. When I travel, they are with my passport, on the off chance someone in another country might think to look there or care. Think about what you want, and make sure those closest to you know your wishes as well. Friends and family don’t have to agree with you, and this document ensures your wishes are met.
5. The miscellaneous crap. You know, family heirlooms and all that. You can add a descriptions page to your will, or just have a typed document that your executor can access. If there are stories that go with them, write them down or record them. Having gone through it TWICE in a year, I can assure you that being the one left behind to guess who you wanted to have your guns, jewelry or record collection is an awful burden. And you may want to ask if they even want it…one man’s treasure is often another man’s trash.
All of this stuff is in my hard copy (and electronic) “Lisa’s Dead File.” Yes, that’s really what it’s labeled. I hope someday my family can appreciate this as my final gift to them. I have every intention of living a long and adventure filled life, but we could have never imagined we’d lose Dan so young and so quickly. After what I endured in the aftermath of his loss, there is no way in hell I will allow anyone I care about to have to go through it on my behalf, especially without the leeway community property laws would give them.
And as icky as this topic is, it’s not as bad as leaving your loved ones to deal with it after you’re gone.
The Wandering Widow