Create a Help-Your-Family Packet

By | March 31, 2016

I’m not giving you legal advice. This is more organizational and motivational and…nondenominational advice. I know it’s macabre, but you should get your shit together, because you’re going to die. There’s no way to make this funny. I’m just going to plunge straight into content.

Are you aware that “shit” is a naughty word?

I remember watching a young widow on one of those morning or afternoon talk shows discussing the importance of conveying your wishes to the people who matter. She wished she and her departed husband had gotten their shit together before he passed unexpectedly. She then created a website to help others get their shit together. I remember the interview because I really liked the website name – get your shit together dot com. The interviewer asked the website creator if using a swear word in the name of her site was a good idea. I didn’t hear her answer because I loudly told the TV that it absolutely was. I immediately (okay, a few months later) drew up my own help-my-family packet.

Thriftygal’s Help-My-Family Packet Contents

  1. Advanced Medical Directives
  2. Will
  3. Important Information
  4. Some stickers (to lighten the mood)

I updated this recently and sought out the website again as a reference. Sadly, the television didn’t listen to my advice and the website’s current home is the newly abbreviated “gyst” The television never listens to my advice.

But, the website is super pretty now and much more useful than the last time I visited. The gyst team has pulled together the statutory language for all 50 of the United States individual forms for living wills, powers of attorney, medical powers of attorneys and all the other shit you need to get together. There are checklists and guides and my heart is fluttering.  You should really just go to that website and be done with it.

Help-Your-Family Packet

But in case you’re curious, this is my method. Step 1) [1-3 minutes] Google “advance health care directive” and the name of the state. Yes, I know gyst has all of this at their website, but I’m a lawyer and I like to go to the source and not the source that gets it from the source. I chose three states and did the Googling for you to show you how easy it is.


I Googled Maryland + advance health care directive. Oh, they’re a nice state. They’ll mail me a copy of all the forms for free! That’s it for step one! If you’ve done just that, you can go about your day again. When you get them in the mail, come back for more. That’s not me hitting on you.


I Googled Illinois + advance health care directive and found a bunch of forms, but no obvious way to have them mail me a packet. Bummer. If you’re close to a printer, pick out the forms that apply to you and print them. If you’re not next to a printer, email a pdf version to yourself to print out when you are next to a printer. The relevant ones for this state:

  • Living Will declaration form
  • Do-Not-Resuscitate form
  • Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Declaration for Mental Health Treatment Form

Just as an aside because I’ve read these forms – you don’t need both the living will and the power of attorney for health care. I’m not giving you legal advice. Read the forms.


I Googled California + advance health care directive and this state lets you fill in a pdf version on the computer. That probably appeals to the techies. Email the URL to yourself. Or print it out.

Step 2) [30 seconds] Schedule a time in your calendar to read and understand the forms that you’ve gathered.

10 of those 30 seconds should be figuring out how much time you think you need. I suggest putting aside an hour, but it only took me ten minutes to do mine. I was really just updating mine though. If this is your first time thinking about this stuff and you’re a slow reader, maybe it will take you longer. You’d have a better idea than me. I don’t know you. 

Step 3) [time varies] When the calendar reminds you that it’s time to read and understand the forms you’ve gathered, read and understand the forms you’ve gathered.

Read the forms. Understand the forms. Consider what you want. If, after reading, understanding and considering what you want, you still have some of your allotted time burning a hole in your pocket, start filling out the forms.

Step 4) [2-5 minutes] Decide if you need to hire a professional to help you with your will. If you have super complicated assets, cross-border (state or international) issues, or if you have professional assets (for instance, you own a dental clinic), you probably want to consult a real lawyer.

Step 5) [15 minutes-2 hours] If your assets are simple enough and you trust yourself, draft your own will! Or if your assets aren’t simple, make an appointment with a lawyer. If it’s the former, you can get books from the library with sample wills and relevant language. Google can also help you with that.


I Googled “Maryland + will requirements” and came across this state’s requirements. I have to be over 18, legally competent and the will must be in writing and signed by two witnesses in my presence.


I Googled “Illinois + will requirements” and came across this states’s requirements that I already knew since I took the Illinois bar. The requirements are similar to Maryland, except that I *also* must sign the will in the presence of the witnesses.


I Googled “California + will requirements” and this state actually has an official template will that you can fill out. Nice!

I think it’s always better to have something written down. I know there are cases where an improperly drawn up will makes life more complicated because it was written wrong or contradictory. I’m willing to take those odds.

If you are consulting a lawyer, you can still do the advanced directives yourself. That will minimize the amount of work the lawyer has to do and hopefully that will reflect in your final bill.

Step 6) [15-45 minutes] Fill out this “important information” document and finish filling out the medical forms and the will if you still haven’t finished.

Step 7) [3 minutes] Make a list of people you need to talk to about your shit.

Family Members

Like my butt?

Like my butt?

Step 8) [10 minutes] Talk to people about your wishes! Explain to the souls in your life what you want when you die. Let their reactions dictate who you appoint. If your cat just turns around and shows you her butt, she’s probably not going to respect your wishes on organ donation.

Your executor should be someone you trust, someone organized, someone rational and logical. I also stumbled upon The Conversation Project, which has more checklists and questions to ask yourself and ideas on how to start this conversation with your family. It’s a good site, but it didn’t make my heart flutter.

Step 9) [2 minutes] Execute the documents. Get your witnesses to watch you sign the documents. Have the witnesses then sign the documents.

Step 10) [5 minutes] File the documents. Give a copy of your will to your executors. Some states let you file your will with them. Give a copy of your medical advance directives to your relevant doctors. Put a copy in your help-your-family packet and put that in your safe deposit box or somewhere else safe. Try to protect the packet from water and fire and termites.

Check out if you need more advice on trusts, guardians, life insurance.

I know this is a bummer of a topic in an otherwise light-filled blog where we all can mock the idiots who get pulled into a pyramid scam, but I always feel better after doing this exercise. I think you’ll feel better after you do this too.

My time estimations may be widely off. I didn’t need that much time to update my shit, but updating something is very different from doing it for the first time. The hardest part, for me, was figuring out how to scan my executed documents. I miss having a secretary.

9 thoughts on “Create a Help-Your-Family Packet

  1. InsiderAccountant

    I don’t think it’s a bummer of a topic at all, but I’m an accountant who advises clients on estate planning so that shouldn’t be a surprise.

    We “have our shit together” but in my experience most people don’t, and since most people in the FIRE community are trying to build serious wealth I think it’s a great topic for a post.

    And in this digital world I don’t know why you’d miss having a secretary – I find that many of them can be hindrances more than anything, but I suppose the odd one comes along that really does make life easier.

  2. Simon Kenton

    1) As you start to accumulate wealth and family, a trust can be a very good idea. Then the devolution of your assets is assured without probate, and your will covers mostly your personalty: your books, your guns, your jewelry. The stuff that actually matters to you and those who love you. I, who do not generally love them (I beg your pardon, Ms Gal), nonetheless suggest getting an attorney for this.

    2) If you are going to have one, get that DNR to your doctor, your family members, any hospital you or your local rescue group usually use, and stick a copy on lime-green paper on your refrigerator. A couple times (I am a firefighter and EMT) we have saved somebody who did not want to be saved, and was only going to be saved for a week or so, enough time to be in pain and miserable or drugged into torpor, enough time for the medical system to drain their estate, because they did not post their DNR and their poor, terrified family members didn’t remember it until they’d been transported, and never did get it down to the hospital.

  3. KS

    It’s not a bummer of a topic ; it is a critical importance topic. You will also need to name beneficiaries on financial accounts and life insurance. This is a good way to avoid probate court if named beneficiary accounts are the bulk of your financial assets. You have to tell the named beneficiaries who they are so they can pursue their payouts. They will need copies of your death certificate. Your death certificate must have your birth date and social security number, so please tell someone that while you’re alive.

    If you want to punish one of your survivors, ask them to be the executor of your will.

  4. Simon Kenton

    KS wrote, “If you want to punish one of your survivors, ask them to be the executor of your will.”

    Amen! Preach it brother, preach it. I’ve been in on 3 of these. The first had a trust. I delivered the assets and a fairly stuffy little lecture to the spendthrift side of the family, to the effect that their third of the assets was enough to form the core of a pretty good retirement. Wind, pissing. Within a couple years it had been dissipated to a cloud of rapacious business partners and suppliers of the kind of equipment that a real certified genius had a right and need to have. The next was a fairly simple estate, where all I had to do was tell my fellow beneficiary that it takes about 3 person-months to wind up an economic life, and if he had problems with the way I was handling it, he was welcome to quit his job and take it over. He could find out where you close out subscriptions to Sunset magazine, and fill out the endless forms to sell a couple hundred dollars of stock at Merrill Lynch, and he could distribute death certificates to the Known Universe. /*

    The last estate was a huge argument in favor of this blog, and some others like it around the net. Mr MoneyMustache, MadFientist, JL Collins. In this case, the parents had taught 2 of the beneficiaries where money comes from. It is not from exerting a broad rippling back, or providing a service to people like a landlord does, or using your brain like our hostess does. No, the way you get money is to find someone, a Mommy, a Daddy, or a figure resembling them, and whine. If the money is slow to come, the whine can be turned up. Indeed, that was the only thing you could do. To do them justice, this had worked unfailingly for them for 45 years. There are not all that many interpersonal techniques that work as long and as productively as theirs did. Unfortunately – this seems never to be thought of by the Mommy and Daddy – mortality intervened. The money sources were dead, and there was far less money than they had fondly pictured to themselves. If the money wasn’t there, someone must have cheated them. Someone must be induced by whining at the 160dB level to provide money, lest they be reduced to actually having to work. This took more than a year, and put me in mind of something an old family CPA told me: By the time an estate gets wound up, it’s pretty rare that the family still talks to each other. There’s three of us that are still in touch, but I got enough from the two limacian brothers to be done with them for life.

    Ms Gal’s blog has a lot of neatly written tips and administrative advice about some little-known or little-loved laws of money (don’t spend it and it builds up, by proper husbandry you can induce it to multiply, that sort of thing) but the core of it is that you are your own financial architect, and within broad limits can shape your economic destiny; you are your captain. I spread the word about this blog, because I wish to god the parents of these men had had the clues that are available here. Clues, and the interest in self-creation and self-responsibility.

    /* It follows that you should pick carefully among the available ancestors, since with one set you end up the 3 person-months with $10 million, with another $24000 and some bills to cover.

  5. Ally

    All excellent points, TG! Spent a lot of time on this with my mom in the months prior to her departure, and KS makes an excellent point about beneficiaries on financial accounts. That is the easiest part. Although we created a trust, in Illinois it is almost easier to use their transfer on death forms for homes and cars.
    I would also like to add another suggestion: make a ‘alt bucket list’, a list of contacts that you would want to know that you’d kicked the bucket. Names, email addresses and phone numbers. Your family might not know all of the friends and acquaintances you valued, or your insurance agent, or your utility accounts
    Also , all of your passwords , except perhaps for your Tinder or Grnder accounts

  6. Tasha

    I’ll always tell this story to people – young or old – and I also say “get your shit together despite how uncomfortable it is”. Not doing this is so expensive. Here goes: my father passed in 2009. His mom (my grandmother passed in 2007). He had to go through probate with her – spending approximately $25-30k and tons of time in a lawyers office. He inherited everything from her (lucky situation – only child and no living relatives). He swore he would fill out the paperwork but didn’t want us to know his business so we never asked. When he passed there was nothing filled out or filed. He was in the hospital for three days on life support and because of a miscommunication on when we could meet with a social worker – the bill just kept cha-chinging. He had no health insurance (he didn’t like paperwork is the theme here). Lucky for me I get along with my 2 brothers. It took us nearly two years and literally thousands of hours to clean his estate, do the paperwork and work with the lawyer to sort it all out and clear his probate and the hospital debt. With no trust in place his estate was in fact liable to pay the hospital bill. And with it being in probate the legal bill has a specific protocol. We paid somewhere on the order of $40k for the legal work (if you’re picking a career while reading this I recommend probate law) and if I had not been the named administrator it would have cost another $20k or so. This was a very modest estate. In the families where there is more money and more kids (especially families that don’t get along) probate can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Moral: just fill out the paperwork and get something in place.

  7. Aperture

    Great post TG. It makes a difference getting this reminder to get my shit together from a wise and respected lawyer. I am in the process of updating my will, and I will add an advance directive to the list of things to do. I work in Behavioral Health, but I do not think I have ever seen a Declaration For Mental Health. I googled this and saw documents for the states of Illinois and Oregon, but not for my state. I wonder if this is something relatively new?

    Thanks for the free and welcome advice. I really enjoy your writing, Ap.


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