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.
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
- Advanced Medical Directives
- Important Information
- 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.
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.
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 gyst.com 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.