I remember the day my parents sat down to write out their wills. I was probably 9 or so years old. I remember how tense they were. How scared. Facing the prospect of death, actually sitting down and planning for what would happen should that happen, was terrifying for them. They haven’t touched those documents since. Thirty five years later, all of their legal and estate information is the same. So when my folks die, I’m headed off to live with my aunt.
We avoid writing wills. We put it off. And if we’ve done it once, that’s more than enough. No need to ever mess with that unpleasantness again.
I think that’s common for many people. I mean, otherwise thoughtful, intelligent people in my life still don’t have their legal paperwork in place, even knowing what they know about sudden death and the relative precariousness of life.
It’s like we have this superstition that to talk about death, to prepare for it in any way, calls it upon us.
Matt didn’t have a will. Not only did he plan to just walk off into the woods to die when he was 111, he’d also said, “I don’t need a will – everything would go to my son anyway.”
A will is not just “what should happen to my stuff.” I mean, legally, yeah. But what I’m thinking is how great it would have been, when everyone went crazy in the first days after he died, to have had a legally notarized, written list: organ donation, cremation, no I do not care what happens to my ashes, and they can be split up however you want. If there are any questions, my love, my son, and my father are the ones who get to think these through.
It would have saved so much time, and negated any argument before it even reached my ears. Battles might have raged, but the legal document would have had the last word. It would have made it all easier on us, even though it wouldn’t have made anything right.
In my own files, labeled “in case of sudden death or vegetative state,” I specify all my preferences. I also include passwords to my on-line accounts, directions for accessing this site and how to post on it, names and contact information of people who need to be told, my social security number, and instructions to please not attempt to pay off my student loans (because I know my father would try). (Seriously, Dad – no one cares one bit about my credit rating now.) I do have a short list of where my possessions go, but really, it doesn’t matter much to me – and that is clarified as well. Everything is in one place, and people with access to those master lists have been notified. They know where to find everything.
Having a list would not have made Matt suddenly dying any better. Having this list will not make anything better for anyone who cares about me, either. But having this list is a way to love and protect my people now, for the eventual and guaranteed later.
In the crazy that comes up in the aftermath of death, no one is thinking straight. Everyone thinks they know what you would want, and they are too distraught to realize they are shrieking for what they want. So there is that important aspect – make your wishes clear so that the ones you love do not need to battle anyone, even if you think no one will argue. Especially if you think no one will argue.
As for the other things, the passwords and contact lists, sure – they can be found. But I think if Matt could do it again, he would want to give me the slightest bit of ease, would want to show his love by making my way easier, in any way he could.
Every time I face a medical event, no matter how mundane, I remind my key people of the master list. It soothes me to know that, should I die, the people I care about (including you!) will have the tiniest bit of an easier time in the After.
Even knowing what I know, writing those documents wasn’t easy. I wrote them, I revisit them, because I love my people. And I love you. I want things to be as gentle and clear as they can be.
See, preparing for something you never want to happen is actually a gigantic gift of love for the people you love. It says that you love them enough to face the reality that you have no control over your death. It says even in this, I will give you evidence of love. I will do what I can to love you.
Please get your paperwork in order. Please encourage your friends and family to do the same. It really is a gift of love in advance.
Do you need help getting your paperwork together? My friend Chanel’s site provides templates and encouragement to get all your affairs in order before life goes sideways.