Fair warning: this is a soapbox post!
When it comes to our own estate, Miss Chef and I are pretty well prepared. We have a few reasons—I nearly lost my father a few times, and so the phrase “end of life” has real meaning to me. In addition, not having the built-in protection of marriage, I wanted to make sure nobody could remove Miss Chef from our home, or keep from her the assistance of the savings I’ve built thanks in large part to her presence in my life. And we both travel a fair amount alone by car, visiting our families. I have a good enough imagination to get a little paranoid about terrible accidents.
Over a year ago, when North Carolina put in place a constitutional amendment banning all kinds of domestic partner benefits, I got serious about protecting Miss Chef in the case of my untimely death. I found a “friendly” lawyer who has experience with gay and lesbian couples, and set up a meeting. It took us months to get the dang things signed (the lawyer recommended an extra witness to the signing, and that was a scheduling nightmare), but in truth it was very, very simple. The lawyer told us exactly what documents we needed, gave us guidance when we weren’t sure about our choices, and gave us advice about keeping and sharing our documents. Yes, it cost us money—about $600 each—but I doubt I could find a better investment these days.
After her mother passed away, Miss Chef discovered that nobody in her family had a will prepared! This included her brother and sister-in-law, who have three little girls. When she told them she had a will, so they were going to get them, I looked at her smugly, thinking of the weeks and months I had nagged her to arrange that final signing. Truth is, I felt really good the day I signed mine, knowing that I had done everything I could to take care of her, and I felt relieved when I knew hers was done.
As Miss Chef started to go through all the nitpicky details of figuring out her mother’s financial status, we both realized there remained a few details we needed to write down to help each other if we ever needed to figure out each other’s accounts. Among other things, she had to search for how many accounts there were at which banks, how to log into them online, how many credit card and other credit accounts were out there, how many life insurance policies existed, and how to access them.
And these days, there are so many other accounts—Facebook, Amazon, cell phones, emails, this Blogger account, and on and on. Sure, she already has access to some of those, and could easily find others, but she has no idea what my Facebook login is. And what if the worst should happen, and we were both killed in some horrible accident? Then my parents or brother would be left digging through my papers, trying to figure out where my mortgage statements and Amazon password are.
So “write down accounts and passwords” has been on my to-do list for several weeks. But there are so many accounts; how do I organize them? What if I forget some? What exactly do I need to write down? Then this morning on the way to work, I heard a story on NPR about a woman who went through the worst—she lost her young, healthy husband before they had bothered to sign their wills. In addition to mourning her husband and supporting her young girls, she had to slog through all those details that make up a modern life.
This woman has created a website which provides a great, great service. It’s called Get Your Shit Together, and it takes the Scary out of end-of-life planning. She gives templates for the few documents you really need—you don’t necessarily need a lawyer to write a will or medical power of attorney. She also has checklists to help you make sure all the information your loved ones need will be easily available, saving them the heartache of worrying about your credit card bill while they try to adjust to life without you in it.
Yes, Miss Chef and I are pretty well prepared. But in going through the Details list, I learned that I had never named beneficiaries for my employer-provided life insurance and retirement funds! Here I was, assuming Miss Chef would have more than enough money to take care of my funeral, and she would have had to fight to get it.
So, learn from my mistakes. If you care about your spouse, your children, your living family, take 15 minutes to visit the site. It will give you a great idea of where to start, and show you how simple it really is. You don’t have to write your will today. You can do it tomorrow after work. Or set aside a couple of hours to do it this weekend. Just do it. It’s the best gift you can give to those you love.