Do you have an up-to-date will? A health-care directive? Instructions in writing for how you want everything to be handled when you die? Are there funds available for the person who is responsible to carry out all the responsibilities you leave behind?
Do any of the following statements resonate with you? I’m too young to die. I’ll let my survivors deal with any issues. I don’t want to make anyone angry by putting “stuff” in writing. I don’t have time/energy/motivation to do all that’s necessary. I don’t know how to do any of that. I’ll do it when the time comes. That’s what lawyers are for. I’ve thought I should do it, but … 2020 was an horrific year for the half million plus Americans who died of COVID-19 as well as their survivors. Of the adults in that group, I wonder what percentage were prepared in any way.
Let’s begin as only you are ultimately responsible, and you can never complete the task and get the relief from having your life and death in order until you begin.
Step One is to consider your assets. Make a list with all pertinent information: real estate; cash and other liquid assets; securities; retirement accounts; vehicles, boats, and planes and titles; property such as household good, jewelry, art, antiques, tools, firearms; death benefits; life insurance; digital accounts and property. The list should include items such as company names, addresses, telephone numbers, description of items and locations as appropriate.
Then there are utilities and insurance accounts for property and vehicles. If you don’t make arrangements to have these bills paid after your death, you’ll soon learn that water pipes can freeze and burst, that someone can be driving one of your vehicles and crash it with a lapsed insurance policy.
You will need an attorney, and believe it or not, they have fees. Also, they will rely on you to gather the information they need. At times, you might feel as if you deserve a fee, and there are provisions for you if you are executor. The attorney’s role is to help you in navigating the legal requirements for the state in which the deceased had a residence. If you’re lucky, that person will be patient with you as you take notes when he or she indicates what is necessary for the numerous tasks.
Death is messy, and my experiences with it in 2020 have been challenging. My sons are working collaboratively with me and the attorney on their father’s small estate, and it’s still time consuming with a need for managing details. Other deaths in 2020 of which I have a limited knowledge have been and are more challenging.
There’s more, of course, in preparing for the end of our lives or the lives of those whom we love. I’d like to suggest a few, and you might mark off some items I have as not relevant to you and you might want to add to my list:
• I think coming to terms with religious/spiritual beliefs is important. This might mean reconnecting with the past, beginning anew, or making some compromise.
• Counseling might be in order if you are the person who cannot accept that death is a part of the natural order. Some have lives shortened by war, accidents, disease; some have long and fulfilling lives; some have lives filled with obstacles that would bring many of us to our knees. At times, I wonder if that Woodward High School teacher who forced all of us to memorize “Thanatopsis” knew that we might need it at some time in our future.
• Our remains and the disposal of them is an issue. More American families are opting for cremation; some are opting for no services; some chose to donate their bodies to medical schools. Cremation leaves a big ecological footprint, but so does a vault, a casket, the embalming process, a grave marker, and the upkeep for a century plus in a plot of ground.
• I believe the biggest issue of all is the ways in which we choose to live our lives and the ways in which we treat those with whom we live, work, and associate.
Am I feeling some relief with an updated/notarized will, an updated/notarized health directive, instruction on the disposal of my body and with all in a big pink binder with assorted other things? YES! Now I can move on with living. Will you take on the challenge?
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., teaches telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and works with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or [email protected]