Morgan Woroner is the Elemental Social Media Manager. From time to time, she has things to say about the death industry. This is one of those times.
For three years I’ve worked with Elemental as a social media manager. Three years. That’s over 1,000 days of tweets and Facebook posts espousing how important it is to have a will, how you desperately need to have a healthcare proxy, and information on the horrors of what can happen if you don’t have these important documents.
I have a confession: for three whole years I’ve been saying this while living a lie. Because the truth is, this whole time, I’ve had none of my end-of-life paperwork completed. SHAME.
Earlier this year, I lost my father-in-law to cancer. While we had managed to poke and prod him into doing a will, we could never manage to get him to have “the talk.” Even when it became obvious that we really needed to have a discussion about what he wanted for end-of-life care and plans, he would never say what was on his mind. The visiting nurses, the palliative care specialists, his kids…no one could get him to open up, and at a certain point, it was just too late. What followed was an amount of denial and second-guessing of his final wishes that has left his children constantly questioning whether or not they made the right decisions for their father. It has been a terrible thing to watch. Trust me on this one – unless you hate your family and your goal is to make them suffer as much as possible, you need to make sure you have your end-of-life paperwork completed, including information on what you’d like for your funeral.
It’s not that hard, I promise.
When I envisioned writing a will, I thought it would be a drawn-out process of outlining where all of my belongings went. I thought it would take a lot of time and effort, and quite frankly, I’m kind of lazy. My almost husband and I visited our local lawyer to have a basic will drafted, which was a way better plan than attempting the DIY approach. She made the process as smooth as possible, explained why you don’t want to get too detailed with your belongings (long story short – if you’re making a will while young and healthy, there’s a very good chance that these will change, meaning you have to constantly change your will), and offered some very helpful suggestions on how to protect our assets, such as property and retirement accounts. You’ll need to know who gets what in terms of access to bank accounts, investments, etc., and you will likely need to provide very specific information regarding financial accounts – your lawyer should give you a head’s up on what you need prior to your appointment. Pro-tip: you can get the ball rolling on your financial stuff by assigning beneficiaries to you accounts.
Honestly, the hardest part of the process was deciding on an executor (who will carry out the will), power of attorney (who has control of my finances and legal decisions if I’m incapacitated), and medical proxy (who can make medical decisions for me if I’m unable to do so). It’s a good idea to have a first and second choice, in the event that your first choice is unavailable (i.e., has died before you and you haven’t gotten around to revising the will). Take some time to think these out, as you want someone who is going to be levelheaded, objective, and that you trust to follow your wishes. When you meet with your lawyer, you’ll need to provide contact information for these people, including full legal name, address, phone number, and maybe email.
Much like your Last Will and Testament (document that states what happens to your stuff after you die), your Living Will (document that provides info on care if you are incapacitated) probably should be insanely detailed regarding wishes for health care. As our attorney put it, “When you’re healthy, you usually plan for the thing that doesn’t actually kill you.” In my case, I opted to leave decisions up to my health care proxies, and to have honest conversations about how I want my care handled in the event that something happens, like accidentally drowning in a vat of chocolate syrup. They know my thoughts on treatment, what I do and don’t want, and what to do with my body when I die.
If there are life-saving measures that you don’t want, such as CPR, then you’ll also need to complete a Do-Not-Resuscitate order. While this doesn’t require a lawyer, it will need to be signed by a doctor. Make sure you have a copy, that your doctor has it on file, and that your health care proxy knows about it.
That’s it! The whole process takes surprisingly little time, especially if you give it some thought prior to your appointment. So, if you haven’t gotten your paperwork together, now’s the time – and I can say that as someone who has officially gone through the process.