What do I need to do to prepare for my own death?
February 28, 2012 3:59 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to do to make sure all my affairs are in order in case I die? I have no kids and don't own property.

I have a medical condition that could cause sudden death or incapacitation. There is no cure and treatment is iffy. As such, I need to make sure my affairs are in order. I'm starting from scratch; I don't have a will or anything.

- I'm a woman married to a man; we have no kids and aren't planning on any (I can't conceive so no accidents are possible).
- I'm in my 30s.
- We don't own anything except an 8 year old car in my name that's probably worth $6000. The next most valuable thing is my wedding ring, probably $2000.
- We have a significant amount of debt, but it should be paid off in 2013.
- We would like to buy a house after the debt is paid off.
- We have four pets.
- I have about $30K in life insurance through work; I imagine it makes sense to increase it. Can I take out a policy without my spouse knowing? (He will be the beneficiary.)
- On that note, I want everything to go to my spouse unless we win the lottery or something before I die.
- I really, honestly, don't care what's done with my body or at my funeral. I would like my family to take care of it in whatever way makes them feel better, even if it's a big Jesusy thing (I'm an atheist).

I would rather do this myself and not involve a lawyer. It seems pretty simple, I just don't know what to do.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (18 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
(Ms. Vegetable answering)
This is the only one I know anything about:

- I have about $30K in life insurance through work; I imagine it makes sense to increase it. Can I take out a policy without my spouse knowing? (He will be the beneficiary.)

Yes, you can take out a policy without your spouse knowing.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:05 PM on February 28, 2012

In the case of incapacitation, you should have a durable power of attorney, a medical power of attorney and guardianship declarations.

Depending on your state, some allow purely handwritten wills if they meet certain criteria. Life insurance generally passes "outside of the estate" to the named beneficiary. If you Google "holographic will" (aka handwritten will) and the name of your state, you should be able to find out if they are permitted and what requirements are needed for them to be valid.

Without a will, your belongings will pass under your state's laws of intestacy.
posted by murrey at 4:11 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

If your medical condition can cause sudden incapacitation, you might see if you can get disbility or long-term care insurance, which would cover the costs if you had to be placed in a nursing home for a long time. I don't know the details on these kinds of insurance, such as whether your condition would rule you out, but it's worth looking into.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:13 PM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Many do it yourself will kits (as long as it's state-specific) are generally okay for simple wills, simple advanced health directives, and the like, provided the explain how to have the will properly executed. Most local legal aid offices do estate planning events or clinics, too. If not, they may have self-help guides to simple wills and advanced medical directives. Be sure that your will is properly executed (notarized and witnessed in accordance with local rules.) and that your husband knows were you keep it. Some sort of fire-safe is best, whether that is at home or in a safety deposit box. Even if property (bank accounts, houses) would pass to your husband without a will, it's simpler, faster and sometimes cheaper when there is a will.

Most people are adding lists of email/social media accounts with passwords and instructions (delete, archive, close) as instructions with their wills. This usually goes along with the personal item behests (Cousin Jill should have grandmother's teapot. My niece may have any of my jewelry. That sort of thing)
posted by crush-onastick at 4:46 PM on February 28, 2012

Here is an article from the Wall Street Journal, The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die

(Unfortunately it is not in the simple form of a numbered 1 to 25 list. -rant-)

I haven't finished my set yet.
posted by caclwmr4 at 4:56 PM on February 28, 2012 [12 favorites]

I think you should use a simple legal self-help website, like legal zoom, to make a will and a power of attorney document.

You can spell out your wishes. Say any last words. And you can do it with half-way decent legal advice for cheap.
posted by Flood at 4:56 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Various things:
Write down any medicines and supplements you're taking, and what dosage; keep the list updated and keep a spare copy on your fridge (or other easy-to-remember location) so your spouse can grab it if you suddenly have to go to the hospital.

Gather this info and keep it in a convenient place where your spouse can find it easily (eg a 3-ring binder, a big envelope, in your top desk drawer):
Write down all your computer passwords, bank PINs if you have solo accounts, where your keys are for anything you have keys for, combinations to locks, etc. Be sure your spouse knows where the piece of paper is.

Gather any numbers/emails for your banker, stock broker or whoever manages your retirement accounts, HR at your work, your accountant or other critical financial people. Gather account numbers, your SSN, other numbers that would be a hassle for your spouse to look up.

Gather numbers/emails of people who would need to be notified quickly if you died so they could come to a memorial service.

A Plan for the End is a post by a doctor describing one of her patient's living wills/advance directives. She likes the way this patient has worked through a number of different specific interventions/treatments that might be done to prolong life, and said which ones he does and does not want.

Mefi wiki page on how to get a lawyer - that info is US-only.

Nolo Press publishes do-it-yourself legal guides, at least you can read up on their stuff to get a sense of the legal things you should look at. - again probably US-only.

a previous question describing logistic prep for a death
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:06 PM on February 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree with the advice to create a living will, double-super especially if your condition could create a condition where you are incapacitated. Especially if you have any preferences that diverge from the usual standard of care. Yes, your husband will likely have legal control over what happens, but if your family doesn't agree with the decisions you made, a lot of arguments could ensue. It would make it a little easier for them to accept those decisions if there was a document that said what your decisions are, possibly with a handwritten note to your family attached.

And the same thing with a regular will- you may not care what happens, but what if there is some disagreement between your husband and your family? I think you need to at least spell out that you don't care, and that your husband (or whoever) has the final say over the plan.

As much as you don't want to involve a lawyer, there may be plenty of value in having all your documents in order and properly notarized and all that.
posted by gjc at 5:27 PM on February 28, 2012

In case of death, it's very likely that everything will go to your spouse, though it depends on jurisdiction.

In your situation, I would make a priority of taking care of the "in case of incapacitation" part first, since that's a possibility for you (well, it's a possibility for everyone). You might want to talk to your spouse and your parents, if they are around, about who you would want to make decisions for you, and what you would want those decisions to be (would you want to be on life support if there was no chance of recovery, for example?). Once you've had those conversations, do what murrey says - make sure you have power of attorney and medical power of attorney set up.

As for whether you can do things like set up a power of attorney or will yourself, part of it could depend on whether you expect people to fight over it. Personally, if I expected a big fight, I'd have a lawyer draft a really strong will and medical power of attorney especially, and if I didn't expect anyone to fight over it, I might do it myself (not legal advice, that's just what I'd do).
posted by insectosaurus at 5:29 PM on February 28, 2012

I just interred my mum yesterday. The things I wish she had done was
a. write a will (even using a will kit, available in Australia, and totally legal for simple bequests) - as it turns out, though she told us verbally how she wanted her tiny estate distributed, the law doesn't support a verbal instruction, and me (the estranged kid) will have to give my share back to the pool after I receive it, which is complicated.
b. get rid of old letters and diaries where she'd been less than kind about people who loved her (perhaps keeping them in a box that says - destroy on death)
c. Left a simple letter about what she might have liked for her ceremony. We know that funerals are to soothe the living, and we tried to do that as much as possible, but we found that honouring her most important values was comforting (she identified very strongly with her Scottish heritage, so we ensured the correct clan tartan was used in all printed material / presentations but it would have been nice to know what her favourite piece of (appropriate) music was).

What I plan to do that might not be applicable to you, and soon(though I don't expect to die in the near future), is to keep my house tidy and organised, so that whoever has to go through it knows where to find things (bills due and so on), and to write letters to everyone who means a lot to me, so that when I'm gone, they will know how much I love them, even though they should already.
posted by b33j at 5:58 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

In addition to all the above - I'm presuming your husband would care for your pets if something happened to you. Just be sure to line up at least one or two back-up carers in case of a worst-case scenario. With four pets they may have to be split up among carers, but that's better than a kill shelter. If you are short on potential pet carers, you might want to investigate whether a no-kill shelter will take (at least some of) your pets in return for a legacy (realistically, some of these no-kill shelters want a hefty chunk of change for this; it's a great plan, but if you can't afford it, don't feel guilty).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:37 PM on February 28, 2012

I'm sorry to hear about your condition.

I did similar planning using will-making software that was pretty straightforward and included an advanced directive.

Regarding passwords, account numbers, etc.: My lawyer said it was best to keep that stuff separate from the will, on a page that's easy to update and easily accessible. I'm actually doing it electronically -- I use a password manager (1Pass) that stores all my logins and passwords for all sites and also stores all my bank account numbers. The person responsible for settling my stuff will just need one password to open 1Pass and have access to all the info, which will always be up to date because I use it every day. I could see arguments for also keeping an up-to-date printout of the info.
posted by ceiba at 9:00 PM on February 28, 2012

Make sure your enduring medical POA knows what kind of treatments or interventions you would consider appropriate and under what circumstances. In Australia we have Advanced Care Plan documents that aren't a formal legal doc, but generally get distributed to relevant health care providers (eg, GP, treating hospital, community nursing services) so no one has to make tough decisions at difficult times.

Here is an example of one. You can write something similar yourself. The good stuff is on pages 3 and 4.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 9:17 PM on February 28, 2012

Besides everything above, here's the things I've heard people lament were not done:

Updated ALL annuities & life insurance beneficiaries. I have a relative who didn't and her children missed out on hundreds of dollars a month for their lifetimes since her beneficiary wasn't updated.

Have a will
Have as much life insurance you can have
Make a list of all debts
Make a list of all periodic bills (phone, car, etc...)
Make sure all online bill things were going to the same email account, not work, etc...
Make it clear if you are an organ donor
See what you can do about structuring debt so that it disappears when you die
Start cleaning up old clutter since clutter becomes memorabilia after someone dies
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:18 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I suggest getting life insurance from somewhere outside of work. Because what happens if you got very sick towards the end and went on long term disability and lost or had to quit your job. Would you lose the life insurance you thought you were going to get?
posted by udon at 9:50 PM on February 28, 2012


If you're in the US, chances are everything will go to your husband anyway if you don't have a will. But you could make it a lot easier on him by doing what's been mentioned like making lists and allocating assets to take care of any lingering personal debts you may have. Paying it down is a great goal regardless.

I know you don't want to involve a lawyer, but may I gently suggest that you reconsider? I think you could gain some peace of mind by having the laws of your jurisdiction explained succinctly and knowing that things will be in order. In addition, many lawyers charge very low rates for just this kind of review, particularly when the "estate" is straightforward like yours. In my experience, estate lawyers are compassionate and gentle folk who won't shark it up with you.
posted by mibo at 6:18 AM on February 29, 2012

(Also from Ms. Vegetable):
It may be difficult for you to get life insurance right now because of your pre-existing condition. I'd call around to lots of places; you might want to get multiple small policies instead of one big one because the smaller ones tend to be easier to get. Also beware of any time restrictions, like they wouldn't pay if something happened in the 30 days after the policy is signed.

I wish you well.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:04 AM on February 29, 2012

Somewhere on the Dave Ramsey site are no-brainer forms that will walk you through setting up a Legacy Drawer. A quick google found this article: http://www.daveramsey.com/article/legacy-drawer-keep-your-family-prepared/lifeandmoney_relationshipsandmoney/ but not the forms. I might have the PDF forms somewhere if interested (just MeMail me)
posted by NikitaNikita at 7:56 AM on February 29, 2012

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