The preparedness community is incredibly diverse. From the wide variety of natural disasters that can strike depending on the region in which we live, to the catalysts that have driven us to become prepared, to how far along we are in our preparedness journey – there are just as many differences as there are common themes.
No matter where we live or what we believe, we all have one absolute: death
My family mourned the loss of several relatives over the past few years, including my grandmother late in 2018. As I reflected on her passing, I realized that her prudence and forethought allowed our family to grieve without the additional strain of dealing with the sudden administrative issues that can arise with one’s death. Over the years, my grandparents made wise financial choices that created a bit of a nest egg for their retirement and care in their golden years.
They also recognized the need to establish legal “preps” that created boundaries, explained their desires for their estate, and covered their health and welfare needs during illness. Choosing to develop legal and medical directives, and keeping the appropriate individuals in the loop through clear communication of updates, became particularly important with the onset of dementia.
It smoothed the path somewhat for the family member in charge of my grandmother’s affairs as her health degraded. When she passed, dealing with the legal and financial issues was undoubtedly not easy, per se, but it was relatively seamless and gave that family member room to breathe and mourn our loss.
In honor of what my grandmother taught us, I share the wisdom of her generation with you
I hope that this list of issues to address and resources for doing so will help you understand how you can be better prepared to handle a death in your family or help your survivors manage administrative issues if they lose you.
As many families assess ways to move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, consider if this is an excellent time to discuss estate topics and share information. With significant lifestyle changes such as graduations and moves on many people’s minds, we can discuss, make decisions, and then address planning solutions with the appropriate advisors to make arrangements before they are needed.
First things first: No matter your financial achievements, if you own anything or have any potential heirs, it is vital to create a will. Ask any family law attorney for a horror story or two of estate settlements; you might be amazed at the seemingly trivial items friends and family will literally come to blows over when a loved one passes! It is imperative to communicate your wants and needs in advance and leave no questions about who is in charge, what you want done, and what needs to be handled.
Research the laws for your area, particularly if creating a will could create a financial burden for you. In some cases, you may be able to download a template and write your own will; in other areas, you may be required to have the document written by an attorney and filed with a specific legal body.
No matter what, put it in writing: Having your wishes in writing is always better than having no documentation at all. If finances are an issue, there may be options for getting legal advice and documents depending upon your professional and organizational qualifications. For instance, if you are active duty military (or a spouse), your Judge Advocate General (JAG) office will have resources for estate planning in the state you are currently stationed.
They will also assist you with updates each time you move since your legal situation may be influenced by where you are located versus what state you claim as your Home of Record. (Military retirees, reserve service members, and members of the National Guard may have access to some of these services as well – contact your closest JAG office for details.)
If you are a member of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP): You may have access to member benefits that help with estate planning issues. Even if you aren’t a member, AARP offers multiple free and paid resources on their website, including a personal estate planning kit for download. Lastly, prepaid legal services often include a will with membership, with free updates whenever you have a lifestyle change, such as marriage/divorce, birth or adoption of a child, or a move to another state.
What other documents should you consider putting into play?
Talk with your legal, financial, and medical advisors to decide whether it would be appropriate or necessary for you to create the following:
- Powers of Attorney (non-durable, durable, special/limited, medical, or springing)
- Advance medical directives (Do Not Resuscitate [DNR] and/or Do Not Intubate [DNI] order, living will, health care power of attorney, Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), organ and tissue donation instructions; written directions for treatment during pregnancy [if applicable])
- Additional account ownership or joint account for banking services (safe deposit box, investment/brokerage accounts, checking and savings)
The person handling your affairs must know who to contact
In the event of your death or inability to care for yourself, the family member or friend you trust with handling your affairs needs to know who to contact for those duties. Create a document or address book for your executor or caregiver that provides contact information for all applicable advisors – financial, legal, tax, adult/family services, clergy, and healthcare providers.
Speak with the office manager for each service provider to have the appropriate form on file with them, permitting them to discuss your case or accounts with your chosen personal administrator. Don’t forget to provide access to safe combinations, secured records (print or digital), location of spare keys, and vital tangible preps that should be found and secured, cashed out, or rotated if perishable.
Consider prepaying for funeral arrangements if possible
Prepaying for funeral arrangements makes it easier for survivors emotionally to contact the appropriate person and have them take over on handling things per your expressed wishes. It can also help curb in-fighting and possible surprise expenses when everyone has gathered at a funeral home trying to make arrangements.
At the very least, if you can’t afford at this time to prepay for your funeral or do not know where you’d like your final resting place to be, document what you would like done as a method of assisting your survivors, as well as what you do not want them to do when you pass. If you are just fine with cremation and a quiet memorial service, let them know before they go into debt paying for an expensive casket and huge burial event!
Your will isn’t just about expensive tangibles and investment accounts
Your will gives direction regarding your children’s custody and care, who will receive your pets and livestock, and more. Take time to think all of these things through on your own, perhaps jotting down some notes of your ideas. If you have a significant other, explain to them that you want to get these issues figured out during 2020 and ask them to do the same.
Schedule a time to sit down and discuss these topics with your spouse, family members, or specialty caregivers, whether to create an agreement (in the case of your spouse) or to explain your requests and expectations. If age-appropriate, include any children in the discussion to provide feedback regarding potential caregivers and custodians. Don’t forget to communicate with said custodians as well. In the event of your death, don’t let the arrival of your child, your dog, or your favorite sheep be an even more shocking surprise!
If your child’s guardian is outside the country, prepare for an easy transition by getting all of the essential paperwork in place now. The guardian will be required to show birth certificates, death certificates, and a copy of the will at the very least to bring your child home with them.
Don’t think you only need a will if you have a million-dollar home or a yacht
Even if you are a renter, there are issues your loved ones will need to address. For instance, your survivors will need to know your landlord’s contact information and where to access your lease or rental agreement; they will need to contact any insurance companies or lien holders in the case of a home with a mortgage on it. Assuming that, like mine, your assets are relatively modest, there will still be items in your home that certain friends and family members will want or that you’d like to pass things on to.
It is particularly possible in the preparedness community; perhaps you want your spinning wheel and loom to be given to your niece, the fiber hound, or you want them donated to the local fiber arts guild where you learned to spin. Maybe you want your great-grandfather’s hunting rifle to go to your son-in-law, or you’ve already bequeathed it to a firearms museum.
If you believe that your survivors won’t know the true value of your food storage or medical supplies, select an organization or fellow prepper that you want those items to go to, document those wishes as appropriate, and devise a system marking the items for identification. (I’ve read of families who communicate openly about such issues putting stickers – color-coded by child or grandchild – in hidden spots on family heirlooms whenever such discussions come up.)
When it comes to your stuff, consider decluttering while you are able.
Making the time to dispose of unneeded or unwanted items now doesn’t just make life easier on you – it means that your heirs can sort out things more quickly and, if necessary, free up your home for sale or your apartment to be turned back to your landlord. During this decluttering, you can also inventory your belongings for insurance purposes (a handy prep should you face a disaster such as a house fire or hurricane damage) and get things better organized to find preparedness gear whenever needed by your family.
If you need some inspiration, take a few minutes to research the Swedish concept of döstädning, or the “art of death cleaning.” This is a process during which families, particularly elderly family members, declutter slowly but steadily so that their passing isn’t an enormous burden for those left behind. The process can also be the perfect time to find and document the technological and legal items survivors may need, such as passwords to computers and online accounts and other vital information discussed above.
Editor’s Note: If you, like most preppers, have some great hiding places in your home for valuables like cash, jewelry, precious metals, and firearms, someone needs to know where the stash is. This is of urgent importance if you are a renter. In that case, somebody you trust should know where your valuables are hidden. If there’s going to be a little bit of time to clear out your home, a letter to your heir can be put in a safety deposit box or the care of your attorney. ~ Daisy
You are doing your loved ones a great service by addressing these issues in advance
Depending on your cultural and religious background, this entire topic may feel off-putting, morbid, or depressing. Some family members may not be open to a frank discussion of such matters, so it may take a little while to get the ball rolling on estate planning. Your forethought and planning will create a situation where your loved ones can hand over the administrative tasks to the appropriate individuals and then process their loss at their own speed – dealing with the stages of grief without the additional burden of chasing accounts, figuring out what goes to whom, and making decisions without the benefit of much-needed information.
Passing on peace of mind could be the best model of personal preparedness you can provide for them. It’s worth a bit of discomfort to take these steps for your loved ones.
Are there any specific preparations you’ve made that aren’t covered in this article? Do you have any experiences to share that taught you a lesson about estate planning? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Melonie Kennedy is a military wife and homeschooling mother who sometimes forgets her own sweater while asking everyone else about theirs. You can visit her online at www.MelonieK.com.
Have a friend who’s father passed away recently.
Even with a will, it was not easy for her.
But better than having nothing.
Thank you, 1stMarineJarHead1. It’s never easy, but you hit it right on the head: better than having nothing. Glad you liked the article!
While I agree a Will is necessary, it is only a request to the Court regarding the disposition of your assets. In most cases when assets are in excess of $20,000 a Trust is more appropriate. While it will include Medical Directives, Power of Attorney, a Will, etc. it also eliminates probate, (which often saves the beneficiary’s 30% and ensures a much faster method of distributing assets) and operates as a directive to the Court. (There is a HUGE difference between a request and a directive to the Court.) Well worth the extra expense, because it serves as peace of mind for those left behind to know your desires and wishes, in addition to preserving your assets so that they are passed to your intended beneficiaries rather than to the State.
Good article on real preparedness as none of us are getting out alive.
BC (Before Covid) The local votech had a class on will writing and if you took it you would walk outta there with a will.
Military you will stop at JAG on the way to wherever or every so often depending on what type unit your in. Take advantage of it and don’t blow it off.
Matt in Oklahoma – what is a “local votech”? Thanks.
I believe that refers to a local vocational-technical school – also known as a trade school.
biggest reason to leave a will is to head off family fights over the loot.
Some random observations with no claim of completeness:
If there is real estate involved where there are multiple heirs, if the will specifies some undivided percentage of ownership to those heirs, it can be as if you’ve handcuffed those heirs together, and possibly their heirs as well. Example: if one heir wants to sell but the other(s) does not, that undivided interest arrangement is understood in the realty community as sometimes nearly as much as being dinged as much as 25% in value because of the difficulty (or impossibility, at least without a court fight) of selling. The other effect is that you’ve possibly just made enemies of one (or maybe more) generations of heirs caught in such a trap. One way to avoid cursing your heirs like that is to mandate a sale so that the cash proceeds can be easily divided. Being remembered as the person who made enemies of his/her heirs is not my idea of an honorable legacy.
Sometimes structuring a will can be really difficult such as when your relatives are responsible for you not knowing what you have left. In multiple cases I know of, when a single individual, living alone, has had an emergency hospital stay (which in some cases has turned into years in an assisted living home), the relatives have (without permission or knowledge of the homeowner) broken into that house, rearranged many things, put some things into storage, hauled other things to the trash, and made NO LISTING of what went into storage or trash. The excuse was that the house “needed renovation.” So how should such a person handle his/her will … with greatly reduced knowledge of what items remain, and considerably less trust in those relatives? Should an executor be chosen who is definitely outside that family?
Choosing an executor has other issues. I know of one case where there was no property appraisal ordered by the executor at the time ownership changed. Unknown to the heirs when they sold that property perhaps 15 years later that the property averages in that area had dropped about 10%. Without that old not-done appraisal, they couldn’t prove that they didn’t owe the IRS a dime of capital gains tax. So choosing an executor without the knowledge I’ve described typically means selecting somebody with such expertise outside the family.
Another phenomenon I’ve seen is where heirs pay zero attention to the executor who is related to them. Heirs will sometimes run through a house grabbing whatever strikes their fancy in the confidence that the related executor won’t have the guts to hold them legally accountable for such theft. Is that another good argument for choosing an executor who is unrelated?
“One way to avoid cursing your heirs like that is to mandate a sale so that the cash proceeds can be easily divided”
another way is to hand it over to the one that wants it.
Screw my family.
I plan on leaving everything I own to either the Salvation Army or the local homeless mission.
They have not included me in their holidays ever since I retired from the military.
They treat me like I spent the last 20 years in prison serving a term for 1st degree murder…rather than a patriot that was willing to die for my country.
“Screw my family”
now now. sure some of that isn’t on you?
Well, I was deployed a good part of my time in the military.
They assumed I had the life of Riley…”traveling” around the world to a whole lot of crapholes.
Trust me, I would rather see the homeless shelter get the money and property.
Thank you for your service Kathleen.
I’ve seen toxic things happen in families so I can understand your point of view. Do what you feel is right and God Bless.
Asking you to please keep my grandson in your prayers as he’s recently deployed…thank you in advance !!!!
Have a safe and Merry Christmas (or holiday, if you prefer !!!)
Gman- you have a lot of misplaced cojones to bring personal attacks against a member of this site, a site that Ms. Luther has made clear is open and respectful. I do not know why she tolerates you, except that she has a deep love of the first ammendment. That said, take your toxic, neck beard vitriol some place else. You have consistently attempted to prove your intelligence with a lot of words that translate to insecure, lonely, and no one will date me. I would not grant you substance, as you are only capable of reading from better formulated, thoughtful, honest thoughts. Kathleen does not need me to defend her. But you are, sir, without doubt, a basement dwelling punk. Sod off.
KathleenJ: Yeah I hear you! I have one remaining son who, at 28, still lives with his mom. I have text and left messages to him for four years now, since my oldest son died from Cancer. I moved from California and invited son to move w me and have the basement. No comment ever to me about anything. I decided to hope one day he will reach out to me, yet stopped sending well wishing to him.
I asked at church if parents are biblically SUPPOSED to leave everything to their children and the answer was for my legacy! Oh! If anyone is around me while I am alive, then they will be remembered in my will! Seen too many “estranged” this and that relationships to believe someone will be around my death, sad, and remembering “the good times!” Seemed like an artificial celebration to me…
Like you I intend to will to the Salvation Army, as they seem to be the only group I have NOT found any dirt about! I have seen their works, and even my Grandmother played piano in San Bernardino for them when I was young! I am an active donator to my local Rescue Mission, where people are living on the sidewalk across from the mission, in the rain and snow…Hurts to see this when ILLEGALS seem to be the chosen people!
I have found some peace Kathleen, and I hope you will also! You don’t have to leave anything to unappreciative anybodies! Use your assets NOW: We never ever get the “Oh, I will do something later!” My son didn’t have that luxury, but I taught him to live NOW, not LATER! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you!!!
what to do with firearms ?
Will them to your local gun shop of course!!!
Good stuff. One thing I would make sure you do is to have your spouse/SO/child be on your primary bill paying bank account(s). The minute your death certificate hits the government, everything shuts down. Even with a will that says you da bill payin man, it can be very difficult getting the funds out of the account if you aren’t on it.
I’ve got most completed. My oldest daughter is the one in CHARGE when I kick the bucket. I do NOT want a funeral or a GRAVE! I am to be cremated and my ashes spread around places I loved to visit while I was still in my “skin suit,” and I have that in writing. Especially since my middle daughter is handicapped and has a power of attorney and I do NOT want that woman to decide that she wants to overturn my wishes. I’ve spoken many times with my daughter that has her mental condition and she knows what I want and has said that she understands me. I’ve told her that I won’t be in that grave anyway, I’ll be with her when she feels she needs me, even if it will be in spirit and not body…
I have also been “recording” a DVD which is to be played during my “funeral” or, not really a funeral but, those that want to come to a sort of gathering to hear my departing words… Not all of them are nice or PC, since I know many will show up just because “the witch is dead”. I have special messages to those. Yes, I’m evil but, what are they going to do, sue me?
As far as an actual funeral service, that will be held after I’ve been cremated in a clearing in the forest where I go when I feel I need to be alone and gather my strength and wits… Only my kids and a few that I consider to be closest and true friends/family will be allowed to be there…
I have also included in my “recording/DVD” my wishes/demands on how I want things to be after I have gone so, it’s both in writing and verbal… In other words, I’ll be performing my own funeral. Now THAT should creep quite a few people out… LOL
“I’ll be performing my own funeral”
kind of awesome.
“Yes, I’m evil but, what are they going to do, sue me?”
well, they aren’t the ones you should be worried about ….
Hehehe… Nope, they’re the ones that should be worried when I pull all their “skeletons” out of the proverbial closets…
Me, I have many many “skeletons”. Only difference is, I don’t hide mine. Better to be the person you know you are and not someone that pretends to be someone else. Same with lying… It’s a pain in the rear to remember stuff that’s not true. Better then to just admit to whatever eff-up you’ve done and no one can come back and use it against you further down the road.
What you see, is what you get. Makes life much easier. At least in that department.
Planning ahead – and updating those plans as the years progress – is your gift to the executor of your estate. Even if you have very little to pass on to your heirs, the instructions you leave are invaluable.
A dear friend and her sister were surprised to learn their great-aunt (aged 102) had named them co-executors. The aunt was not wealthy. The heirs named in her will (not my friend and her sister) were mostly deceased. The task of locating the surviving heirs has taken nearly a year.
An address book, with accurately kept contact information is a great place to start.
Keep an updated log of passwords, account numbers and other account information.
In that log, include all insurance policies – health, life, auto and home, disability and long term care.
Your own personal information is necessary to your heirs – birth certificate, marriage and divorce info. Your social security / Medicare information. All will be needed.
I have a book and file titled “Okay, I’m dead… now what?” I update it every year.
These days, I question the wisdom of pre-paying for all one’s funeral arrangements. It’s too much like buying a gift certificate for a chain of retail stores that might go out of business soon. Right, those pre paid funds are often set up as “trusts.” But those trusts make me nervous too.
Finally, it’s true that funeral homes have a constantly renewable source of “new clients.” But with all the plague restrictions on size of attendance, their profit margins are surely shrinking. We’ll see mortuaries going belly up too. 😉
Great article, Melonie K! In our state, if you die without a will, your estate goes into Probate, which can take up to 2 years to work through the legal system.
Also, if you have a special needs child that lives in a group home or who receives Medicare, s/he is limited in the amount of money s/he can have. Any inheritance beyond what federal law prescribes for Medicare will cause the child to lose Medicare benefits. We just went through this with my husband’s brother, who is in a group home and receives Medicare. He has all his needs met, but when an Uncle died, he gave him a substantial amount of money (which he can’t take). The result was creating a special needs trust (a legal expense) and it will all go to Medicare upon his death.
Also, we’ve had numerous friends who lost parents, were executors of the will, and family divisions resulted. If the estate is substantial, better to assign management to an estate management service who can act as the intermediary with other family members.
One more thought–it’s better to have financial and medical power of attorney for aging parents BEFORE they are unable to make those decisions for themselves, or it may be challenged by family members.
Regarding controlled firearms, think about a gun trust, especially if you have something like a controlled silencer that would be relinquished to the government upon your death.
My spouse and I have no children. My suggestion is to set up a trust for the surviving spouse to have a lifetime right to the principal and all earnings for use for whatever he/she desires. The trust should be executed upon the death of one of the spouses, with no distributions to anyone until the death of the surviving spouse.
Since everything we own is joint, the only issue is if we die at the same time.
If that happens, who cares?
Callous? Maybe, but this life is not the important one.
Good topic in this time of Covid.
My husband & I have wills. However, they were written in another state. In order to avoid the expense of probate, we are making an appointment to switch all tangible assets into a trust.
If you haven’t considered a trust, I urge you to look into it.
It also protects your assets in the event of a serious lawsuit.
Thank you Melanie for a well written article. From my personal experience having your affairs in order was of the utmost importance. Shortly after my wife turned 59 this year she was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away in mid October. Our financial advisor was a huge help, but most of all having life insurance was for me the biggest thing. Our estate attorney is now updating my will, power of attorney and health care proxy. Even as prepared as we were it was still hard and not a day goes by that I think about the forty years we spent together.