Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money

The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

Mark Twain

Next on our list of considerations towards our goal of a                                  Lifestyle of Elegant Simplicity was to make it clear and                                        easy for our named Executor to clean up after us when we pass.

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While we engaged our solicitor to do the work of making sure the proper legalese was in place,  we still had to haul out the previous set of directives, which were quite dated, and decide what changes had to be made that would reflect the current state of affairs,  relationships, and stuff  in our lives. Which translated to a week of  a very real emotional accounting and inventory of how familial relationships have unfolded and changed over the years, of actually thinking in terms of being dead and gone, of toying with those concepts of no longer being  engaged in, or  responsible for anything here,  and trying to insure that our loved ones whom we leave behind are not hurt or harmed by this last set of decisions we have made.  Also essential was that our  Executor will be helped, not hindered,  by these documents in doing a  quick cleanup of what business and stuff we leave behind unfinished, getting them on with their own joy of living.

'It would be nice if she left me her money, but mostly I want her overstuffed chair.' But wait… a hot gut desire  that my father’s desk, the fossils,  the photos, my mother’s oil painting, the books, surely we must individually designate who receives them, and explain why they are so valuable, and must never be allowed to get outside the family.  What about all the relentless organizations  that constantly are soliciting us to  remember them in our estate planning? What about my journals? What about if the Executor changes her mind and the alternate is out of country incommunicado or is put  in the Witness Protection Program? Laughing to  realize  I am not over stuff,  control, or being held in postmortem esteem,  as much as I thought myself or claimed…..

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Approximately 55 percent of American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place, according to LexisNexis. This number has stayed relatively steady during the 2000s, even as the number of other estate planning documents Americans have — like medical directives — have increased. Demographics show that the numbers are higher within specific groups: 68 percent of African Americans and 74 percent of Hispanic adults do not have wills.

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Having lived many years I’ve witnessed some fairly awful arguments unfold when someone dies  without a will. Watched people enter into a fugue state as they attempt to unravel parents’, friends’, spouses, step children, ex wives and husbands, siblings….settle others’ affairs without so much as a pencil to brown paper bag set of instructions.

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I  once helped my friend navigate several really long months  following her mother’s death.   Her mother had refused to discuss the subject of her passing and estate. Simply saying ‘let’s not be morbid;  of course everything goes to you dear.‘  It took the expense of several court appearances to get recognized and accepted as the next of kin. Then to her mother’s locked up tight home, only to find that her mother had created a ‘treasure hunt’  of sorts:  keys to a safe deposit box hidden in a third floor back bedroom closet among 1920’s vintage clothing, a bank book behind the bottle of bleach in the shed where the laundry was done, another in the bottom of the box that held her garden tools. A life insurance policy tucked between sheets in a linen closet.  A gold brooch and matching necklace in the refrigerator bin with rotted potatoes and onions.  Over a year now since her mother passed, and no Will ever located. It’s absence, and the mess left behind, remains my friends own personal pool of quicksand. Sucking her time, money, energy, and spirits downward.

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I’ve witnessed some fairly awful,  close to violent arguments when people have left behind an exclusionary, mean-spirited, vague, or tediously detailed will. Know people who have promised, while living,  all manner of money, stuff, property, and gifts to their family members, neighbors, churches, or auto mechanics,  to court favor, control,  and loyalty. Then not so much as a mention of them in their Wills or Trusts, often never even having one.

'My grandkids came to visit. They talked mostly about world politics. Kept asking me how I felt about the youth in Asia.'
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Witnessed  bad behavior emerge  out of, engulf and take command of some of the most generous, kind, and fair minded people I have ever known. I know siblings who do not speak to one another,  parents who with their last testaments set into motion years of postmortem mischief,  mayhem and estrangement for the remaining family members and friends.  I know a woman who cared more for  a thimble and a green  portable heater than for her niece who adored her. Another  who for years has kept a ragged manilla file marked ‘State of Mind’.  Years of filling it with anecdotes and ‘proofs’ against specific targets. Documents and letters slyly nicked from  homes & archives, newspaper clippings, accusations, gossip, and  suspicions.  Used to influence elders, challenge wills, and lay claim and power over others’ lives.

Young parents  who just assume their children will be loved, provided for, educated, and raised by someone they never bothered to designate if they themselves die.  I know orphans who are now elders,  whose hearts and minds never mended from their unsettled childhoods following parental deaths.

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I have also witnessed what happens when people who made it clear in Wills, Trusts, and Medical Directives what their desires and arrangements were in the distribution of their assets:  Young people going to college,  an acquaintance  who polishes and cherishes a 1955 Chevy he inherited many years ago from a beloved uncle, and a friend who was quickly able to step in and calmly instruct a medical team to not resuscitate his sister, having in his hands a current and binding health directive from her.   A  friend of mine inherited her childhood home from her parents which she promptly moved into,  and will be passing it on to her children when she passes. Record collections, baseball cards, family bibles, and timeshares. All manner of mementos and goodwill getting passed on. And many years ago, when my best friend and her husband were killed by a drunk driver leaving two small children suddenly adrift, a carefully worded and precise handwritten will that had been witnessed and notarized was found among their possessions, a document that requested who would have guardianship of the children should they not be able or present.

328LT_lrWe wake up mid week needing a break from this head exploding seriousness, and go out for breakfast. I eaves-drop on the conversations of a group of old guys who are complaining about the thirty- five  cent hike in the cost of the Breakfast Special, and the death taxes imposed on their kids when they die by President Obama and the IRS. I’m just plain skeptical that this is actually an issue for their kids. If it is, I am sitting next to five men whose individual wealth is  each over the Five Million Four Hundred and Thirty Dollar tax free estate status set by the  IRS  for 2015. Men who  leave one fifty cent  tip for two waitresses to split.  Two women who have been graciously working their table for the last hour, listening to complaints about President Obama wanting to raise the minimum wage. On second thought maybe these old guys are  millionaires  after all.

An entire long lifetime of cautionary anecdotes brewing  up to the conscious mind this  week!  Making us want to leave this business of will making alone and pretend it doesn’t matter. We do not have a large amount of assets, live modestly, and barring a lottery win will live this way until we both pass. But a lifetime of experiences and others’ experiences have loudly  reminded  us all week of  the importance of getting this completed and getting it done right.

Medical directives and estate planning is not tied to a predetermined amount of wealth, possessions, your income, culture, spiritual enlightenment, or relationships. If you are an adult, you may really want  to get it in writing what your health directives, and last thoughts about what/who you leave behind are when you die.  Who is going to feed the dog? And let someone know while you are living where those documents live.  Because whether it is today, next year or  at the age of  ninety six  someone is going to have to clean up after you when you are gone.

My-living-will-cartoon-1Today’s music:Warren Zevon’s Lawyers, Guns and Money

: Joni MItchell’s Little Green

 

Excuse me for now…got to go catch up on my living.

If you want legal information, insights,  and referrals on the issue of Wills and Estates,  the Cornell University Law School has an excellent website at:  https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/estates_and_trusts.

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16 thoughts on “Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money

  1. “You can’t take it with you” … “It’s all just stuff” … What an unfortunate legacy some of those folks left. A will is crucial indeed, and it helps when you don’t leave that much “stuff” for your heirs — most of which will be tossed or given away anyway. My intentions are spelled out not only in a will, but in blog posts directed toward my now-adult kids. Why make it harder on them than it has to be?

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  2. Even with a will, it is hard to go through a parent’s things and try to decide what to keep, who should get it and, horribly, what should be given away. Parents, especially in previous generations, placed a lot of value on the things passed down from generation to generation. Partly because the things stayed within the same community if not the same home, and partly because the things were the means of passing on family memories and histories. Today, we tend not to want to add someone else’s things to what we have and our stories don’t seem to capture the history as they once did. So few people seem to know their family’s past beyond their parents and grandparents. A sad loss and an emotional break.

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  3. The wheels of justice may malfunction, at times …
    And the moral brakes lawyers sometimes threaten judicial processes as well..
    It is a wild world, I guess!.
    Great post… Very revealing!.
    Sending you all my best wishes!. Aquileana 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello..Was just over on your site this morning. I’m doing one of my Sunday Blog Visit Posts for this coming Sunday, August 23, and was planning on including your site. Usually I pop in to the sites I have chosen on Fridays to let them know…but I guess right now is as good a time as any since you dropped in to visit me.

      Thank you for reading my Lawyers, Guns and Money post.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I will be checking out your upcoming post on Sunday!…Thanks so much for thinking of me… By the way, shall I get a link for that other blog?… I am quite concerned about Foreign Political Issues!… Best wishes! Aquileana 😉

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the support.
      I was very hesitant to do a post on this subject matter because it was just such a big deal serious week for us, and then because it was such a big deal serious week for us I decided that it must be an issue for others. Our main goal was to be kind and fair and thorough. And not to have to think about it anymore!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you.

      I really got some insight into why people do avoid getting serious about this issue, because it really does bring up to the front emotions thought settled, and of really considering our own mortality.

      Thanks for the feedback.

      Liked by 1 person

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