{living in sin} When There’s a Will

by Rachel on April 20, 2012

Wednesday night, Eric and I kicked off our marriage planning by planning for the end of our marriage: we made our wills. I know estate planning isn’t as sexy as wedding planning, but I’ll be honest…it was kind of a romantic date night.

Because I watch far too much Law & Order: SVU, writing a will has been on my mind for a while. In reality, I’ve only ever seen a will once, when my dad died. When I saw it, I was surprised; it had never occurred to me that he would have a will because he didn’t have any property or anything. It was simple and handwritten and simply contained his burial wishes, which were very important to him. Still, I don’t have a lot to my name, so it was hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of needing a will. Like, am I going to bequeath my Kitchen-Aid mixer? My shoes? But the fact is, when people die, their loved ones often see value — both sentimental and monetary — in things that no one could have protected.

I became a lot more concerned with writing my will when I realized recently that I have something of value that I hadn’t considered: intellectual property. All my blog posts, articles, my unfinished manuscript…I needed to think about how I’d want all these things handled after I die. If, for example, a publisher wanted publish all my blog posts in a book after I died, someone would have to say yes or no to that on my behalf and someone would profit from the royalties. I needed to decide who that person was and be sure they knew what my wishes are. I already had my intentions for my social media accounts taken care of through Entrustet, and it includes my blog, but I didn’t get into the specifics of rights and royalties there.

Honestly, I don’t know what the “right” age for making a will is. I don’t know what should go in it and what shouldn’t. All I know is that being in a serious relationship and not being married is a bit of a legal limbo, and I didn’t want to be in it. Ultimately, I just wanted to make sure that the people I love don’t have to guess at what I want or fight each other. And that’s the unexpectedly romantic part about making a will: you’re saying to the people you care about, Hey, I love you enough to protect you after I’m gone. If the worst happens, I want to make things as easy as possible for you.

We kicked off our will-making date by making dinner and, while eating, we talked about our funeral and burial wishes. While it’s heavy stuff to talk about, we actually…had fun doing it? I think maybe it was because we were learning more about each other in the process. But also because Eric and I really enjoy analyzing trends, culture, rituals, and the laws regarding them, and then talking about them for a while, until they lead us in a new direction, and then another, and another, until finally one of us insists we call it quits because we’ve realized, oh shit, it’s almost morning. My point is, talking about death and the laws and customs surrounding it was actually a really interesting topic for us and so we enjoyed it like we would any other conversation.

We did let the “till death do us part” aspect of the conversation sink in too, and while I know that’s implied with engagement and marriage, talking about it and planning for it was…reassuring. It was less depressing and more comforting than I expected. After we wrote down the things we wanted and didn’t want for our funerals, we moved on to making our wills. We both got out our laptops, found websites for making a will (he used Law Depot; I used LegacyWriter), and got down to business. I had heard it was pretty easy to make a will if you’re young and don’t have a lot of property or heirs, and it was. We worked on them for about an hour, mostly in silence, though every few minutes, one of us would look up and say things like , “Wait, so who should get the dogs if we both die?” and “Hm. I think I only have two specific gifts to bequeath…can you think of anything else?” and “Wait, so what happens to your debt when you die?”

Once we finished, we paid ($20 each), read the instructions on how to make it official (hint: you actually have to go through a “Will Signing Ceremony,” at least in Texas, which isn’t a big deal but sounds sort of funny and archaic), and now we’ve gone ahead and made it official! And it’s been kind of a relief. Not because I think about death every second of the day, but because when I do think about it, I imagine the worst worst-case scenario. In my mind, not only would one of us be devastated if the other died…we’d be devastated with two dogs, an apartment, very far from our family, and facing insurmountable court battles with the other’s family.

But now we only have to worry about being devastated. And, like I said, that we made it a priority to get to that point feels way more romantic than I ever expected.

{ 26 comments }

1 Emily April 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Awesome!

I am a big proponent of estate planning for the young and old! Make sure you guys do power of attorney documents too – they matter a lot when you’re still alive, but otherwise incapacitated! And they can save a lot of time, money and heartache when you’re in an already horrible situation.
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2 Rachel April 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Thanks! That’s next on the list, I promise!

3 M. April 21, 2012 at 1:13 am

Not only powers of attorneys but you also should have personal directives/living wills. Powers of attorney are only for financial matters, personal directives are for health related decisions (i.e. in a coma, do you want to be kept on life support, should possibly risky treatments be used, etc.). Honestly, the documents that are for when you’re alive still, but incapacitated are almost more important, because there’s the possibility of you geting better and being left in a world of mess.

Also, I don’t know the laws in Texas, but in most places, anyone who is a beneficiary of your will, or who is taking your power of attorney/personal directive power, cannot be a witness to the document.

And I’ll also add that online will sites and do-your-own-will kits are the biggest source of estate litigation in Canada, because they’re often not quite right in a variety of ways. I’m not sure of the status in the US, but here, they’re a terrible idea.

I’m being called to the bar in August, just for a frame of reference….

4 Rachel April 21, 2012 at 9:37 am

Yes, we couldn’t use each other as witnesses — my coworkers and I did my will signing ceremony! :)

Thanks for sharing your advice!

5 Paul @minutrition McConaughy April 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Wow… I think any couple that writes wills together before the wedding must have a lot of potential for a long and happy marriage.

6 Tracey April 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm

What a mature, loving, beautiful, respectful thing to do. I applaud you both.

I also thank you for the links you provided – I’m going to put them to good use.

7 Katrina @ 'Sota is Sexy April 20, 2012 at 8:01 pm

You’ve totally inspired me. My husband and I have been married nearly five years, and neither ones of us has a will. Crazy!! I think I found our new weekend project.

On a related note…one year my parents actually bought each other cemetery plots for Christmas! They wanted to make sure they could be next to my Grandparents. It was very odd…but also kind of…I don’t know…sweet? :)
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8 Mel April 20, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I told my mom about this (because it’s very much in her marriage/divorce/ finance field) and she said she was impressed by such a “future-minded” thing to do! And she also seconded filling out the medical proxy form asap (like the first commenter said). Love having this stuff on my radar and it’s bringing out some neat discussions at home too.

9 Rachel April 21, 2012 at 9:35 am

I kinda want to be friends with your mom, you know! Does she have any books she recommends re: marriage/finance or personal finance?

10 Mel April 23, 2012 at 3:31 pm

There are a few books that fuse psychology and money concepts: Mind over Money and Wired for Wealth; they have more to do with the reasons behind spending and overcoming money disorders. (Interesting case studies and well written, but I can only read so much of these at a time.)

She didn’t know of any books off-hand specifically on marriage, divorce or relationships with money managing. (Which is why my mom has to write one! ha) Of course there are some Suze Orman books my friends swear by for personal finance. (She has one called “Young, Fabulous and Broke” and another on “Women and Money.”)

11 Elizabeth @ The Bare Midriff April 21, 2012 at 7:27 am

Thanks for posting this – I’ve never really thought about actually sitting down and writing out a formal will until now. It’s definitely something both my husband and I should do! If anything, it will spare some of those uncomfortable moments with family and loved ones fighting over stuff when everyone should just be grieving.
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12 Katie Cummings April 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Wow! A lot of my friends are getting married, none of them mentioned if they’ve done their wills, but I definitely will once I’m engaged! Great post!
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13 Lori April 21, 2012 at 9:04 pm

We’ve been talking about it for years. We’ll be married 6 years in August, but the biggest thing we must consider is that we now have a daughter to consider.

Thanks for a great post, and the reminder. We have to get crackin’ on that…
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14 Triz April 21, 2012 at 10:09 pm

While you are at it, there is always organ donation to consider too. :)

15 Triz April 22, 2012 at 3:30 am

Sorry, I hope that didn’t sound preachy. I recently changed my wishes to include skin and eyes which is upsetting to some people so a good thing to warn them of in advance.

16 Rachel April 22, 2012 at 11:14 am

Ah, good call. I have it all on my license and I think everyone close to me knows my wishes there, but definitely a good idea to give people a head’s up!

17 Jane April 22, 2012 at 9:21 am

I worked as a legal assistant for three and a half years and I’m so pleased you wrote about this. Having dealt extensively with estate planning and estates-probate, I cannot stress enough the importance of having your estate documents in order if you have any assets at all, or strong beliefs about how you would like to be handled if you became incapable of making medical decisions for yourself. Optimally, you should have a will, a durable power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney, and if you do your research it should not be prohibitively expensive to have an attorney draw up the documents for you. This will assure documents are compiled and filed correctly, with all the proper legalese and whatnot. At my firm, we even kept a copy of your documents in our fire-proof safe at no additional charge, and would provide you with copies at your request.

A couple of important notes to keep in mind: 1) the witness to your will signing can’t/shouldn’t (depending on where you are) be a beneficiary of the will, or hold your DPOA or MPOA, and without a witness the documents may not be valid, 2) at least in Michigan, your documents must be notarized, 3) both the initial signer and the witness must be of sound mind and not under force upon signing. (This last one doesn’t sound complicated, but we had a medical power of attorney taken to court because the client’s son argued that his stepfather had been senile when he witnessed the client’s mother’s legal documents.)

18 Carrie @ No More Tomorrows April 22, 2012 at 10:34 am

A big yes to Emily and M above. I worked in the banking industry for a very short time and saw a few things in the realm of failing to plan for the future that was very sad. Its hard to think about our mortality, but its important. And when children come into the picture, PLEASE update those asap.
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19 Emily April 22, 2012 at 4:42 pm

I never thought to do this! My husband and I have discussed extensively how we feel about lingering illnesses, funerals, etc. For us, it was also interesting to discuss: how do you feel, why do you feel that way? And it lead to a lot of personal stories that we may never have discussed otherwise.

Even though we’ve talked about it, though, I’m not sure I could remember his exact wishes if they aren’t written down for me. We need to do this too!
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20 K @ The Chic Teach April 22, 2012 at 5:21 pm

I spent some time in the hospital this weekend, and had a zillion questions about power of attorney and living will stuff…it blew my mind! I think it’s awesome that you guys are getting this stuff sorted out now. I mean, you’ll only have to tweak it if you ever decide to expand with property and little ones…and you have the basics done. SO smart of you guys!

21 RAIN April 23, 2012 at 9:19 am

Very smart to take care of that. It’s one of those things I keep telling myself I need to do! Sounds liek the online process didn’t take long. I am going to check out those two websites you have links to.
Thanks :)
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22 Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie April 23, 2012 at 11:10 am

I have to admit, I’ve been thinking about this for YEARS but have never gotten around to it. I have lots of savings and multiple retirement accounts with various brokerage firms so writing it all down somewhere seems really important. But the last time I brought it up my mother didn’t speak to me for three days…
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23 Ann @ ANN in real life. April 23, 2012 at 11:28 am

Rachel, I really enjoy reading your blog and I found this post very interesting. Wills, funerals, etc. are usually a depressing topic but I found this post a very enjoyable read.
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24 Amanda @ Click. The Good News April 23, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Being an adult is no fun sometimes!

More importantly than a will, are your living documents- specifically a medical directive and a medical power of attorney. If you are ever in ICU or critical care, it’s heartbreaking to have to be the one who makes a decision about if/when to pull the plug on life support. Leaving specific detailed instructions and having conversations about how you want your health managed if you become extremely incapacitated. Also, the power of atty will let him pay your bills and make legal move for you in case you are unable.

P.S. also a great place to plug organ donation :)
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25 [SMASH] April 23, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Such a good idea to go ahead and get your will started/completed while you’re young.

26 Aj May 3, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Since you told me to comment…I do want to say that this is incredibly important to do not only before marriage but especially those who do choose to either not marry or who cannot marry, because under the law you are not (necessarily) considered next of kin or the person to make medical decisions if you’re incapcitated. Your post really reminded me of how R and I really need to do this, especially as we move into that next more professional grown up state of our lives. And as we also slowly move into the animal hoarder territory…who would care for our (gulp!) 3 cats and pupster?!? As we each have businesses, we also need professional wills. This really hit home for me when my gyno died. He had, fortunately, planned for what he wanted to happen to his practice in the event of his passing. It made me think…what would happen to my clients if I died? Who knows the password for my voicemail? Who knows how to access my secure files? Who knows how to understand my complicated color coordination system? Given that a) we cannot legally marry and b) we both have private practices…this is such an important reminder.

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