My mom died in May 2019. Mom had been a meticulous bookkeeper, business leader, and manager of the household “stuff;” so imagine our great surprise when she passed and how many papers – and important ones at that – she didn’t have. There was no will. The most recent semblance of this important document was from the early 1970’s, and no one (even my mom’s sister, who was named as my guardian in said document) could locate a copy. My dad, who had been married to my mom for more than 50 years, had no knowledge about where these documents were, or even if they existed. WHAT?!
We were not prepared for my dad to pass so quickly after my mom in February 2021. Luckily we did have discussions with him about a few things; ensuring his beneficiaries were listed, that we were on and had access to his bank accounts; and had started the process of drafting his will. Unfortunately, Dad passed away before his will was finalized.
“Great, now what?!” was all I kept saying to myself as burial expenses flowed in, final hospital bills arrived, other bills piled up, and people were asking for proof of death to close accounts.
I knew creating a will wasn’t just for the rich and famous – after all, what I did for a living for nearly 30 years was help people make donations and planned gifts to the charity of their choice. Wills are meant to protect and provide a peace of mind to you and your family. And yet, I didn’t do that for my own parents!
I can’t tell you if it was because I didn’t want to have “The Talk” with my parents, or maybe it was because I just assumed it was handled, or possibly I thought I had lots of time as they were rather young when they passed. Quite possibly it was a combination of all of these things. Woulda, coulda, shoulda reverberates through my mind daily as we are now in probate to get all these things settled and access to accounts.
This August for Make-a-Will Month, please take away from my story a few lessons I have had to learn the hard and sad way:
- Have “The Talk” now. It is a hard and tedious one to have, but it is one that shouldn’t be avoided. Ask what your loved ones’ wishes are, ensure they are documented, and that you know where those documents are stored. Check with an attorney in your state to ensure you comply with regulations and guidelines.
- Creating a will can prevent family conflict, eliminate confusion, and ensure your loved ones’ wishes are carried out. Unfortunately, this is another hard lesson I have had to learn through the process.
- By having a will created you are in control of where your property and assets go, who will take care of your pets and/or underage children, and whether you choose to donate anything to charity. It’s about your wishes and desires, and you are in control of them.
- While my parents were not tech savvy, creating a will also allows you to leave passwords and log-ins to access and/or delete your digital footprint on Facebook, Twitter, online banking, and bill-paying.
- Because my dad died in the COVID era, funeral arrangements were impossible, but we knew what my mom wanted because we talked with her about it. Your will can also contain funeral arrangements, and in some cases, you can pre-pay for these costly expenses, again relieving the burden on your family and ensuring your wishes are carried out.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my parents, knowing they were such a huge part in the woman I am today – they got to see me graduate from college, get married, and become a mom – they gave and taught me so much through our life and love together. I wish I could have helped them during their time of preparing to leave their legacy.
Create your will now. It’s important for you and your loved ones financially and legally. But most of all, it will offer a peace of mind for you and the people you love and care about during a very difficult time for them.