Monday, August 13, 2007

Stuff you REALLY need to know about

So, I have spoken to a lot of friends about this, but there are some things you all should really know. They're not nice things to think about, but they're important things.

1. Life Insurance. If you're married, or co-habitating with someone, get life insurance. Get enough to pay off the mortgage, pay off all the debt, and have some left over. This goes for men and women. A lot of times, if the man is the primary bread-winner, they won't insure the woman for as much, but if you've got kids, and the woman dies, who is going to take care of those kids while the man is winning the bread? You're going to have to hire a nanny or other child care and it's not cheap. When Adam died, I had to hire people to pick up the trash, mow the lawn, etc... I've got a couple medical issues, so it's harder for me than most, but either way, losing a spouse is horrid enough, without having to worry about how you'll pay your bills, what you'll do when the roof needs repairing, etc. Money doesn't make it better, but not having it can make it a hell of a lot worse. Also, Adam's memorial service was about $10,000, and that was a basic service- no church service, no burial plot, a very simple casket for cremation, etc. So keep that in mind, as well.

2. Last Will and Testament
I know, they cost money, and no one likes to think about why you'd need one, but if you have anything of value, if you own a house, own a car, have more than a hundred dollars in your bank account, get a will, and do it now. This goes double if you're married or have kids, but even if you're single, if you OWN ANYTHING worth anything, and don't want the State/Govt. to basically inherit your goods through taxes, etc, get the damn will. You'll need to name an executor/executrix (by the by, having been an "executrix" I can't tell you how often I though Dominatrix, which is the only other time I've heard "trix" used for the feminine), and this person should be someone who more or less has their shit together. There's a lot of paperwork involved, even with a will, so keep that in mind. But do it. Find the couple of hundred it takes to have a will made up, and then put it somewhere safe and give your best friend, grown child, sibling, etc. a copy. Just in case.

3. Teach your Spouse
Most relationships, mine included, fall into this comfortable rhythm where the man handles certain things and the woman handles other things. If you died tomorrow, think about what your spouse would be left hanging on. Can he operate the washer/dryer/oven? Does he know where you keep certain things, when certain things are paid, how to make some basic dinners? If he died, do you know where certain tools are kept? How to change the filter in the furnace, and when it needs to be done? Do you both have a really firm grasp on what you owe to whom, where the money/investments you have are, etc? Make sure you do. It's ok to each handle things, but make sure, just in case, that you both have a rough idea of what running your house involves, for everyone.

4. Last Wishes
I was lucky, in that over the course of our relationship we did talk about what we wanted done when we died, more or less. I knew Ad wanted his organs donated, and they were (a note on this, it's important your spouse knows what you want done and is on board. As strongly as Ad felt about organ donation, if I'd said "no" it would have been a no-go, no matter what was on his license or on the card in his wallet), I knew he wanted to be cremated, but not really what he would have wanted done with his ashes. I think I did ok there. But I was lucky in really having a sense of what he'd have wanted. Talk to each other. Do you want to be cremated or buried? If you're cremated, you can still be buried, or scattered, or turned into diamonds, or kept on the mantle, any number of things, really. It sucks to think about it, but do think about it and make sure you each know what the other wants. If you're single, tell your parents/siblings, etc. I cannot even begin to tell you how fucking horrid it is to have to go through this experience, and hopefully you won't have to deal with it for a very, very long time, but when you do, it's immensely comforting to think "this is what he wanted" - it takes a lot of the "what the hell do I do now" out of the situation and gives the person who is bereaved some focus.

Now maybe this could have been in with the Will, and maybe it should be, but honestly, you'll probably just leave everything to your significant other. Makes things a lot easier. That being said, think about the other people you're really close to, and think about what you would want them to have of yours, if you died. I didn't have anything like this, and I really struggled to find some things of Adam's to give to his family and closest friends. So I have a list. My diamond studs go to Lara, my engagement ring is to be split up with side stones going to sister in law and center stone to my sister, my knitting stuff to someone, my sweaters to someone, etc... Just write up a list and tuck it away somewhere that your survivors could find it. IF there's any chance you've got a family who will fight over shit, and from the brief stint with a window support group I had, I know this can apparently OFTEN be the case, then put this stuff into a will. But if your family is like mine, it's fine to leave everything to someone, and then let that someone know that you want certain people to have certain things.
I know, it's just stuff. But I often wonder if I did things right. I wonder if there is something in a box in the basement that Adam would want some University friend to have, or whatever. I asked all the people who he was really close to, what they'd like, but no one was comfortable with this, even though I assured them that if it was something that I wasn't ready to part with, they'd have to think of something else. But no one likes to talk about this stuff, or think about it, so just make a list, you know, if there are things that matter.

6. Why Get Married?
I've known a few people who, are for the most part, married, but for one reason or another, they don't actually get married. The reason I'm about to get into is also the reason I sited when writing to my congressmen, supporting gay marriage.
When Adam was in the hospital, he was in the ICU for three days. If we had not been married, I would not have been able to go and sit with him. The ICU is for immediate family, only, and girlfriends and boyfriends do not qualify. The rest of Adam's immediate family were in England, and if it weren't for us being married, he would have been alone. He would have died alone, with his family on their way. That thought horrifies me.

Also, it varies from state to state, but I think for the most part, if you leave your estate to a non-spouse, that person is more or less totally fucked by taxes. Spouses get something of a break. There is something called an "affidavit of surviving spouse" which allows you to sell your husband's car when he dies. There is no affidavit of surviving significant other.

Which brings me to one last point- put everything in both names. EVERYTHING! The house, the cars, etc... I cannot tell you what an everloving pain in the ass it is when things are in the deceased person's name. Adam was the primary breadwinner and most everything was in his name, and you would not even BELIEVE the fucking paperwork. Just to pay the mortgage, they wouldn't release information to me, because my name was not on the paperwork. We never thought it was a big deal, but we were wrong.

So that's it, really. But you all need to know this. I'm amazed at how many friends are married, but don't have a will, or only have a little life insurance. I was partly in this boat, and when Ad was killed, it seemed so stupid, we had appointments for life insurance a month after he died. When you're young, you just don't think you need to worry about it yet, and hopefully, you won't. But go and do it. Make the appointments this week, and just get it sorted. You'll NEVER regret that you made all the arrangements, but you'll definitely regret it if you don't.



Anonymous Emily said...

Yeah, not a really fun topic to discuss but that is *really* good information. I was especially surprised by the teaching portion. I mean, as one of a set of sales assistants I have to be prepared to do my coworker's job if he's sick or whatever but I've never thought about it in a personal way. Granted, I'm not married yet (and often feel that I'm never going to be but that's a whole other thing - although Jake and I have discussed what was to be done with our cats if something happened which is kind of silly)...but, yeah, certainly good things to keep in mind for the future. Or heck, even as a single gal. I should have a living will. So, yeah, good post, my friend!

12:47 PM  
Blogger Beverly said...

Thank you for the reminders. I will be passing this along to my siblings and friends. Good point about teaching your spouse. I handle all the finances in our family, and I think that hubs would be completely lost if something happened to me. My parents are the same way--I think my sister and I know more about their finances than my dad does. I will definitely be discussing this with mom.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Dunk The Biscuit said...

Ouch. Thanks for getting all this down, it is indeed something we don't like to think about. I and OH keep saying we'll make a will, but never get round to it.

2:07 PM  
Blogger sassenach said...

Bravo, this post is filled with excellent information! I still need to redo my will, since the version I used to have was from when I was married. And actually, you don't have to shell out hundreds of dollars to get a will, you can write one up yourself (there is will software, etc.) but you MUST get it signed by witnesses and notarized. Way cheaper than using a lawyer to do it =)

2:31 PM  
Blogger Tam said...

I just wanted to send you some (((((hugs))))) and let you know I have 'stumbledupon' your post so that others will find it.

Take care.

3:28 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

It's true you can write your own, but I know MA has some really tricky tax laws and you need some very specific info. You can always "borrow" someone else's and copy the lingo!

3:31 PM  
Blogger Marg. said...

Chris and I have only really touched on some of this, but his job - USMC, SGT in a combat group - has really forced it to the front. We have to deal with it Right Now so I have power to deal with everything while he's deployed (for example, the car loan and the credit card are in his name and we have to get a POA just so the company will talk to me).

We do have to make an appt to sit down with JAG and get our wills taken care of, too. This is a big reminder, and I thank you. It's not something we can put off.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Raeknits!_and_spins said...

You are healing, and sharing what you've learned, thank you!


8:12 PM  
Blogger NeedleTart said...

Excellent post. So sorry you had to learn some of this the hard way and thanks for sharing. Two things to add. My mother had a living will, but gave medical POA to my brother. Some things were done to prolong her life that turned out to be pointless, painful and expensive. He over rode the living will. That may be becuase it's a small town and the Dr. thought he could pull a fast one but it happens. Make SURE everyone knows you want the living will followed and hope for the best.
Two: review your will every 10 or 15 years. My husband's cousins are still the executors of our will if we both die and the kids are adults now. Thanks for the reminder.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous tiennie said...

Thank you so much for this Annie! I thought I had most of everything covered but there's always something else, isn't there?!

1:10 AM  
Blogger Nell said...

All great advice Annie. Thank you for taking the time to get it all down..

2:54 AM  
Anonymous Thalia said...

Thank you for the post. I am talking with my boyfriend about issues like this, for some of the reasons you mention. We have been cohabitating, but I've been trying to tell him about the *legal* things we need to think about.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Javajem said...

Wow - thank you for writing this. It's something my husband and I have been thinking about - but never really did anything about. he was recently diagnosed with cancer and this has made us extra aware of things like a will and knowing how to do stuff etc. Thanks for putting this all together in one place!

6:27 PM  
Blogger honeybee33 said...

I can't thank you enough for this post!!! I'm a newly married for-the-first-time "woman of a certain age," so I've been very used to the way life goes, financially and legally, as a single gal. But I know myself well enough to know that if (if? please, we're not immortal super-heroes.) something happened to him I'd be SOL. It would be so incredibly helpful to make things easier for then *now,* while things actually are easier.

The page is bookmarked and we'll be working on these things over the next month. First on the list: Change my last name. Because I'm an old feminist, I've been dragging my heels on that one, but I can totally see it might come in handy to not have to hunt down the marriage license if anyone got suspicious!

~ hb33 ~

8:37 AM  

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