For all too long, my husband and I have said we must get a will. But excuses took precedence: We didn’t have the time, it was too costly, and besides, we weren’t planning on dying anytime soon.
I took some solace knowing we weren’t alone in shirking our grown-up duties. According to a 2011 survey conducted by Rocket Lawyer, an online legal services company, 57 percent of adults in the country do not have a will. Of those 45 to 64 years of age, a shocking 44 percent haven’t gotten around to it.
A few months ago, I read about a middle-aged woman in Seattle who lost her husband in 2009 in a tragic accident. He was riding his bike when a van mowed him down while making a left turn into his path. He was the major breadwinner, she worked freelance. The couple had kids, a mortgage and college tuition looming. They also had a will with no signature, little emergency savings and an unknown number of accounts with passwords that had all been in stored in her husband’s memory.
In the immediate aftermath, the widow had a horrible time untangling the web of finances in the midst of her mind-numbing grief. To help others prevent facing the same ordeal, she started a website with easy-to-use estate planning tools, aptly naming it after the admonishment her inner voice kept repeating: getyours---together.org (replace the hyphens to spell the word you’re imagining).
The story jumped off the page for me not only because I know not planning on dying is simply dumb, but also because, not too long ago, my husband was also hit by a car that was making a turn into the path of his bicycle.
In my gut, I knew that the only difference between me and this widow halfway across the country is the divine energy or powers that be or whatever-you-want-to-call-it that ordained her husband would go underneath a vehicle while mine somersaulted over the hood. And because of that sliver of fate that also decreed I would receive good news from the emergency room physician while this woman most decidedly did not, I knew we had no business ignoring the fact that we must get our-you-know-what together.
And so, cognizant that I was sitting next my very much alive husband, we finally found ourselves last week sitting in an office of a high-rise building with an attorney who deftly and calmly presented us with all the “ifs” in life you never want to think about happening.
And there were so many “ifs,” so many prescient possibilities, so many scenarios that start with “God forbid,” that we’d never considered before. Naturally, we are each other’s beneficiaries. But in the event we both die (plane crash? car accident?), we have to think about how our children’s shares be handled. We have to name someone as a successor trustee as well as second successor if our first cannot serve.
We have to think about all sorts of unthinkable calamities: Like, what if one of us were to become “incapacitated”? What if — and this is how the attorney put it — “a nuclear accident happens at the family picnic”? Which may strike you as appallingly maudlin, almost even insulting, until you find yourself reading in the news the following morning while sipping coffee that four members of the same family, save a 13-year-old daughter, were killed while hiking a popular Colorado mountain trail by a sudden rock slide the size of football field.
Which is to say, like that dreadful commercial, “You can’t predict ...” And you don’t want to be in the position of the state deciding who gets what.
We’ve only just begun the process, and while surreal at first, it’s a relief that we are finally getting it done. It’s also made for some highly unusual dinner conversations. Neither of us want to be kept alive by artificial means (in my husband’s words: “No way! Put a pillow over my head! I am so outta here!”). He wants to be cremated and have his ashes spread in all the Great Lakes and Wing Lake, too, which was the lake by my parents’ house. I’m still wavering on the cremation question (“What if it hurts?” Yes, I did say that). But, ashes or casket, I want to be buried near my mom and dad and brother. We laughed some and and cried a little, too. Sometimes the most difficult conversations can be the most rewarding.