Estate Planning – real life notes on why you should do it now

Hi everyone, I’ve posted about estate planning before because it is such an important thing that many people, even preppers, don’t do. Estate planning not only protects your assets and makes sure they go to the right people, it protects your family from dealing with a difficult, complicated mess at the worst possible time.  My husband just passed away and I wanted to share one takeaway from my experience. And that is: don’t put it off until you feel there’s a need. Estate planning can become more difficult to do, not less, as death approaches.

My husband was diagnosed with cancer over 5 years ago. At the time we were told it could be managed for a long time, but would eventually become resistant to treatment and terminal. (he never truly accepted that ) I had made him do a will and some basic estate planning before the diagnosis. A couple years I made him re-do everything (because it needed updating) and check beneficiaries on his accounts, etc.  We consulted a lawyer on medical debt and what would happen to it after he passed. He hated doing all of it, but he did it. 

This past year, the cancer became more and more resistant to treatment. He fought the whole time. He held out hope that something would work, even as that possibility became more and more unrealistic. In the last couple of months, I would have wanted to tie up loose ends – close a couple stray accounts that he had recently opened, transfer the ownership of a car (he was on the title but it was his son’s car). But I didn’t bring it up. He was facing mortality, and fighting every step of the way. It’s the most difficult thing anyone can face, and it wasn’t worth the pain and conflict it would cause to try to make him deal with small issues. So we have a couple random, small balance accounts that we are probably going to walk away from, and an uninsured car sitting in my driveway until we can all go to the DMV on the same day and deal with the paperwork. But I’m INCREDIBLY glad we dealt with the main issues years ago.

Anyway, that’s my takeaway – if you think it’s hard dealing with it now, it will only become harder later. Do it for yourself, and make your parents/spouse/etc do it as well. 

Here’s a good general article. The only thing I would suggest is do #4 first!! Check the beneficiaries on all your bank accounts, retirement accounts etc first. It’s quick, free, and easy to do.



  • Comments (5)

    • 2

      Thank you for taking time to share this lesson. Even aside from the financial issues, I can’t imagine how hard it must be to lose your husband like that.

      • 2

        The financial issues are a minor footnote, compared to losing him! Can’t even begin to address that here. I thought it would be helpful to share here because I’ve gone on about it before….truly it is easier to handle when it’s an abstract, some-distant-day issue. 

    • 4

      Sorry, this is a long one.

      In Nov 2007 my husband was diagnosed with ALS and that was the start of a very long journey.  In 2011 he was vented and pegged and I lost him in 2018.  

      We had wills but they were written when our sons were small so, we had them updated and also got Living Wills and a Medical PoA.  I also had a full PoA on Ted and he on me.  Warning:  make sure you can trust the person you give a full PoA to otherwise they have the power to rob you of everything.  I kept notes on everything I had read on estate planning  and what you should do and it was starting to confuse me (doesn’t take much, lol).  I got a composition book and blocked out the first 30 pages or so, and started listing who, where and the phone number I would need to call and why.  As Ted was retired Air Force I had to deal with several Federal, State and County agencies.  The back half is where I kept logs of the conversations and what I was told to do and by whom.  It really made things a lot easier for me and now I’m putting mine down for my kids but, I’m afraid, they will have to deal with disposing of my property and things.  This year my goal is to try to clear out as much “stuff” as I can but , it still won’t be easy for them.

      Also, food for thought:

      1.  If you have items that you want to go to a certain person…PUT IT IN WRITING!!!  My neighbor is dealing with this right now.  His sister is trying to get every penny she can by claiming he forced his mother to sign documents and change beneficiaries on accounts.  The mother in her will states “Share and share alike”, basically 50/50.  The accounts she changed just before her death gives more to the brother.  He is on the spectrum and the mother wanted him taken care of.  I had talked to the mother just before she went into the hospital.  She was in her right mind.  Yep, I probably will get to go to court.

      2.  As July says, check your beneficiaries.  When the man on my husbands birth certificate died, his will stated that Ted and his sister gets nothing, everything went to the niece and nephews.  That’s fine because we wanted nothing to do with him.  BUT, me being the distrustful little witch (with a b) that I am with that particular side of the family, took the will to a lawyer in their state to make sure we are not responsible for anything and got a letter from him stating that fact.  Yeah, I know overkill.  However, two weeks later his sister gets a call from the family saying we have to help with funds to fix up his house so they can sell it.  Nope, I don’t think so.  It seems the jerk had a small insurance policy and forgot to change the beneficiary from his second wife.  Even though the will gives everything to the kids the policy gives it to her and of course she kept it, besides if he treated her like he did my MIL, his first wife, she deserves to keep every penny.  Sorry kids.

      I am fortunate in that my family doesn’t stick our noses in each others business.  We provide support when needed and advise when asked, otherwise we mind our own business.  If you are not as fortunate and have a “nosey” family or friends, having a guide line is a really big help.  When the…you should do…I’d advise you to…can you give me…I want that…kicks in, and it will, it can help you stay focused on what is right for you.

      And whatever you do, don’t let any entitled jacka$$ pressure you into anything.  Tell them to put it in writing and when you have quiet time you’ll think about it……..and then lose the note.

      And one final thought.  Check with your state on where to keep you wills.  In one state we were told to NOT it in a safety deposit box, because the boxes would be sealed until probate and if the will was in it, it would take a court order to open it.  The state I’m currently in, according to my lawyer is ok with wills in safety deposit boxes, because it’s safer.  Or you can do what I do, the lawyers gave us two legal copies of everything.  I keep one set in the home safe and the other set in the bank.

      Again sorry for the length but, I’m southern, I can talk a hind leg off a mule.  🙂 

    • 2

      July, Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights during your time of loss. May your husband’s memory be a blessing to you in these difficult times. 

      I used to think estate plans were only for rich people. Now I understand that they are for responsible people, of whatever income level. So I invested in the services of an estate attorney to put all of the paperwork together for us. It was worth every penny.  He knew so many ins and outs of the law (for example, in our state that “safe deposit box” rule mentioned below applies, and so we would have been making a serious mistake putting our wills in a safe deposit box, which is what I had planned to do.)

      As time has gone by, however, it is so easy to let little bits and pieces fall to the side – those stray accounts you mentioned, for example. In general I’ve made it a practice to simplify, simplify, simplify. A bank offers you $200 to open a new account and maintain it for a year?  NOPE. It’s not worth it to have that extra paperwork.  The checkout lady offers you 5% off to sign up for a card? NOPE.  (It’s easier to say no when you freeze your credit, which you should absolutely do, because then you actually CAN’T open a new account!)

      Whenever I have a major change – in insurance, an account, or whatever –  I send all of the details to the executor of my estate. That way he won’t have to go digging or get surprises months later.  And though it is a complete pain, I do ensure our accounts are properly titled and that I check the beneficiaries periodically.  

      As summer wedding season approaches, I encourage folks to consider gifting newlyweds with the services of an estate attorney.  Most couples starting out don’t have the funds to hire an attorney (though they are not nearly as expensive as you would think), and what a great gift to get them started on their life together.  The estate planning process sparks deep and meaningful conversations and can really help a couple solidify what is important to them. Would be a great gift for graduates, too.  

    • 2

      I think people avoid this because it reminds them of their own mortality.  I have some in-laws that are in their 80’s and they don’t even want to talk about it.  It seems to be a cultural thing here in the US.