Once upon a time I was a young 20-something twinkie gayling; working, playing and having a pretty fun and carefree life. I had a good job (actually using my degree!), lived in a cute one-bedroom apartment in downtown Orlando and was a little social butterfly most evenings out and about.
SIDE NOTE: How did many of us function as a 20-something going out about five days a week? Anyway, the last thing on my mind during this phase of my life was planning for the future, thinking about retirement and what to do with my possessions should I meet my demise.
Then something happened: that whole adulting thing eventually kicked in. I started saving in my 401(k). I got married, bought property and had some canine kids. But even as I started to do those “adult” things, I hesitated to write a will. Finally, in my mid 30’s I wrote one. Thanks, Tom Dyer!
If I could pull a Cher and “turn back tiiimmmeee,” I’d love to go back to that 20-something Steve (most likely on the dance floor at Firestone or sipping a beer at Cactus Club) and tell him to start saving for his retirement and to make a will … now! You don’t have to have gazillions of dollars in your bank account, be in your 60’s or own five properties before you think about making one. You just need to be alive, of sound mind and want to document what happens should something happen to you. Oh, and while I have you “20-something Steve,” you might want to wear more sunscreen while you’re at it, kid. Just a thought.
Estate planning isn’t sexy, and probably not something you planned on thinking about today, but for all of us we really should give it a thought. I know a couple who were together and committed for many years. They owned a home together, had a bunch of dogs and had a really nice life. Then one vacation, one of the couple passed away in a very tragic accident leaving the other partner alone and grieving. Sadly, the worst part of the story is that the deceased partner didn’t have a will, and this was all pre-marriage equality. His good ol’ close-minded kin were far from happy that he was gay, let alone in a long-term committed relationship with a man. They swooped in, took his things and planned the funeral, all the while the surviving partner could legally do nothing to stop them. Not having a will isn’t that uncommon, especially in our community. A 2017 AARP study found that about 60 percent of Americans don’t have a will or any estate planning. That’s more than half of America!
When I think about this, I can name my top five things to consider when thinking about your will … and no, I’m not a lawyer nor play one on TV. Take this with a grain of salt and consult real legal expertise.
– Find yourself a good and trustworthy lawyer or at least use an online tool to help. If you can, it’s best to do this through a legal eagle, a professional who knows what they are doing. Many lawyers who specialize in estate planning offer flat rates for this type of work, so when you find one ask them if they offer some sort of package deal. If you don’t think you can afford a lawyer, at the very least consider some of the online resources. It’s kind of like online tax help — just Google: ONLINE WILL MAKER. While these tools don’t replace the expert advice of a lawyer, it’s better than not having anything at all. BONUS: Some workplaces offer will-writing resources as benefits, so be sure to check with your HR friends to see if you have this benefit.
– Don’t bypass the sentimental stuff. When I first did my will I was a little sad that I didn’t have gobs of fancy possessions to bequeath my loved ones. However, the more I talk to people the more they comment about wishing for sentimental things, not expensive treasures. Things like jewelry, art and childhood toys can have just as much value — sometimes more so — than expensive baubles. Consider even asking people if there’s something of yours that they would want to remember you by.
– Think beyond your physical stuff. Often lawyers offer a few documents within the estate planning package. If they don’t, remember to get a Living Will — who makes decisions for you should something happen to you where you cannot make those decisions — as well as your desire for a Do Not Resuscitate order. Also, remember to detail out what you want done for a funeral, memorial service or just a big honkin’ party in your honor (or nothing at all). The more specific you are with these details the less headache, and heartache, for your executor. And yes, I have a “Steve’s FUNeral Playlist” on my phone.
– Keep it updated, especially as life happens. Got married? Bought a home? Adopted a dog? Had a kid? These are all life events that could make you rethink what’s in your will. Also consider other things too, such as possessions you acquire that you want to pass on to someone. I have my formal will held by my hubby as well as our lawyer, but I also have a “things to give away” document on my computer that I’ll update periodically. My will states to look for this document so I don’t have to keep updating my actual will, just update the list of cool stuff to share with folks when I’m meeting St. Peter at the pearly gates.
– Tell people about the will, especially the executor(s)! Being the executor of someone’s estate is a blessing and a curse. You are being entrusted to carry out the final wishes of someone close to you. It takes time and it takes energy. Also, consider this is at a time when said executor is (probably) grieving over their loss of you. Be respectful of their time and effort, spell everything out within your will and consider leaving them something special for their efforts. It doesn’t have to be pricey. Simply acknowledging their efforts in your will can go far in helping them carry out your final wishes. You don’t have to share the details (or even a copy) of your will with the executor, but at least let folks know where it’s kept — your home, at the lawyer’s office, etc.
They say the only two things for certain are death and taxes. With a little planning you can make sure Uncle Sam doesn’t take your estate through the latter when the former eventually occurs.
Dr. Steve Yacovelli is owner of TopDog Learning Group, LLC, a learning and development, change management, and diversity consulting practice based in Orlando. He’s also the Chief Inclusion Officer of LGBTInclusivity.com, a consulting group focused on LGBTQ equality in the workplace.