Category Archives: funeral directions

a life still in the process of blossoming, cut short

Sometimes when horrible, totally unfair things happen, they happen to people we love.  Those things force us to sit up and take notice.  They shake our foundations and test our beliefs.  There’s probably nothing that does so more or is more awful than a life still in the process of blossoming, cut short.  Our hearts bleed for the surviving loved ones.  And we are reminded that all lives are like pebbles that make ripples in still water, extending out to all the other lives around us.

A kindred spirit of mine recently experienced such an awful thing and described being in the thick of it so vividly it nearly put me there too:  http://workingmomfence.com/2010/09/when-the-shit-hits-the-fan/

This is what happened:  http://ghostbikes.org/new-york-city/stefanos-tsigrimanis

Ghost Bike

These are some of the ripples: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=stefanos-tsigrimanis&pid=145231432

People ask me how I can talk and think about disability, incapacity, death, and dying all the time.  (They used to ask me how I could talk about violence against women and children.)  My answer is essentially the same to those questions as the Shel Silverstein poem I quoted under my mug shot in our Senior High School yearbook: “Somebody has to go polish the stars. They’re looking a little bit dull.” 

I asked Kami’s permission to share her post here as a reminder that stuff does happen, in the hope that it will inspire other young, healthy people to take about the same amount of time as dinner and a movie to get their affairs in order as a selfless gift to their loved ones.  If you have ever been in the wretched position of having to make decisions about organ donation and termination of artificial life-sustaining / death-prolonging measures, you would likely never wish that on anyone you love.

While it is difficult and unpleasant to think about these things, it is always better to do so in times of health from a calm and collected place.  You can spare the people you love from possibly turning against one another in their grief over fundamental differences of opinion or out of different religious convictions and allow them to come together for mutual support and comfort instead.  You can spare your loved ones a lifetime of guilt and agony second-guessing their difficult decisions by making those decisions yourself and taking the burden off of them.  You can make sure your sentimental stuff goes to people who will appreciate and understand it.  You can acknowledge relationships that are otherwise not formally recognized.

Terrible things happen and we can’t always prevent them, but we can do things to prevent compounding of our loved ones’ grief.  That is a gift we can give them now and for which they will be forever grateful.

What Happened Next to the Couple Who Chose Lawyer C

The couple is transported to a nearby hospital where the husband is pronounced dead on arrival. The wife is comatose and is initially connected to life sustaining machines, until two doctors conclude there is no reasonable expectation of recovery. Because the wife had a copy of her Advance Directive / “Living Will” in her wallet that the emergency responders discovered, the doctors made the difficult decision to honor her wishes and discontinue life support.

Meanwhile, the wallet card in each parent’s possession identified their minor children’s names and birthdates and instructions for whom to call in the event of an emergency. Law enforcement officials go to the home where they are greeted by a startled high school babysitter. The babysitter shows the officers the copy of the emergency notes and whom she is to call, which matches the parents’ wallet card information.

The officers call the first emergency guardian, the children’s maternal aunt who lives nearby. The children’s aunt rushes over immediately with her notarized copy of her emergency guardianship papers. The officers agree to allow her to stay in the family’s home with the children and they and the babysitter then leave.

The aunt calls her sister’s in-laws to inform them of what happened. She learns from them that they are named as permanent guardians and executors under the parents’ Wills. She also learns from them where the couple stored their estate planning documents in the home and retrieves them for review. Together with her sister’s in-laws and named permanent guardians, the children’s aunt plans how she will care for the children until the guardians are able to arrive from out of state. They also review together the parents’ wishes regarding anatomical gifts and funeral directions and are very grateful for the detailed letter to the executor the couple had prepared for them with Attorney C.

The next day the executors call Attorney C who provides them with a document detailing precisely what the next steps should be, which is extremely helpful in their moment of crisis. Attorney C promises to and does help them through every step of the process to make a horrible tragedy less traumatic for the surviving family members.

What is Estate Planning & Do I Need a Will Now?

“Estate planning” sounds like something that is pretty fancy and only for very wealthy people, but really it is just about how you would wish matters to be handled in the event of your incapacity and after your death.

Who would you want to make medical decisions for you if you were unable? In what ways would you wish to be kept alive and for how long? How would you wish for your funeral and burial or cremation to be handled, paid for, and by whom? In what manner do you wish to pass on both your financial and priceless personal assets to your children or other relatives? Whom you would want to care for any minor children you may have in the unlikely event both you and your spouse should die simultaneously or close in time?

Many young couples, especially those without children, shrug it off saying, “We don’t have anything” and figure they will address these questions farther down the line. The trouble is, most of us forget to come back to them or don’t want to think about such things, and the best time to contact an attorney and think through these difficult and often painful choices is *before* your family is in crisis. The bottom line is that if *you* do not address these questions and make these decisions, the state/a stranger will end up making them for you and their choices may be very different from your own.

Undoubtedly for parents of young children, the single most anxiety-producing question is what should happen to your children if you are not able to care for them yourself. While it is of course critical to determine whom you would want to be your children’s permanent guardian (and back-up/successor guardians), it is just as critical to name temporary/emergency guardians. If your spouse is far away on a business trip and your named permanent guardians are also far away, you may need a named temporary emergency guardian to care for your children until such time as your permanent guardians are able to arrive. Depending on where they are and what is going on in their own lives, that could be a considerable amount of time. If you don’t have immediate family nearby or name someone, it is entirely possible that your children will be placed into foster care temporarily rather than remaining with close family friends or relatives in their own or a familiar home.

To help you decide whether you should have a Will and other related legal instruments in place now, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do you own a home, car(s), and/or jewelry (of sentimental and/or financial value)?

2. Do you have a bank account or accounts?

3. Do you have a life insurance policy?

4. Do you have a minor child or children? If so, have you legally named guardians to care for them temporarily and/or permanently in the event you become unable to do so?

5. Have you inherited a substantial amount of money from a relative?

6. Are you estranged from a closely related family member?

7. Do you or your closely related relatives have any special circumstances that might require distributing assets or property to you/them in a slightly different way?

8. Do you have someone legally appointed to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are unable?

9. Do you have someone legally appointed to manage your financial affairs (pay your bills, etc.) if you are unable to do so?

10. Do you have a Will? If yes, how many years old is it and does it still reflect your individual and/or family situation?

11. Do you have a Living Will? Do you think your family of origin might disagree with your partner or spouse under the stressful circumstances of your incapacity?

12. If you answered no to more than one of the above questions, why? (e.g. didn’t think it was necessary, don’t want to think about these things because it’s unpleasant, afraid can’t afford an attorney, other?)

Estate planning can be a very empowering process instead of the depressing, anxiety-inducing one you might have feared. If you work with an attorney who cares and listens to you and tries to help you as an individual meet your goals, then you are able to control how you pass on not only your financial assets, but also your intangible assets. Having a Will is not about plugging your name into some forms, tucking it away, and leaving it to collect dust until your eventual death (an attorney who will charge you hundreds of dollars to do just that is taking your money and running, leaving you and your loved ones largely unprotected). Estate planning should be an ongoing process and collaborative effort between you and your family’s attorney to ensure that your legal documents continue to meet your needs over time and weathering all of life’s changes.

As for cost, reasonable professional attorney fees are far less than the expenses involved in such matters as probating your estate and hiring all the related professionals, especially guardians for any minor child or children should both parents die simultaneously or close in time. The relatively small cost should be a top priority as a form of mental and practical “insurance.”

Wishing you and your family health, happiness, and priceless peace of mind!
-Danielle