It’s the new year! 2014 will bring a lot to our little family, but one of my goals this year is to be even more organized than I already am. Middle children have this stigma about them that we are super disorganized and crazy. I used to be like that when I was younger, but then I married a very scatterbrained man. I have 3 birth certificates for my daughter. I put him in charge of applying for her social security card. He applied for birth certificates instead. When it comes to all things Marine Corps he forgets nothing, but most everything else slips his mind. It’s not his fault … At any rate once we married I became hyper organized and prepared for pretty much anything. Join me this 2014 as we organize and simplify together!
This post may seem morbid to many of you. In fact, once you find out what we are talking about you may click out of this post and NEVER read it again. I urge you to push past those negative feelings and read on. This post, while it may be depressing, is vital to your family!
Marine families are a funny bunch. I cannot tell you how many times my husband and I will be sitting at dinner with friends or family and be talking about life insurance and “the plan” if he is injured on a deployment or we die in a car accident. My mother (and his mother) get SO ANGRY at how casually we talk about it. This is not just our family, but ALL military families. The majority of us all live away from our families and we are urged by the command to have a plan of action, wills, and powers of attorney. This is to PROTECT us as well as our children.
This may shoot through you like a bullet, but absorb the blow. Whether you are a military family or civilian family – if you DO NOT have a plan of action (in the event of emergency) and all necessary documents you are putting your children and family AT RISK.
You might say, “Well, Kelsea, I’ve talked to my family members about it. They all know what to do.”
And I will say, “It doesn’t matter what YOU told them while you were alive. Your state has laws on how they handle your assets AND your children in the event of your death – unless you have a LEGAL and NOTARIZED document telling them what to do.”
You may say, “Well, my sister and I agreed she would take care of my kids.”
And I will say, “Your children, in most cases, will be a ward of the state in the event you are in an accident until there is a long, drawn out legal process to determine who will take care of them and become their legal guardians. UNLESS you have a LEGAL and NOTARIZED document telling them what to do.”
You still might say, “My whole family is in agreement on what happens to our home, children, and assets in the event of my death.”
And I will say, “Death makes people crazy. If you are married you are leaving a BIG mess up to in laws and siblings and other family members who are too devastated mourning your death that they cannot think straight. How many times have you heard of living relatives feuding over stupid crap like ‘grandma’s wedding ring?’ Decide beforehand … otherwise your children will suffer as grown adults fight over them and the home they are growing up in.”
And finally you insist, “If I am in a coma or a health issue should arrive, I’m sure my family will determine what to do.”
And finally, I will say, “Google ‘cases involving life support and families fighting over what to do.’ Same principle as listed above – death and accidents make people crazy. You can be the most level headed individual in the world, but grief makes you do weird things. If you have a health care directive and living will drawn up (as well as wishes as to what to do with your body after death) then your family can’t argue. They can’t fight over whether or not they should ‘pull the plug’ or cremate or bury you. Don’t leave the decision up to them. It’s like allowing a hungry child wander the grocery store and choose what they think is best for them to eat.”
You can read how your state handles cases without these documents at Nolo. A great website for information regarding laws all over the United States.
So, the big question – how do I go about it?
My husband and I use LegalZoom. I know you may be laughing, but truthfully it cost us far less than going to a private attorney and I did the whole thing on my iPhone as we traveled from Pennsylvania to Wyoming. Once the documents arrived (within a week or less) I took them to the library and had all of them notarized for $4. My husband and I each have a Power of Attorney, Living Will & Health Care Directive, Final Will, and Statement of Interment, Cremation, and Wishes. That is a total of 8 documents and they cost us roughly $300 total. Now yes, this is a hefty price tag for some of you, but I shudder to think what private attorney fees would be. The good news is that Legal Aid, in many states, offers pro bono work. Contact your local office to see if they provide these services!
(Are you military? Your base has a legal office that provides free legal services to all active duty and reserve members. Call them to set up an appointment or to discuss what exactly is required of you in order to get the documents.)
If you have a very complicated situation I highly recommend seeking out a private attorney who specializes in these documents. My husband and I have a very cut and dry situation so LegalZoom was perfect!
What documents do I recommend?
- Power of Attorney: This is essential for all military spouses or those of us who have husbands/spouses who travel frequently. I have purchased a car, signed many documents, maintained registrations on our vehicles, etc. with my power of attorney. With my husband out of country or away frequently I definitely need that. From what I have been told it is good to have one if you are married – even if your spouse doesn’t travel frequently. You just “never know.”
- Living Will & Health Care Directive: You need this. Point, blank, period. No argument. It doesn’t matter your situation – married, single, kids, no kids, living on the moon, living in Maryland … You need it. Terri Schiavo did NOT have a living will or health care directive. (Remember that MAJOR case out of Florida a while ago regarding life support? The husband wanted to end life support, her parents did not.) She was vacuuming her house (or something) one day, went into cardiac arrest, and suffered significant brain damage due to lack of oxygen. Out of the blue. Just like that. She was declared in a vegetative state. Now there are many areas of drama to the case which made it “news worthy” but had Terri Schiavo and her husband discussed beforehand what to do and made it legal – the whole thing could have been avoided. Ultimately she was removed from life support leaving behind a very bitter, angry, and miserable set of parents. (As well as a pretty angry country.) Do not leave this decision to your parents, your siblings, your spouse, or your children.
- Final Will: You need this one, too. Point, blank, period. No argument. I don’t care if the only assets you have are your Pomeranian, a Dyson vacuum, and $300 in your bank account. You need it. However if you have a spouse, children, pets, savings accounts, debt, cars, etc. you ABSOLUTELY WITHOUT A SHADOW OF A DOUBT NO QUESTIONS ASKED NEED THIS! And you may think that if you die your spouse will just accrue everything and life will move on for them. Wrong. In the past 5 years I have heard of many military spouses whose husbands were killed in action. Grief made people crazy (like I said) and because their homes were purchased with a VA loan that did not contain her name the military members family came after the property – and in some cases won! Now, generally no state is going to argue the surviving parent obtaining all parental rights, but don’t mess around with your property. One thing I must absolutely note – if you have life insurance (you should) ensure that your surviving spouse is the main beneficiary. All insurance policies have a secondary beneficiary if the first cannot accept it – I have been told by multiple attorneys to leave this to the person taking care of your kids with a percentage going to your child. You can’t do this if you don’t have a named guardian – in a final will that has been signed and notarized. See the dilemma? And as I stated a few paragraphs above this – most states don’t simply give your child to your sibling or your parents. There is a legal process and a set of laws they must follow. My greatest fear is being involved in an accident and my daughter going to foster care while our families fight over her. As soon as she was born our final wills were updated and they both state who the named guardians will be. Don’t mess around with this one. And don’t think that your word while you are alive is all you need.
- Statement of Interment, Cremation, and Wishes: This basically just tells your surviving family what to do with your body. Our families differ on what to do with our body. In fact, my husband and I differ on what to do. I am requesting cremation, and he HATES that idea. He wants to be buried, and I HATE that idea. But we are giving the other one what they want. (Mine also instructs him to serve wine and beer at my memorial service and to put my best picture on our mantle so I can make his new wife feel inferior. He refuses … but hey, its legal.) In a marriage you are dealing with two separate families who most likely differ on opinions and beliefs with these things. Again, don’t let the decision up to them.
- Unofficial (non-legal) Emergency Plan: Sit down on your computer tonight and type up a quick plan for what your family members should do in the event that you are in an accident. It will take you no more than an hour or so if you have everything ready to go when you sit down. Ours includes a plan of action, who to contact, emergency contacts, child care information, pet care information, and miscellaneous details. You can include whatever you want, but the main thing is being detailed about what your siblings/parents/friends should do with your kids/pets/house/money if you are in a serious accident. This document is copied and given to my husband’s staff NCO – it also contains information on where they can find our documents in our home. If you aren’t military you can provide a copy to your family or close friends as well as directions on where to find these important documents.
Woo! That was a lot of information.
So, what do you do after you acquire all of these wonderful items? You make a binder, of course!
My mom and stepdad came out to take care of our daughter a few weeks back. She was not in my home more than 10 minutes before she looked at my stepdad and said, “I’m surprised she doesn’t have the binder out yet … ” Because my mother knows my OCD tendencies, my need to be prepared, and my hyper obsession with safety. I believe my response was a sarcastic, “OH! I’m sorry I’m trying to make things easier for you if I should die!!”
Also, having all of these documents in one place is awesome in the event of a fire or emergency. Keep it in a place in your home that only you, your spouse, your children, and your emergency contact know. That way it can be easily retrieved and taken in one piece. I also include our birth certificates, social security cards, an itemized list of our home contents (along with pictures), important documents like home insurance policies, information on our wedding rings, life insurance documentation, passports, etc. Pretty much anything you don’t want to go missing and you want to keep safe in the event of an emergency.
All I did was head to Walmart and purchase a large 3 ring binder and protective sleeves. I then organized it (of course) – but that’s optional. 🙂
This was a long post, but I recommend you definitely pin this or bookmark it so you can come back to it. I feel, to my very core, that preparing for the bad when things are good is essential. I do not want my husband, our children, or our families to have to make difficult decisions in their time of grief. Furthermore, isn’t it just a breath of fresh air knowing that everyone is on the same page? It makes me happy.
Organization … I love it.
I’m off to whip up some cinnamon rolls for my sweet. I did tell him that I was going to a few days ago, but it has since slipped my mind. Whoops!
Here’s to a New Year full of preparedness!