Please listen to me and get your affairs in order before it’s too late.
Get a will!
We are an incredible community. So many of us consider each other friends and family, not just coworkers. Even those of us with strong blood families still think of members of our theatre community as family. And for those of us that don’t have a strong blood family, we have each other and that’s powerful, amazing, and awesome. But in the eyes of the law we aren’t family and we don’t have rights after we die unless you have a will. And that’s hard.
We lost our friend, Mike Wangen, on January 19 after an epic battle with cancer. What some don’t know is that a week before he died, Wangen called me and asked me to be his power of attorney (explained below) and healthcare advocate (explained below). I said yes. Mike was a member of my theatre family and he needed my help. At the time I thought we were looking at months, that we had time to put his affairs in order. A short 48 hours later, the hospice nurse, Lacy, called me from New Ulm to work out how we wanted to transfer Mike to the Twin Cities by the end of the week, knowing that a blizzard was coming. That night, I learned Mike had about a week to live.
With the support of Carlyle Brown, I made the decision to move Mike to the Twin Cities on Thursday of that week. I knew that Mike had a lawyer in New Ulm and that he had started to put his affairs in order. I reached out to them to see what needed to be finished on the will and how I could help move that forward now that I was the power of attorney.
But the blizzard hit because it’s January in Minnesota and the lawyer’s office in New Ulm was closed on Friday and Mike passed on Sunday.
I now faced huge crazy decisions. And again, I’m thankful for our community, our family, because I didn’t have to do this alone. I had the support of Merritt Rodriguez, Kathy Maxwell and Kellie Larson. But none of us are blood family so legally there wasn’t much we could do.
We were able to throw Mike an amazing memorial. We were able to celebrate our co-worker, mentor, friend and chosen family member. However, when it came to the estate, we weren’t able to carry out all of Mike’s final wishes. It wasn’t until more than a week after Mike’s death that I learned he had family in Albert Lea. In the end they settled the estate. And while I’m grateful I didn’t have to sort out a legal mess, if Mike had been able to finish his will many of the unanswered questions would have been answered and in the end we would have known all of Mike’s final wishes and how they should have been fulfilled. So, in closing, please get a will.
End of Life Directives
As you start to organize your thoughts, you have several tools to smooth things out. Below is a brief list of options you can look at.
A written Last Will and Testament avoids conflict and misery for your family when you die by spelling out exactly what you wanted to do with your possessions, what debts you have and want to repay, and other details such as whether you want to be buried or cremated. You can also give gifts this way (like give your motorcycle to me *wink*). For many people, a Will is enough to protect your family and your assets.
Another alternative is a Living Trust, a legal structure that provides lifetime and after-death management of your assets, including property. Like a will, a living trust can include a plan of how your assets are distributed after you die. The trustee can be you or someone else, and you can provide for a successor trustee when you become unable to manage things through incapacity. The greatest benefit of a Living Trust is that it bypasses Probate, which can be a slow process taking months or years, depending on how complex your estate is. The larger the value of your assets, or the more complex your situation (children, property, large gifts, or donations), the more useful a living trust might be. A trust does involve higher costs and requires more effort than a will, both to set up and to manage, but it does allow some things that a will doesn’t.
Lawyers who friends of Technicians for Change have used and recommended include Chris Tymchuck, Patricia Zurlo, Lindstrom Law, LegalZoom, and Betsy Larson Law. There are also websites where you can create a will for free, though you should get a legal review of whatever you do. Paid sites will offer more extensive advice. If you have a complicated situation, you should probably talk to an estate planner.
A Power of Attorney (POA) names someone to act on your behalf in legal and medical matters while you’re still alive but incapacitated. That person can decide – legally – where you get your care, can pay your bills, handle taxes on your behalf, apply for government benefits, speak to creditors about you and your situation, and can act to preserve your wishes. You might want to create a Durable POA instead of a standard POA. Why? A standard POA loses power when you die where a Durable POA continues after your death. One less thing to worry about.
A Health Care Directive specifies your wishes about your medical care and identifies someone (other than your Power of Attorney) to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you’re unable to speak for yourself. It may also include your preferences about body donation, organ donation, funeral / memorial / celebration of life services, burial or cremation, etc. Some of these require separate forms, depending on state laws.
Retirement accounts (and some non-retirement accounts) allow you to specify Beneficiaries, both individuals and organizations. These choices take priority over your will, keeping these accounts out of your estate. Keep your beneficiaries updated and check all your accounts.
Consider writing a Notification List so your heirs can access anything that you didn’t print and file. This may include things like:
- Bank/Brokerage account numbers
- Insurance Agent, Company, and policy numbers
- Real Estate Papers (title, abstract, deeds) and Car title
- Location of Safe Deposit box and key
- Location of Passwords – computer, phone, social media, etc.
- Utilities Companies and account numbers
- Subscriptions and memberships
- E-mail addresses/phone numbers of friends, family, and colleagues to notify
- Alma mater name, location, and graduation year
The good news is this: you can take small steps on doing this.
Get your passwords written down. As you pay your bills, write down your account numbers, starting with checking and savings, utilities, and others. It doesn’t have to be done all at once. And you really should.