Taking Care of My Future Self
Why I have a will and personal directive at 36.
None of my friends who are under the age of 40 have a legal will or personal directive. They have minor children, houses, and businesses but no plans in place should anything life-altering or fatal happen to them. Dying without a will is called dying intestate.
When you’re young and healthy and happy who wants to think about the end of life? I get that. But death is inconvenient. I had a spa getaway planned the week my mother died. I remember calling the spa to cancel just hours after she passed. I barely got the words out. I received a nice card of condolence from the staff.
During a family meeting, my dad and brother and I signed living wills that stated we didn’t want to be kept alive by artificial means. At the time, I was 22 and my brother was 19. We witnessed mom on life support. It was four months of doctors who were there to study her in the hospital as lupus shut down her 47-year-old body.
A humble trust fund
My maternal grandfather was a frugal man and while he wasn’t a millionaire he did invest what money he had. He also had the mindset that women couldn’t handle finances properly so he set up a trust to take care of my grandmother after he was gone.
My uncle, the only son, was in charge of the trust. Whatever my grandma wanted or needed she got but my uncle had to co-sign the check. My grandma passed away 10 years after my mother, at the age of 95. As per the will, any remaining funds from the trust were to be dispersed among the three children: my mother, her sister, and brother.
My brother and I were informed that we would inherit our mother’s portion of the estate. The amount turned out to be substantial enough to create a feeling of security but not enough to retire on at 32.
Here in Canada, there is no inheritance tax but the estate has to file a final tax return and be issued a clearance certificate which confirms that the estate has paid all taxes owed to the government before assets can be distributed. In the U.S the laws vary.
My last will and testament
I am 36, of sound mind and body, single and have chosen not to have children. I have a healthy investment portfolio and no debts. I have no partner. I currently rent as I don’t feel that home ownership is for me quite yet. I have a nice violin and some heirloom fine china.
My daily mantra is this:
“ Childfree, Fancy-free, Living Fully to 95”
So you see I don’t intend on dying anytime soon. But things happen. If I were to become physically or mentally incapacitated would I want the courts to choose who makes decisions on my behalf? It’s not as though they would pick some random person off the street.
As per the Estate Administration Act for the province of Alberta, they would choose my father should he be alive. If not or he refuses, next in line would be my brother, which is the person I have listed on my Personal Directive and Enduring Power of Attorney anyway.
I also have two young nephews. Without a will, as per the Wills and Succession Act, my father would be named sole beneficiary as he is my only surviving parent. Nothing against my father but I like my nephews better. My nephews don’t know about the money and they won’t. They are 13 and 8 years old. We have a great auntie/nephew relationship. They stay over at my place once a month.
In 2016, I met with the securities company that handled my grandfather’s money. Despite living in a different province, I decided to set up my portfolio with them because of the 40-year history they have with my family. They know the significance of my inheritance. I was advised to get a proper will set up even before the funds arrived.
When I returned home I researched estate lawyers. I live in a big city so the list was very long. Some websites looked a little too Angelfire circa 1999 for me and didn’t state the cost of estate planning. I found a law firm that had great reviews and offered a variety of legal services. Their website provided clear details about estate planning along with pricing.
I emailed the firm and received a response within 30 minutes from the estate lawyer. She sent me checklists to fill out. We then set up an initial meeting to go over the drafts. The meeting took a couple of hours and I was able to ask questions and clarify my wishes.
I named my brother as executor of my estate. I have a list of instructions on how to dispose of my belongings. I told him he can burn my journals. I have a massive collection. I’m such a messy writer that you can’t read them anyway.
I named my two nephews as sole beneficiaries. Should I pass while they are still underage, a trust would be set up and they would inherit portions of my estate at different ages instead of all at once — 18, 25 and 30. My brother would be in charge of the trust.
I decided to have two additional documents drawn up.
Personal Directive- One of the most common and annoying yet valid questions I receive from family and strangers is “ who will take care of you when you’re old if you don’t have kids?”
Well, I now have a legal document that states who can make decisions about the kind of care I receive should I become unable to make decisions for myself about myself. This document also states I don’t want to be kept alive by a machine.
I’ve named my brother on this document, with his permission. He knows that I would want to be surrounded by mountains and glitter and not screaming children. In case care facilities start merging with daycares. Who knows what happens in the future.
Enduring Power of Attorney-There are guidelines in place to protect my money but fraud happens within families. I trust my brother to handle my financial affairs. He also has a relationship with the same securities firm that handles my portfolio.
I once worked with a lady who handled her invalid mother’s finances and she mentioned to me once or twice about dipping into the account to fund some personal shopping sprees. That bothered me. My money will be designated to pay for my care as needed.
My final cost for these documents was $800 CND. Yes, it’s an investment but I’m not so worried about my future in the event I cannot be fully in control of my affairs.
Regardless of your financial situation, when you die or become incapable of making decisions for yourself about yourself, someone else is going to be chosen by the courts to handle your money.
Someone else is going to be chosen by the courts to decide what happens to your minor children.
Someone else is going to make the decisions about your care that you could actually make for yourself right now while life is going well.
Seeing a will in action
January 2018, my uncle died — my mom’s brother, the one I mentioned earlier in this article. He was 73, never married and had no children. He had one surviving sibling who was in the hospital and would pass away two months later.
My uncle had recently updated his will, naming his oldest nephew as executor and naming three beneficiaries: Oldest nephew, me, and my brother. The three of us live a fair distance from where my uncle resided, so we made arrangements to spend two weeks sorting through his affairs.
It was an experience I shall never forget. I have countless photos documenting the adventure of clearing out a jam-packed house on the Canadian Prairies in minus 30-degree Celcius weather. The house was in such disarray and so dusty that we had to wear masks. We rented the largest dumpster we could get and filled it twice during those first five days.
There was a lot of junk in that house but also a lot of family treasure. If anyone else had been appointed to clean up, they would have missed some very important photos and letters and heirlooms. I found a collection of letters written to my grandma from her brother and her father dating back to 1941. I found some telegrams and even a few letters hinting at scandal involving her beau-my grandpa before they married. All of these items were tucked away in old folders at the bottom of boxes filled with junk.
Lesson learned in never judging a box by its contents at first glance.
We ended up spending 5 weeks in total at that house. We held estate sales. There were vehicles to sell, meetings with accountants and probate court. There were missed phone calls to return, appointments to cancel and people coming to the house to pay their respects.
My uncle was a successful accountant. He was active in his community. He traveled once or twice in his life but he told me how he couldn’t make the decision to spend his money. He had a basic house, drove a basic truck and ate basic food. He never threw anything away, including old vehicles, but he invested well. My uncle had stopped attending his church and the last time I visited him, we discussed this. He mentioned to me how he didn’t want a funeral. He wanted to be cremated which gave us time to plan a nice summer burial and social tea.
This is an interesting point because I have stated in my will that I don’t want a funeral service. I was raised in a religion that I no longer want to associate with but I still have a few connections to it via my dad and some friends. I do not want any sort of talk about God or heaven and hell. I want a simple grave service and I want to be buried not cremated. My family and friends can have a nice dinner afterwards.
Unless I’m super famous when I die — then I want a massive celebrity funeral, a parade through San Francisco, because I love that city, followed by my burial on Alcatraz Island because I think that place is amazing. This part isn’t in my will as I discovered San Francisco after the document was drawn up and I’m joking. Maybe.
I’m passionate about paperwork and being prepared. This is a learned skill. By nature, I am creative and messy. When I talk to people about estate planning most of them say “ but you’re too young to have a will”.
Yes, I’m 36 and healthy. I don’t have kids, I don’t even own a house at the moment. That $800 could have paid for a road trip or some designer accessories. That’s a lot of money to spend on something that probably won’t happen for a while. But I’m going to die. I just don’t know when.
My surviving family is going to have to deal with my estate and remains at some point. Having these documents speeds up the process and lowers the cost. Dying is expensive. My mother’s funeral cost $10,000. She didn’t have medical expenses due to our healthcare system. She had a will and a surviving spouse and it took a year to settle her estate. My uncle’s estate is still being settled, 15 months later.
My circumstances have changed in the last 10 years and they will continue to change. There are so many scenarios that can happen in life but I’ve made arrangements for my future to the best of my current abilities. I’m still living my life and pursuing my dreams. I plan on living a great life until I’m 95. But in case I go out earlier, I’ve got it covered.