Most people fear death, some so much that they’ll go to wild extremes to avoid it, such as Paypal founder, Peter Thiel, who is investing part of his wealth in life extension research. Apparently, the famously libertarian entrepreneur wishes to spend an eternity complaining about taxes.
It can get even wackier with the offspring of the recently deceased. Several children of famous baseball player, Ted Williams, contracted to have their father’s head surgically removed and frozen following his death, apparently, in hopes of finding a way to make money from his DNA. While no doubt, even in his present state, the late slugger could hit better than the most of the San Francisco Giants, I’m sure there’s a technicality banning zombie players — at least during night games. Anyway, it’s always a relief to learn that some families are loonier than your own.
The most important task you can do to make life easier for those you leave behind is have a will and a medical directive (often called a living will). A will, as everyone knows, is a directive on who gets what, when you die. A medical directive, which goes by many terms, gives instructions regarding how aggressive, or not, you want medical professionals to be in sustaining your life, no matter what your condition.
Because wills and medical directives force you to think about your death, it’s no wonder that people put off getting them done. As I wrote in the initial article, my mother had a living will… and never signed it, which resulted in the most uncomfortable episode of my life. My wife and I had to get a a life-and-death answer from a woman who (because of her stroke) could no longer communicate effectively and who had always refused to consider that someday she might die. That’s a situation that I don’t wish to pass on.
You could hire a lawyer to create a will, and if you’re sufficiently well-off, that’s probably a good idea, because a good lawyer could save your heirs money. The medical directive is another story. There are many personal, cultural, and often religious viewpoints that may work to nullify your wishes, and they don’t have to be your personal, cultural, or religious viewpoints. Views that could interfere with your wishes may be held by an influential family member (typically, the spouse or adult child), an involved healthcare professional, a chaplain, or even a grandstanding politician (though Terry Schiavo did not have a medical directive).
While medical directives may not be virgin territory, they’re definitely in the awkward stage and, to get family members, healthcare professionals, or chaplains to not interfere with your wishes, it may take something more forceful, and more comprehensive, than the current conventional medical directives created by lawyers or software templates (see below). The most useful idea I’ve heard is to create a medical directive that includes a comprehensive statement of your wishes, make sure that your loved ones both understand and respect the approach, and have your primary care physician sign it – all easier said than done.
If you just want the basics, there are cheaper ways than using a lawyer to create a will and medical directive. You can chose from a variety of desktop and Web templates for wills and medical directives. My wife and I chose online templates from Rocketlawyer (we get no kickback), but the software universe changes constantly. Here’s one review site.
Creating a will along with a medical directive with one of the above templates takes minutes, and is the minimum that everyone should do for themselves and their family. This is especially so if there’s significant conflict among your offspring or between you or your spouse and your offspring. Tip: The better everyone in your family gets along, and the better each member of your family respects one another, the better chance there will be no major conflicts regarding the contents of your will or the medical directive. Familial conflict is how expensive lawyers gets involved, and how your wishes get ignored. Raising your children to get along is sound financial advice and improves your chances of getting your end-of-life wishes honored.