Yesterday, I had a conversation with my father about his approaching death and his estate plan. He’s got terminal cancer and he’s 92 so, while he’s doing relatively well right now, the reality is that he’s going to die sooner rather than later.
Now, many people might think that sounds cold, but it’s not: none of us gets out alive, after all. I love my father and will miss him, but as a (bad) Buddhist, I know about impermanence and accept it, including when it means accepting death and loss. I’ve been lucky to have my dad in my life for so long; my mother died when I was 18. If you look, you’ll find a (fake) quote from the Buddha on my site that sums it up: Impermanence is a bitch.
As a lawyer, regardless of my thoughts on impermanence, I know that estate planning is important. However, that combined with an acceptance of impermanence meant that asking Dad about his estate planning now, while he’s still doing well, was the right thing to do. That he was an attorney before retirement helped make it easier. These can be difficult conversations, but they are needed.
It’s one thing to think about estate planning for our elders, but the sad reality is that things can kill any of us, any day. If you haven’t planned for it, then when it happens you force your loved ones into a bunch of extra work and emotional hell. This is true even if you don’t have much of anything but, as a creative pro, you have more than you think: your copyrights are assets that live beyond you. You also probably have art on your walls or notebooks full of sketches or other objects that might not seem of financial value, but that you don’t want falling into the hands of, say, your crazy brother who has joined a cult.
There are many things that can be done to make that difficult time much easier: wills, trusts, pay-on-death accounts, life insurance, just to name a few tools. In some states, there are transfer-on-death deeds, even, for real estate. Basically, you can keep almost everything out of probate, if you plan appropriately.
Of course, I think getting the plan executed and all the tools in place is the best thing to do, but I think talking about this as soon as possible, with the people you love, is important. That can be done today. Ask people what they want and tell them what you want. At the very least, even if it isn’t leally binding, at least you’ll know that, say, your camping-loving girlfriend wants her ashes chucked off Mount Whitney rather than in the desert; then, if necessary, you can try to do that for her.
Yes, I am the youngest of my siblings and there is a gap. 🙂
For more on impermanence: https://tricycle.org/magazine/impermanence-and-four-noble-truths/
Here is some good info for Californians: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Public/Free-Legal-Information/Legal-Guides/Estate-Planning. While a lot of that basic info may be the same in other states, the law is state-specific.