I couldn’t resist using the above photo, though this post doesn’t focus on the details of legal wills. The quip made me smile for itself – and then also that it’s attributed to Anonymous. Before a death, any time we get near the topic of divvying up belongings after a death might make us want to go into an anonymous mode if we’ll be the inheritors. On the other hand, since we regress after a death, not dealing with the topic ahead of time tends to set up a higher degree of conflict with others.
As a relative of mine told me, “Grandpa said he wasn’t going to bother making those decisions and his kids could just fight it out afterwards. And, boy, did they!!”
It’s tough to take this on in so many ways. I offer the following ideas and information in the hopes that they may be tools that make it easier for everyone. In my experience the amount of conflict isn’t correlated with the amount of assets.
I’m excited to let you know about a computer program called Spliddit (I don’t get paid for endorsements)
You can use Spliddit to address many potentially fraught decisions, such as questions of how to assign work shifts at a hospital, the order of authors for a paper being published, or what chores the kids do – AND – it can be used to divide up an inheritance.
You make a list of the items involved. Each person individually ranks the items in order of the ones they most desire. Their computer algorithm then calculates which items should go where to make the most equitable division possible! From the Spliddit website: “A division of goods is envy free if each participant believes that her bundle of goods is at least as valuable as every other participant’s bundle, i.e., no participant envies any other participant.”
But perhaps there are some objects whose importance can’t fully be shown in a list of numbers. You might try the approach a friend of mine took with her 2 sisters:
“After our mom died we wanted to divide up our maternal inheritance in a fair way. We didn’t want to use emotional language about attachment to certain items because we thought this would be too hard on each of us. We know we weren’t at our best in terms of resilience and we all knew that we wanted certain things that would probably be contested or at least perhaps fought over.
So we listed every single item that was in the house except for the silverware and dishes and cups and stuff like that in the kitchen. For things that had monetary value (antiques or silver etc), we had them appraised, in case something of monetary value became more interesting to one of us.
Then we decided arbitrarily that we would have imaginary money. We would each have a set amount that was much larger than we thought the value of all of the items were, so we’d have some wiggle room.
We laid out rules and agreed to follow them: we each had a pad and at the top of the pad we listed each of our names and we drew columns with each of our names at the top. We each started out with pretend $10,000. We agreed not to talk about the items that we chose.
So one person would say something like “the blue chair, $10” and then the next person would bid or pass. If you passed you couldn’t jump in later. You couldn’t add your money to anyone else’s. You couldn’t jointly buy something. And you could not take more than one minute to decide to bid or pass.
One of the interesting things that happened was that one person really wanted one thing more than anything else in the whole house and so she saved all of her bidding for that one item so that she could max out and get it.
We were able to do the whole house in a couple of hours without fighting. Once the emotional piece and the conversations about the items were on hold then the pretend money was a stand-in for how much someone wanted something because we were choosing it over saving money to get something else.
The rules were really important and the structure was really important. The formatting was really important – first one person chose an item, then it was the next person’s turn to choose an item and so on and so on.”
If you are the one making decisions about passing things on and have specific people in mind for specific items, you’ll find that many planning ahead guides have a section to write down items that you want to go to specific people and where you can also write a bit about what the item and making this gift means to you.
In addition, making an Ethical Will is a lovely thing to do. It’s not a legal document but a way to share ideas and values that you think are important and would like your loved ones to know. The practice of Ethical Wills goes back to ancient times, certainly within the Jewish community. In the 20 years this idea has been shared widely by Dr. Barry K. Baines.
And remember – Natural burial helps the environment, can preserve land (in a conservation-level cemetery) and is a legacy we all can leave behind.
During this week:
-If needed, take action to start the process of making a legal will. Other important legal issues will also be covered in most guidebooks such as Advanced Directives and your choice for who should be given power of attorney, etc.
-fill out the planning guide sections for a list of survivors and their contact info
-fill out planning guide sections for small personal gifts
-make an Ethical Will
-if relevant, record detailed children’s info (med history, school contact info, etc) – The What If guidebook has an extensive section for this
-if relevant, record pet info and details, including who might adopt them – found in the Before I Go, You Should Know guidebook from the Funeral Consumers Alliance
Step #1 STRUCTURE IT IN
Step #2 find and use a PLANNING GUIDE
Step #3 learn from the FUNERAL CONSUMERS ALLIANCE
Step #4 draw upon INSIGHTS from bereavement research
Step #5 Find RITUALS that resonate with you
Step #6 Consider NATURAL BURIAL choices
Step #7 Consider HOME FUNERAL choices
Step #8 Think about a EULOGY
Step #9 Consider engaging with others at DEATH CAFES, etc
Step #10 Record INFO ABOUT SURVIVORS and what should be left to them (1) informally and (2) with a legal will
Thursday May 24 – Talking with others