I called my estate planning book Get Your Ducks in a Row. Chanel Reynolds, a young mother in Seattle whose husband died in a bicycle accident, is much more direct. Her website on estate planning is called GetYourShitTogether.org.
On top of her grief when her husband died, Ms. Reynolds was panicked about how she was going to take care of and raise her daughters and things as simple as how to access financial accounts on line. If she and her husband had taken a few relatively simple and cost-effective steps in advance, it would have saved her a tremendous amount of time and stress when her husband died.
This experience spurred Ms. Reynolds on to a mission to convince and help everyone else to get organized by taking the following steps:
- Write a will.
- Sign a health care directive.
- Sign a durable power of attorney.
- Buy life insurance.
- List basic information, include contact information for family members and online usernames and passwords for financial accounts.
Ms. Reynolds created her website and subsequently wrote What Matters Most: The Get Your Sh*t Together Guide to Wills to help everyone with the process. In addition to containing basic downloadable forms for most of these tasks, it permits users to sign up for a newsletter and for gentle e-mail reminders to get started and complete the task.
The website encourages people to move ahead without an attorney if they are concerned about the cost or delay of seeking legal help. I'd agree if the alternative is doing nothing. But if you have a larger estate or anything about your situation is unusual -- second marriage, divorce, unmarried parents, child with special needs -- you're almost certainly better off working with an attorney.
Whether you hire a lawyer or do it yourself, we agree with Ms. Reynolds -- it's time to get your s*** together if you haven't already.