From Grief Comes A Mission To Make Estate Planning Less Daunting
Estate planning may seem like a pain, but imagine the mess you leave to those managing your affairs if you don't draw up a will or get life insurance.
"It takes really just a few hours now, rather than a pile of hours and thousands of dollars to do it later when you really need it done," says Chanel Reynolds, who created a website geared to help people get their affairs in order.
The Seattle mother of two launched the bluntly written, one-stop estate planning site after her husband was fatally injured in a biking accident. On top of grief, she faced stress and costs because there was no will or any of the other legal documents needed to handle a loved one's assets.
"I really wanted to be focusing on what the doctors were saying and taking care of my children when instead I was just overwhelmed by this pile of questions about legal stuff and finances and probate courts, and it was occasionally the thing that would just put me over the edge," Reynolds tells Morning Edition host Renee Montagne.
Her site — which is a NSFW riff on "get your stuff together" — features a checklist and templates for some key documents, including a will, living will and power of attorney. It also suggests compiling online account usernames and passwords and putting these key documents in a safe or scanning and uploading them to a password-protected site.
Reynolds also suggests setting aside emotional items like photos of yourself, "so that when you're gone people can touch them and hold them and feel them and remember you as well."
For wills, Reynolds notes that lawyers can help, but there are also affordable online software options. "I didn't realize that creating a will, you don't need a lawyer to do it for you," she says. "In most states you need two witnesses and/or someone to notarize it. And it can save your family weeks and weeks and hundreds of hours of pain and confusion and legal costs that you probably can't afford."
She suggests that baby boomers, especially, prepare the documents so others won't have to.
"It is really hard to go clean up after someone," Reynolds says, "so not only do we need to take of this for ourselves, we have to really start thinking about having the conversation with our parents, these boomers, because otherwise we're the ones going out there and taking care of it for them."
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
A pension, of course, can be an important part of the financial mix for many baby boomers. As we pick up our weekly discussion about boomers and their finances, we're going to talk today about estate planning. A study by a legal services company a couple of years ago found that 44 percent of people between the ages of 45 and 64 do not have a will. Chanel Reynolds and her husband did, but they had not gotten around to signing it, which became a huge problem when a few years ago he was hit by a van while riding his bike.
CHANEL REYNOLDS: I really wanted to be focusing on what the doctors were saying and taking care of my children when instead I was just overwhelmed by this pile of questions about legal stuff and finances and probate courts. And it was occasionally the thing that would just put me over the edge.
MONTAGNE: Chanel Reynolds' husband died, and she spent several years and many thousands in legal fees to sort out their affairs. Hoping to prevent others from making the same mistakes she did, Reynolds set up an estate planning website called a slightly more crude version of "get your scene together." We reached her in Seattle to find out more.
So you were educated, you were a high-achieving couple. You must have known what you should do. I mean why were you at such a loss at this point?
REYNOLDS: I think one of the things that I found so surprising was that while I knew that there was these things that we had to do, it seems like this impossible task. It's confusing. There's all this language we don't understand. And so part of it is that it's much easier to end up going to the dentist or scheduling a mammogram than it is to do something that's much simpler and much easier, but it just feels so impossible and so confusing.
MONTAGNE: How easy is it to make the pitch for how easy it is? You know, to get these documents together?
REYNOLDS: It takes really just a few hours to do it now, rather than a pile of hours and thousands of dollars to do it later when you really need it done. So what I did was I created just a checklist - it's two pages long - and turns out it's easy. And there are a lot of different ways people can get their estate planning done. Getting a lawyer is a fantastic idea if you can afford that. There are also online software options you can use that are very, very affordable. And then, what I didn't realize is that creating a will, you don't need a lawyer to do it for you. In most states you need two witnesses and/or someone to notarize it. And it saves, and can save, your family weeks and weeks and hundreds of hours of pain and confusion and legal costs that you probably can't afford.
MONTAGNE: Well, beyond a will, what is the packet of documents, the key, key packet of documents you need?
REYNOLDS: Yeah. So there are some pretty basic overall documents you need - your will, your living will, a power of attorney, birth certificates. If you have those in a safe or in a folder - some people choose to scan them and put them online up in the cloud in a password-protected and safe place. And then there's the subtler, more emotional part of what to store and keep, which is photos of yourself and your kids, and other things about you so when you're gone people can touch them and hold them and feel them and remember you as well.
MONTAGNE: Are there any documents that are particularly tricky? I mean was there one that was the hardest for you to work through?
REYNOLDS: Well, often I think people get stuck at the part where you're talking about guardianship of your children. It's a pretty intense thing to think about who is going to be making your kid lunch for you, you know, when you can't do it. It's the confusing piece and it's the really emotionally wrenching piece to write down the names of who you want - friends or family - to take care of your kids and then get that notarized and put that away in the box. But I also think it's an opportunity for folks to really think about, you know, how their lives look today when you're planning for your eventual death.
MONTAGNE: What does it take to get people to really sit down and do it, sign that will?
REYNOLDS: Well, I'm doing this thing called the high-functioning happy hour in Seattle. If you can get people together and have some wine and cheese and, like, sign the documents together - I'm really trying to think about how we reframe this in a way where it isn't as laborious and gut-wrenching. It is an empowering thing. You know, we used to get together, you know, as, like, women in the '70s or whatever and have Tupperware parties. Like, for God sake, you know, we can certainly get together and, like, write a will and have a toast and woo-hoo. And then the other thing about the boomer story is people, you know, I'm in my 40s, I have to start worrying about my parents not having their stuff together. If one of them or both of them die or one of them gets or both of them get ill, most of these boomers don't have their stuff taken care of. And I have a number of friends and myself, you know, my father is getting ill, my friend just had to spend two or three weeks out in Virginia after his mother passed, because it is really hard to go clean up after someone. And so not only do we need to take care of this for ourselves, we have to really start thinking about having the conversation with our parents, because otherwise we're the ones going out there and taking care of it for them.
MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.
REYNOLDS: Thank you so much for having me.
MONTAGNE: Chanel Reynolds created an estate planning website called GetYour (Scene) Together.org. When she's not working on the website, she is a project manager. She spoke to us from the studios of member station KUOW in Seattle. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We incorrectly referred to "GetYourSceneTogether.org." The actual name of the website contains NSFW language.]
And next week we'll talk about annuities and explain what they are all about. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.