Okay, Death…yuck, so depressing. True, it’s not something we want to spend a lot of time talking about, but unless you have figured a way around it (and congratulations, if you have) it’s inevitable. If you want to have the last word, you should be planning for death.

Planning for Your Possessions After Your Death

One of your first considerations should be heirlooms that you wish to pass down to family or friends.

You’ve heard that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. That’s true for your family, too!  Making assumptions about what’s important to your family members may have you giving the wrong item to the wrong person.

Worse, lack of planning for your eventual death may mean a special relative will never receive the intended item at all.

What Happened In My Family

My father was instantly smitten with his grandson, so much so that they would spend most weekends together. As he got a bit older, you would most often find them on the lake, fishing in an old bass boat dad had purchased just for them.

My parents divorced in the 90s just shy of their 40th anniversary. Dad went on to re-marry shortly after. In 2002, his private plane went down on a return trip from my brother’s house.

We were all devastated, but no one more so than his fishing buddy and grandson. The only thing he had to hold on to were the few fishing poles and the cheap boat dad bought for him. He was 6 years old.

We went through all the normal stuff after a tragedy; funeral arrangements, burial plots, and finally – the will. It was very chaotic, trying to honor a father when we were not in charge.

The Second Wife Staked Her Claim

In his will, dad specified that all boats were to go to his current wife. This included a power boat, a ski boat, 2 jet skis, and according to her, this cheap bass boat that had been promised to my nephew.

We begged, pleaded, cried and prayed. Nothing worked. To avoid a huge confrontation, we eventually talked the heartbroken 6-year-old into letting the boat go.

We looked everywhere for the fishing poles and eventually found them at the lake house that was willed to the second wife. Someone destroyed them before they could be retrieved.

Neither the boat nor the poles were of any real value to anyone other than Dad’s little fishing buddy. Their destruction was unnecessary and pointless.

In another case, a father died unexpectedly in a tragic traffic accident. The entire family knew which shotguns were slated to go to his adult son, as the deceased had talked about often. They are still in the possession of the second wife who refused to pass them on.

Second Marriages Are Different

I don’t want to give the impression that fights between surviving family members are inevitable, or that it will happen in your family.  But, you never can tell. The second wife may not have the vested interest in your family from a prior marriage, and things can go awry quickly.

Both women described in this story were very nice individuals who seemed to fit well into their new families. I can’t speculate what made them so bitter and vindictive. Maybe it was a grief I don’t understand.

So now, over the course of my life, I have adopted a “better safe than sorry” viewpoint to things like this – including planning for death.

What Is An Heirloom?

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. We all have our eye on some item in our parent’s house. Something that invokes memories of times shared with someone we care about. If we’re lucky, we have some old junk item that we hold as we curl up with our children and tell the story behind it connecting generation to generation.

In my case (with my grandmother) it was a plastic Kool-Aid pitcher. She kept it on the shelf over the window and brought it down during those hot summer days we visited her in Michigan. As she got older, the family sold her house and belongings and moved her into a small single-wide trailer. The pitcher was lost, but I have never forgotten it.

My ex-husband passed away suddenly from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 43. Luckily for my daughters, neither of us had remarried, but having to deal with heavy “next of kin” issues just as you are reaching adulthood is no fun for anyone. I am forever grateful that I constantly pushed them to visit and spend time with him whenever they could.

There are adventures we share with our children that often seem like nothing to us, but have made a huge impact on their lives. We don’t like to think of our “after” but unfortunately, we will have no say in the events that are about to happen.

How To Start Planning For Death

My advice is to plan ahead for your death. Make your plans known to your family. Makes sure your final wishes are in writing.  Prepare a will and any other legal documents required to make sure your wishes are carried out as you want. Consult an attorney, as needed.

Have A Conversation

First things first; talk to your children. Their memories are different than yours and that old smelly sweater you are about to throw out is the same one they curled up with to chase the nightmares away when they were little. Ask them what they think is important and why. It’s never too early to reminisce about old times.

If you have something passed down from your parents or grandparents, take every opportunity to tell the story behind it. Strengthen the bonds between generations. Maybe it is just an old cracked plastic Kool-Aid pitcher, but it is priceless to the right person.

Let Your Family Know

Share with all your family members your wishes as to who will receive what items. You don’t have to be morbid about it, but stating,  “One day this will be yours” sets it firmly in place how things should be divided. When my oldest daughter was about 8 years old she would ask me, “Can I have this when you die?” That’s OK, death is as natural as life and shouldn’t be avoided but planned for.

A Word Of Advice

It’s better to pass along memories than money. Don’t we all want to provide extravagantly for our children? We want them to have all the things we didn’t have when we were kids. The problem with that is that if they HAVE it they won’t know what it’s like to NOT HAVE it.

They won’t understand the reward of struggling to win, only the loss of something they had that’s now gone. Money can slip through your fingers faster than anything else on the planet. Leave them with a story and a crappy green clay dish you made in the second grade. They can pass both along to their children with pride.

If anything in your life is important enough to pass on to the next generation, you owe it to yourself and to your children to make sure it goes as you wish. Planning ahead for you death will go a long way to ensuring harmony in an otherwise chaotic family situation after your passing.

For another look at planning for death, don’t miss A. Baker’s relevant post on Defining Beneficiaries in Your Post –Divorce Will and Estate Plans. Want the scoop on second, or third, marriages? TJ Carver lays out the stats – and more – in What To Know Before Your Second Marriage.

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