Highlights of May’s High Functioning Happy Hour: What to do when your family won’t get a will?

Thanks to everyone who made to the very first HFHH of 2022 last week. Being able to see your faces again, even if still in little boxes on my computer screen, felt like much needed gathering to talk all-things getting our ‘houses’ in order. Over the years these low-stress, no-strings events as in-person chats or large online gatherings help get the stuff on our minds out on the table to talk about.

Hello and welcome everyone to the first High Functioning Happy Hour (HFHH) of 2022 – it’s been a while!

I’m Chanel Reynolds and for those of you not familiar with Get Your Shit Together, I kicked off this gathering by sharing more of my personal story, what I’ve learned and what we can all do now to make a hard time a little softer.

We had so many great questions and conversation, along with resources and requests for more information and advice to follow up – I’m going to have to post them one at a time. A few of the big questions that seemed to be on nearly everyone’s mind are below, along with more information and some additional resources.

Lastly, I’m thrilled to be hosting these again and hope to see you at the next, monthly-ish happy hour. The next HFHH is on Thursday, June 16th, they are free to attend but you have to RSVP.

If you RSVP’d to the May event and want to watch again or couldn’t make it, you can find the recording posted to the event’s dashboard page (sign in required for privacy) along with the bonus material details spreadsheet and workbook.

May 12th Gathering: What’s a High Functioning Happy Hour?

Q&A: What do you do if your family won’t get their stuff together? What happens if you die without a will?

  • My MIL always says that it doesn’t matter because she doesn’t have much money. I say how long it takes in probate and the costs and she still won’t.
  • How do you start the probate process?  How are debts paid in the probate process?  Do you have any references for the probate process?

Q&A Coming Next: How do you get your partner or parents to do this when they won’t, don’t want to or even refuse to talk about it?

  • “So, what do I do if my husband isn’t on board with getting our shit together?”
  • “My parents refuse to talk about it and I’m worried.”
  • “I don’t know where any of our accounts are and am totally in the dark about our finances.”

Part 1: Welcome and kickoff from Chanel

[from transcript, lightly edited] I started this work nearly ten years ago by launching a small website with some advice and lists after my late husband was killed in an accident. He was hit by a van while he was riding his bicycle and we spent a full week in the ICU doing every test and everything possible. As the days went on and he still wasn’t waking up, he never regained consciousness, I became more and more aware each day that the medical support keeping him alive had become medical intervention and all those machines were just prolonging his death.

During that week in the hospital, I was asked a million questions, half of which I didn’t actually have answers to, or I had to go dig in the files, or I just didn’t know. And, because we had done some of the work, for example we had our wills, living wills and power of attorney drafted. They were sitting in my inbox – where they had been for months – unsigned, which meant they were legally not worth the paper they hadn’t been printed on yet.

But, legally binding or not, we’d had the conversations to get them drafted and nearly finalized – which meant I had a lot more information about what he wanted and didn’t want that was very, very helpful to me.

So at the end of a week all of the tests said the same thing over and over again, which was that both his body and his brain had been damaged. So significantly the doctors unanimously referred to his prognosis as unrecoverable. I made the decision that I knew he would want because we’d talked about it. I was certain he did not want that, that it was nowhere near the quality of life that was meaningful to him…

While it was still the hardest, most impossible feeling and thing to say out loud  – to remove medical support. I felt equally certain that that is what he would have wanted. I knew that’s what he had wanted. And in fact, had I let him remain in that state, that was unacceptable to him.

It was my job to, as his medical advocate and his wife, to follow out his wishes. And so one of the things I realized – amongst many – was that the organization that we had done, because we bought a house or because we were parents was, or felt, life saving for me and our family in a lot of ways.

And, the number of things that we didn’t do or didn’t complete left me in a tailspin and I had to spend hours or dozens of hours trying to track things down that I would’ve spent five minutes or a handful of minutes locating and grabbing. I didn’t have half of the passwords for the information that he managed. We had our wills drafted, but not signed. There were a number of things that made becoming a solo parent and a widowed, solo parent much more terrifying.

Peering into the future, there were a lot more unknowns than I would have liked.

Very quickly I noticed a few categories of things that kept bubbling up over the days, months and even years as details or documents that would have made things much easier if we’d organized or completed them before.

I ended up doing was sort of reverse engineering, everything that I wish I would’ve done or learned the hard way I created a quick little checklist. It took me a few years to put it together and then put it out into the world in a little teeny website and very quickly, um, it took off – nearly 10 years later, here we are.

I’d like to remind everyone I’m not an attorney, I’m not a financial planner and I’m not here to sell you life insurance. But what I really hope to do is be an advocate for us to get more informed, get more educated about a number of the very simple things we can do that will make a hard time, a little bit softer. Not less sad, but if there are 500 things and questions and documents and passwords to deal with, and if we can do a little bit of organizing in advance, maybe it’s only five dozen, or if we’re very lucky just five – that creates a lot more space in the room. Less stress, less ‘optional’ suffering.

I’ve experienced this again, very personally, but from a completely different perspective. Very recently, just about six weeks ago, my father died. He had been navigating and managing an illness for a long time that wasn’t going to get better. It was progressing. And his body’s ability to be here – and the quality of life he wanted, weren’t on the same team anymore and were moving further apart.

It is devastating that my dad isn’t here and that searing choking grief hole hurts in ways I don’t think I even know yet. And, I want to also say that helping my mother go through the documents and the ‘what do we do now’ list these past weeks, there are about 1/16th of the questions or concerns or problems or worries that I had a dozen years ago – because they had their shit together.

And of course, every person and death is different. Every circumstance is different, but watching my mom have far less piles of crap to worry about. And fewer tactical/practical/financial questions has allowed her to have a little more space to sit with and be present for the emotional stuff, the part of grief you can’t get away from.

In the dozen years between my late husband and my father dying, what my experience was, and then being with my mom and watching her navigate, talking to the VA and Medicare and lawyers and attorneys, you know, it is night and day.

Last week I was on the phone with my mom and an estate planning and probate attorney and about 20 minutes into the conversation the attorney said, “Wow. So, it looks like everything’s really well organized.”

This is the Midwest, and since I grew up there, I’ll do the voice…”Wow. So yeah, you know, well, this is really, so this looks really good. I’m not seeing anything that’s gonna trigger probate or anything that’s gonna be complicated. This is really great.”

I’m sitting there with tears of joy coming down my face, an odd moment, right? To have tears and be so happy and pleased, because your estate planning was so great. Right?!? It feels somewhat ridiculous, but it also made me feel so relieved.

So – Here’s what we’re going to do. I am going to go over those core items that I learned all those years ago and wish I had done, then, I also have some new information to share. Then we’ll do Q&A. Ready?

Q&A: What happens when you die without a will?

Question: My MIL always says that it doesn’t matter because she doesn’t have much money. I say how long it takes in probate and the costs and she still won’t.

Question: How do you start the probate process?  How are debts paid in the probate process?  Do you have any references for the probate process?

May 12 Happy Hour Group

Answer: This is a really great question. I get this question very frequently. Probate is the legal process of managing someone’s estate after they die usually involving paying off debts and distributing assets to heirs or beneficiaries. 

We’ve all heard or imagined, hopefully not lived through, that kind of weight or load – the consequences of not having our shit together. It feels like too much, or unbearable, or like it will never end. But, how much or long does it really take? A few recent studies tell us it’s really as bad as though, or worse.

Why and How it Matters

On average, it takes about a year, about 13 months, to handle the paperwork, follow ups and closing out someone’s estate when someone dies with a will. If you are managing an estate and they died without a will (dying intestate) it can take about 20 months, close to two years on average.

Half of adults in the US do not have wills or any end of life plans completed.

The hundreds of tasks add up to many people making a phone call or spending an hour every day while newly, actively grieving and taking over your family time or work day. The majority of people report feeling they had no guidance or support. Many say it negatively impacted their mental health and performance at work.

What You Can Do: By getting our shit together now, we can cut those calls and tasks at least in half and with a few more steps make it even easier.

What You Should Know: Estate plan documents and probate specifics are state specific so laws can vary from state to state.

  • The person managing a will (executor) or someone designated by the court to manage someone’s estate (personal representative) if they had no will is responsible for many administrative and financial tasks.
  • Having a will simplifies the process of passing along someone’s assets during and probate process.
  • If you die without a will then the state you live in will decide who-gets-what based on the laws of that state as part of probate process.
  • When beneficiaries are listed on financial/investment accounts then those assets are not included in the estate’s assets, are not part of the probate assets, and can more quickly be transferred to that beneficiary.
  • Having a will can make the probate process more quickly and be less complicated.
  • Trusts are often created (ex, living trust) as a way to ‘skip’ pass outside of the probate process as they are non-probate assets.
  • A Transfer on Death Deed (TODD) is allowed in many (not all) states as a way to transfer the deed to your home to someone outside of the probate process. 

Learn More: Information and Resources

Have more questions? More Support & Help

GYST Monthly Courses: please join me in an upcoming 4-week course or workshop and learn where to start, what’s most important, and make progress on your todo list right away. 

  • June 2022: Tuesdays at 4pm PT
  • June 2022: Wednesdays at 5pm PT
  • June 2022: Thursdays at 10am PT
  • Weekend Workshop: Saturday, June 4th

Learn more

More High Functioning Happy Hour Q&A from our May 12th event is coming soon. We’ll be getting into the how do we talk about it conversation – especially when others you count on or worry about won’t talk about.

Next Question: How do you get your partner or parents to do this when they won’t, don’t want to or even refuse to talk about it?

  • “So, what do I do if my husband isn’t on board with getting our shit together?”
  • “My parents refuse to talk about it and I’m worried.”
  • “I don’t know where any of our accounts are and am totally in the dark about our finances.”

Thanks so much – more soon!

Chanel and the Happy Hour team


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