Rumpole of the Bailey

Legal Documents

Everyone should have some standard legal documents. They're easy to create; you don't need a lawyer unless your situation is complicated.

I am not a lawyer or accountant; this is not legal advice or tax advice; use at your own risk.

Thorin Klosowski's "One Day, You're Going to Die. Here's How to Prepare for It"
Kristin Wong's "How to Prepare for Old Age When You Don't Have Kids"

You could start from these sample forms and modify them:

Sample will 1
Sample will 2
Willing (make a will online)

Sample Health Care Directive 1
Sample Health Care Directive 2

Sample Health Care Representative 1
Sample Health Care Representative 2
Some hospitals want to see the term "medical power of attorney" or "healthcare power of attorney" in the document.

You can get other sample or free forms from various places on the internet (ILRG Legal Forms Archive), or maybe from government agencies, or maybe from associations such as the American Bar Association or AARP. And there are "make your own will" books and software from such companies as Nolo Press. For example, "Nolo's simple will book" by Stephen Elias.

Use the forms and my statements at your own risk; I'm not a lawyer; this is not legal advice; no liability accepted.

Estate planning and probate:

A key thing learned while dealing with my mother's estate:
do not name just "estate" as "beneficiary" on your retirement accounts such as IRA, 401(k), 403(b). Upon death of the account owner, this forces all of the (pre-tax) money in the account to become ordinary (taxable) income right away as it is put into the estate and then disbursed through the will. Instead, list real people as beneficiaries on your retirement accounts. This bypasses the will and estate, and means each of those people can control how the (pre-tax) money is handled: take it immediately as a (taxable) lump sum, or roll it into an IRA account and take it out annually over 5 years or over the rest of their lives.
[But see Denise Appleby article and Catherine Bryant article.]

Dealing with an IRA in an estate is a slight pain; apparently the money can't just be transferred to IRA accounts of the inheritors. Instead, the money has to be kept in one or more IRA accounts under the deceased's name, with the inheritor(s) named as beneficiary, then the inheritors draw out of the accounts as desired (paying taxes).

Matthew Frankel's "Use the 2016 Gift Tax Exclusion to Beat the Estate Tax"
Alicia Adamczyk's "What Happens to Your Debts When You Die"
Michael Rubin's "Why You Should Review Your 401(k) Plan Beneficiaries"

The Onion's "How To Prepare A Will"

Reading will to a family of clowns

Problems with health-care directives / living wills:

  • If you go to an Emergency Room, they are focused on doing whatever is needed to preserve life and stabilize the patient. Unless the patient and/or the representative is alert and assertive and there the whole time, probably with documents in hand, procedures (tubes, respirator, resuscitation) probably will be done automatically.

    (Same is true in a nursing home or hospice. The doctor is key; the nurses will ignore your instructions and do what they feel is right, unless the doctor specifies otherwise. So you have to convince the doctor and get the doctor to write orders accordingly.)

  • Once a device is installed, it is very hard to get it removed. Your representative probably will have to appear before a hospital ethics board or something to argue for removal.

Pickles about being a burden to someone

It's a good idea to give copies of the proposed health-care documents to your chosen representatives ahead of time, to see if they agree with your wishes and will carry them out.

Your will almost certainly should be notarized; I don't think the health-care documents need to be notarized. You could ask the notary-public about that, and about the number of witnesses needed on the will (usually three).

The documents don't need to be filed or registered with any government agency. Give copies to all of your executors and representatives.

Non-legal Documents

Farewelling's "Farewelling Checklist: Advance Planning for Yourself"

After you create these documents, run through them yourself while thinking from your survivor's POV. Will they know where to find theses documents ? Will they have the passwords and contact info they need ? Are the instructions clear ?

Then read through the documents with your spouse or executor or other presumed survivor. Do they understand everything ?


Have a file-box containing your important paper documents and ID cards: marriage certificate, property title, etc. Also keys, labelled.

If you have some advance warning, such as declining health:

  • Simplify your life, get rid of stuff, close unnecessary accounts.

  • Add partner or child as joint name on utility accounts and other monthly bills, so it's easy for them to close the accounts after you die.

There have been a number of online services (called things such as slightlymorbid, legacylocker, deathswitch) where you can arrange to have emails sent automatically to various people in the event of your death. As far as I can tell, all of them have shut down after a few years, for lack of revenue, I guess. So don't count on such a service outliving you.

Shoshana Berger and BJ Miller's "Why You Need to Make a 'When I Die' File - Before It's Too Late"

Sheryl Nance-Nash's "7 common estate-planning mistakes"

/r/personalfinance's "Death of a loved one"


On New Year's Eve, Lynda and I were sitting in the den talking about what the future might hold for us.

Aging and the usefulness of living wills came up.

I told her "I never want to live in a vegetative or immobile state, dependent on some electronic device and fluids from a bottle. If ever I reach that state I want you to pull the plug without hesitation."

She said that she understood, got up, unplugged the TV and threw out my bottle of beer.

(I love the "Rumpole of the Bailey" books, as in "The First Rumpole Omnibus" by John Mortimer. The books are better than the TV shows; you miss too many witticisms on the TV.)

Death adding man to Contacts list