Legal Stuff

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"
GYST's "Checklist: Getting Started"

You could start from these sample forms and modify them

Sample will 1
Sample will 2
ILRG Legal Forms Archive
eForms (must create account if you want to save and resume; must sign up for free trial if you want to download; doesn't support foreign addresses but you can edit the downloaded document)

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, 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.

/dev/lawyer's "The Law Does Not Require Legalese"

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 or 10 years or over the rest of their lives.
[But see Denise Appleby article and Catherine Bryant article.]

Dealing with an IRA in an estate: apparently the money can't just be transferred to IRA accounts simply owned by the inheritors. Instead, the money has to be transferred to one or more new IRA accounts owned by the inheritors but named "beneficiary IRA from deceased's name", then the inheritors draw out of the accounts as desired (paying taxes). I think this is because RMD rules may depend on decedent and relationship to inheritor.

Money to beneficiaries may not come out immediately, if there is some question about taxes having to be paid by the overall estate.

Questions I asked one of my banks 6/2023:

After my brother died recently, we found that his banks treated "beneficiaries" differently. After receiving death certificate, one bank disbursed the money to the beneficiaries immediately. Two others are holding the money until the estate tax return is filed. I'm not sure that what those two banks is doing is legal.

What is your policy on this ? When I die, and one of my relatives supplies a death certificate to you, will the money in my accounts be disbursed to my beneficiaries immediately ?

I think all you have is the names and addresses of my beneficiaries. What will they have to do to prove their identity to you, and tell you where to send the money ?


If a member passes away and their beneficiaries are listed on the account, we generally ask for a copy of the death certificate and the beneficiary ID. Then, providing there are no concerns, the funds are disbursed directly to the beneficiaries.


I am a resident of Spain, and I assume I will die there. My beneficiary (wife) is a Spanish citizen. How will Spanish beneficiary and Spanish death certificate be handled ? Does the person have to get a US ITIN (tax number) ? Does the Spanish death certificate have to be apostilled ?



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"
GYST's "How to write someone in (and out) of your will"

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.

Ken Murray's "How Doctors Die"

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 these 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 ?

Electronic Assets

Have a document listing electronic assets to be deleted or maintained after your death. Give URLs, user names and passwords, security questions and answers, any other info needed. Specify what should be done with your computers and phones and backup disks. Give copies to all of your executors. 2FA secrets and tokens.

Maybe use two trusted friends. One has only the master password, the other (executor) has a copy of your password manager database and access to your devices. Both have to agree that you're dead before password is given to person holding database (executor). Or leave half of the master password with one trusted friend and the other half with another trusted friend. But this may not work if you have two-factor authentication.

Find out what level of knowledge your friends / family / executor have about 2FA and domains and web sites and password manager etc. If you expect them to handle such things, leave appropriate instructions suited to their level of knowledge. If they're not tech-savvy, leave instructions and include a line "find some trusted tech-savvy person to help with this" as the first instruction. If known, name a person they can consult.

Perpetual web site:
I considered having someone maintain my personal web site after I die, taking ownership of the domain-registrar and site-hosting accounts and paying for them every year.

But then I realized it would be far simpler to find a young relative who has a personal web site of their own, and just copy my site to be a sub-directory under their site. This will break all the links to my site (all the URLs will be different), but the content will survive. [Still working out details of this.]

A domain can be registered/renewed in one shot for up to 10 years. Not sure if all registrars support that, but apparently that is the legal maximum.

Another solution: create a trust and pay a law firm to maintain it. Expensive.

Make sure your site is archived by:
Internet Archive / Wayback Machine
Archive Today (have to submit each page individually ?)

Blogging site that pledges to be eternal: Posthaven
Laura Dobberstein's "Wordpress sells 100-year domain, hosting plan for $38K"

Some categories of digital assets:
  • Your personal stuff.
  • Stuff you maintain for your spouse/partner.
  • Stuff related to your wider family and friends.
  • Stuff related to your employer or business or clients, and maybe affected by legal requirements.

Categories of digital asset handling:
  • Executor needs right away. Maybe password database and master passwords. How to operate home security system. Phone if used in 2FA.

  • Executor should get eventually. Maybe important family photos and mementoes.

  • Executor nice to get. Maybe general photos.

  • Executor should maintain, or hand off to the appropriate person. Maybe how to keep your domain registered and your web site running, for the indefinite future. Any home electronics your family will want to keep using, such as security cameras. Shared subscriptions, such as Netflix, e-reader, Spotify, etc. Shared Facebook account or email account or cloud backup account. Any "parental" or "master" account that other accounts may depend upon.

  • Executor should stop. Various auto-payments, services, subscriptions, for example.

  • Executor should delete. Maybe delete email accounts (but do that last, if other things require email confirmation). Some things (such as online access to bank and credit-card accounts) will be deleted automatically when the underlying account is closed.

    What happens when an account is deleted ? Some services will never release that username for re-use; others might. Same for phone numbers. What happens if someone malicious re-uses your username or phone number ?

  • Executor should abandon (do nothing). Maybe just abandon social media accounts, shopping site accounts, etc. For some accounts, you may want to abandon instead of informing the provider that the owner has died, because the provider would impose their own rules.

    But what happens if someone buys your old domain name after it becomes available, sets up their email on it, and does password-reset operations on your abandoned accounts ? They might be able to get control of some accounts.

    What happens if someone gets your old phone number after it becomes available, and tries to use your abandoned accounts ? They might be able to get control of some accounts. E.g. WhatsApp.

    What happens if the abandoned service later suffers a data breach, and your login info is included in it ? If the breach goes undetected for a while, someone could have access to your data. Once the breached credentials are public, the service should disable login until password is reset, we hope.

    So, in many cases, it might be better to delete accounts instead of just abandoning them.

  • Executor should return to owner. Maybe any devices supplied by employer, or rented from somewhere.

  • Executor should wipe and sell. Maybe factory reset for smartphone, full reformat for laptop disk.

  • Executor should destroy. Maybe any disks and hardware keys you want destroyed. This could be physical destruction for some things (hardware keys, phone SIMs, CD-ROMs), full reformat for other things (disks). And probably give an instruction that anything not otherwise mentioned should go in this category, too.

So, think ahead, and put different kinds of assets on different devices, protected with different passwords. Stuff you want destroyed should be unreadable by anyone because they don't have the password. And then you want them to destroy the device, too.

From someone on Hacker News:
I would be surprised if you were legally allowed to go and modify assets before the will is executed.

I know when my partner died that I was not supposed to log in to her accounts and just transfer stuff around; banks instead have very well-defined processes for working out who is the legally correct person to do that and then empowering them to do so.

Remember, banks and other big companies deal with this all the time. They necessarily must have robust processes for doing it with the existing societal/legal systems of establishing who is the 'right person'.

Don't shut down phone service until you've accessed any accounts that may use those phones for verification. Don't inform Facebook, Google etc about the death right away (if ever), because their own procedures will kick in and limit what you can do (especially if you're using them as single-sign-on to other sites). Don't shut down email accounts until the very end of the process.

When employer learns of the death, they may inform the bank that runs any retirement account, and that account (and any other sub-accounts) will be frozen right away.

Example document that I created
Christopher Calm's "Cheat Sheet For If I'm Gone"
Wendy Boswell's "Organize your family's essential information in case of an emergency"
Davies Houser's "What My Family Should Know"
Eric A. Dewey's "The Big Book of Everything"

Patrick Howell O'Neill's "Dealing with the digital afterlife of a hacker"
Leigh Anderson's "You Need to Deal With Your Digital Legacy Right Now"
Naomi Cahn's "The Digital Afterlife Is a Mess"
Farewelling's "What to Do with Social Media Accounts after Someone Dies"
Anthony Caruana's "Five Things To Do When Planning For Your Digital Death"
Leo Notenboom's "Preparing For The Ultimate Disaster"
lcamtuf's "Digital detritus"
Adrian Crenshaw's "A Digital Handbook for the Recently Deceased"
Doug Aamoth's "How to Access a Deceased Loved One's Online Accounts"
Andrew Kalat's "Online No One Knows You're Dead" (video)
Dan Goodin's "Digital exchange loses $137 million as founder takes passwords to the grave"
Andrew Kalat's "Managing Digital Legacies"
EOL DR / End-of-life Disaster Response
book: Abby Schneiderman's "In Case You Get Hit by a Bus"
Aditya Tiwari's "How To Auto Delete Your Google Account After You Die?"
GitHub's "Maintaining ownership continuity of your personal account's repositories"
Rebecca Heilweil's "Inheriting bitcoin is harder than it sounds"

Bracelet saying 'Delete my browsing history'


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

A "joint" credit card may get frozen if the primary account owner dies. Ask ahead of time to find out what will happen.

If you have some advance warning, such as declining health

  • Simplify your life, get rid of stuff, close unnecessary accounts, move money into fewer accounts. Sell any assets that will be an ordeal to sell.

  • Put labels on things, get more organized, update documents. Make sure your survivors know where and what things are.

  • Add partner or child as joint name on utility accounts and other monthly bills, so it's easy for them to access or close the accounts after you die. Maybe add their email address and phone number to accounts, so 2FA doesn't lock them out.

  • Watch out for a situation where all the money is in your account, which is locked because you died, and isn't unlocked until the will is probated. Will your partner have enough cash ? Add partner as beneficiary on bank accounts so the money gets transferred quicker.

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"

Cory Doctorow's "How to die without getting rooked"

/dev/lawyer's "Legal Sources for Not-a-Lawyers"

Software to help an executor of an estate:
EstateExec ($199)


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