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Getting Our ‘Misfortune’ Act Together

Recently I started receiving emails with strange subject lines from Husband.

Durable Power of Attorney.

Health Care Surrogate.

Living Will.

And of course the kicker, Last Will and Testament.

If I didn’t know him better, I’d think he was up to something.

But this really isn’t a joking matter, so after the initial shock of the subject headings, I must confess I actually felt a small wave of relief.

Say what?

A few months ago Wordgeyser wrote a very important post Preparing for the Worst: Death of a Spouse Overseas. That post, and the message behind it (get your affairs in order, ASAP), really resonated with me.

It made me realize that while we had a fair amount of important info pulled together into a few files, we had not assembled it into one handy place that was easy to get to in case of emergency.

We did not have what Wordgeyser refers to as a ‘Death and Disaster’ notebook, or its equivalent.

Sure, we have a fireproof safe box with key documents such as birth and marriage certificates, our passports (photocopies in a separate place), receipts of important purchases made over the years for insurance purposes, our American credit cards and some cash in US dollars in the event of a quick trip, etc.

But some of the other crucial documents were housed elsewhere: Husband’s desk, his file cabinet, my desk, and a ‘working’ file I tend to leave in various rooms around the house depending on when I get to tackling it.

For example, Husband kept the copy of his employment contract with the international organization he works for in an entirely different place than our banking files. This employment contract is our Magna Carta: the document from which our legal right to even be in The Netherlands flows, let alone work here. It lays out our quasi-diplomatic status, important tax implications not only for income but for certain Dutch local fees and taxes, and so on.

Prior mortgage files, automobile proof of ownership, insurance documentation and tax paperwork were elsewhere. Neat and orderly, in many instances, but not all together where they could be easily accessed in an emergency.

I pay the bills and handle our day-to-day finances, Husband takes care of savings and investments. In case of emergency I’d be hard-pressed to find these important documents quickly and without undue pressure. I also realized that we didn’t have an emergency stash of Euros in the house.

It also laid bare this uncomfortable truth: despite being well educated, reasonably smart individuals who should and do know better, we didn’t have all of our proper legal documentation in place. What we did have was fairly outdated, requiring changes and updating.

Yeah, I know. Dumb.

Really Dumb.

It’s not that we were (or are) in denial about the fact that someday our lives will in fact end. I’m a big proponent of ‘life’s a journey, not a destination,’ and living life to the absolute fullest.

No day is granted to any of us, regardless of our personal preferences.

Yet due to the typical combination of being busy, having a lot going on, competing requirements, and yes, I’ll admit it, being lazy, we were not covered in the legal manner as we should have been.

Even worse, our failure to resolve this was essentially putting our children at risk as well. If something should happen to both of us, where would it leave them? We’d been going along on auto-pilot, knowing we should take care of this but continually putting it off.

(I’m cringing even as I type this, knowing at least two lawyers tend to read this blog.)

I suppose subconsciously we were comforted by the knowledge that we had some of the basics (however outdated) in place, and that our relatives on both sides of the family know and would honor our wishes with regard to the care and future education of our children.

[For those unfortunate souls who die intestate, it only wreaks further havoc in terms of tying up in legal wrangles and increased (and in many instances, avoidable) taxes on whatever ‘estate’ they may have left. Not to mention the emotional trauma on surviving family members.]

Why ever would we do such a foolish thing?

Why would we possibly want to inflict further misery on them and/or each other during what would surely be a devastatingly painful time?

Umm, no good answer there.  Mea culpa.

Exactly.

So we rolled up our sleeves and started digging through files. We got in touch with our lawyers, and got them going on updating existing documents and drafting missing ones.

We’ve been making copies, taking notes (where did we hide the one remaining key to the fireproof box, anyway??)  and pulling things together into one place.

We’re not done, but we’re well on our way.

As we complete each task, I feel better. Even if this book is a testament to the worst.

P.S. – Wordgeyser recommends you scan all important documents like those mentioned above to put on your computer, and also burn a few copies that can be safely stored in various places including out of the house. (Post office box comes to mind.) Great idea, will add that to my ‘to do’ list.

Image credit: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul portfolio 1671, freedigitalphotos.net

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