Protecting Your Ass(ets)

Getting outside near Arches National Park

Unless we condemn ourselves to a safe, boring bubble, life can be dangerous. And if we get out and live, it’s inevitable that we will have close calls, whether it’s hucking off boulders on a bike or dodging the Snapchatting teenager as she turns a corner through a crosswalk. Or maybe just climbing a tippy ladder like a circus acrobat for a weekend-warrior home project.

Risk is simply part of living, like it or not. But as advanced primates, we luckily can hedge our risks with easy legal tools that all of us with a developed prefrontal cortex should know about. Similar to my write-up on managing property using Cozy, this post takes something I recently learned, shares the experience, and hopefully helps you out. I’ll be talking about the scintillating topics of:

  1. Living wills
  2. Final wills
  3. Power of attorney

The harsh reality is that even intentional wanderers like us deal with humdrum things like insurance, food shopping, taxes, and even wills. Long-term travel requires most of the same logistics as home; it’s not all making snow angels or standing on a cliff with a sunset vista, as much as I’d like to insinuate that it is, and Instagram shots of washing dishes are boring.

Indian Creek sunset

Watching a sunset in Indian Creek, Utah? Not boring.

I “knew” about wills, as most of us do, but had not done much (anything) until I found the website Get Your Shit Together. The creator is a woman whose husband died in a terrible accident, leaving her behind with young kids. That was bad enough; then she realized their financial and legal lives were a tangled mess. In the midst of grieving, she wound up in bureaucratic battles that make Frodo’s quest to Mordor look like playing Candyland while sipping hot cocoa. Her site lists the things she wished she and her husband had handled prior to his tragic death, all offered for free to prevent this happening to other people.

I came upon that website and immediately added the items to my brilliant task-management system in Evernote. I then promptly ignored those to-dos long enough that if they’d been a kid, I’d be in jail for abandonment. (This is a perfect example of what Gretchen Rubin means when she says, “nothing is more exhausting than the task that is never started.”) Then, in a recent bout with responsibility triggered by waiting in a Moab laundromat – another boring thing not pictured on this blog – I seized opportunity’s arm and wrestled it into submission.

Living wills are your chance to designate someone to make decisions on your behalf if something bad happens and you’re comatose. Your partner, parents or favorite pet (not recommended) can’t act on your pre-determined desires regarding your care (e.g. using a feeding tube) unless you have a living will in place. This may result in keeping you on life support forever like the world’s most expensive zucchini. I don’t know about you, but that sounds terrible for me and for my family. In fact (according to Wikipedia) “studies indicate that 70-95% of people would rather refuse aggressive medical treatment than have their lives medically prolonged in incompetent or other poor prognosis states.” Get a living will – ‘nuf said.

Sunset in Arches NP

The other two are even more straight forward. A power of attorney empowers your designated authority to make legal moves with your assets, signing documents on your behalf and taking care of things while you recuperate. A final will takes out the headache of probate and assets being left in limbo if you keel over while laughing at old reruns of Friends. This isn’t just about you. It’s assuring the lives of people you love aren’t turned even more upside down in case you have an accident.

The internet makes this incredibly easy – no attorney visit in an office plastered with expensive landscape photos and no waiting on hold while a secretary files her nails, just a series of easy online questions. After getting started, I had a living will in 20 minutes. Five more and a power of attorney form was locked and loaded. Chelsea can now shepard our finances and sell my favorite T-shirts (don’t you dare!) with just a few flicks of a pen, and I have a sense of security and relief knowing it’s handled.

Fiery Furnace in Arches NP

Where’s the best place to get ‘er dun? I used LegalZoom.com because their reviews seemed to be the most solid.  Here’s a link to the living will section, and the regular wills and power of attorney are on the main page in the bottom middle section under personal services.

If you’re in a relationship, you’ll need your partner to fill out the info too, but you can do it at different times. (Single people, choose a parent, sibling or a close friend.) In 30 minutes, you’re dialed. Instead of paying hefty attorney fees, we each got three sets of legal docs – power of attorney, will, and living will – for less than $300. Compared to working directly with a lawyer, it’s a smoking deal. That said, talk to an attorney if you have a complicated situation or want professional advice, but do something!

I share all this to help you build a strong foundation for living an unfettered, fun life. These niggling puzzle pieces create a structure from which to launch and go on adventures, whether they’re in your backyard or on a big trip. And now, feeling lighter and uber-responsible with this task (and my laundry!) handled, and I’m going to shake off all this serious talk with a mountain bike ride in the desert.

Riding the Gold Bar Rim as part of the Magnificent 7 trail system near Moab.

Riding a couple thousand feet up on the burly fun of scenic Gold Bar Rim as part of the Magnificent 7 trail system near Moab.

6 replies
  1. Kaylin
    Kaylin says:

    Yes, yes, yes! My day job is as a hospice social worker. I think dwelling on our mortality is key to living an intentional and positive life. Think about your death and talk about it, it will inform how you live now. It’s important to know what you would want at the end of your life and communicate it. I think the people who do this, have better outcomes at the end of their life. If anything, it’s a gift to your family that they don’t have to guess and live with the guilt that they may have guessed wrong. I really recommend using the Five wishes power of attorney of healthcare and living will form, it’s definitely the best one and most clear. And please PLEASE if you are in any way financially dependent on another, get life insurance. Love this topic!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Great feedback! I hope more people make the move. I was amazed with all the emails after posting this. “My mom/dad/grandma/sister/husband doesn’t have any of this lined up.” Talking about and planning for our death is WAY easier when we’re healthy!

      Reply
  2. Mia
    Mia says:

    Hi Dakota, I just posted this on my FB timeline, inviting folks to read it and hopefully act on it. I hear stories each week in my work at The Dougy Center of exactly why this is such an important topic. It is an act of love toward those in our intimate world.

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Yeah, pass it along! People need to think about this stuff before it’s needed – do it while we’re healthy. I’m sure you see it every day. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  3. John B
    John B says:

    Speaking of finally getting it done, I finally read this. Thanks for sharing, buddy! I’m going to act and pass it along.

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Well, I did write it while you were in Moab, so I wouldn’t expect you to stop mountain biking for some fun in the legalese world. I sure would rather ride than do power of attorney forms. 🙂 Do the living will at least – super quick and easy!

      Reply

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