MINNEAPOLIS -I took one of those trendy “staycations” in June. That’s when you stay home, putzing around in your sweatpants with so much to do. Busy, busy, busy! Only later do you wonder: What did I do all week again?

One big goal I had set was to update my will. With the many do-it-yourself products on the market, I figured the process would take about two hours, at which time I could return to regularly scheduled putzing.

I’ve been back at work for a week now. And that will? Still a work in progress. I can’t blame lawyers. I didn’t use them. Two entirely legal DIY kits I tried made the process easy. Fun even, if you consider planning for your great demise light entertainment.

Both computer-generated kits offered plentiful examples and pop-up explanations at every turn, regarding executors, guardians for my kids and dividing up my considerable (ha!) assets.

One even let me choose the style of border I’d like around my completed will (I went with Art Deco) and asked me to share riveting personal information for my progeny. “Do you sing in the bathroom?” Yes. “Did you ever skip school?” Me? No! “Would you say you’re a gossip?” Um, yep, but now that I’m 6 feet under, I promise to stop.

I can’t blame price as a barrier, either. Itsmylife.com, with the Art-Deco border, was $19.95. Quicken Willmaker Plus 2008 was around $40.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is that I need one more element that neither offered. I need a will kit that comes with its own therapist. No wonder everybody puts this off.

You can make a list of everything you own or hope to own. You can take stock of everyone you love and hope to always love. And then you can stare at a computer screen pop-up message that reminds you about everything that can go awry when humans are involved, especially those known as “families.”

“Most of the time, the act of leaving property to people, or choosing not to leave them anything, speaks for itself.” Or this: “You may leave your property in equal or unequal shares. Your choice about whether you leave each child the same amount of property depends on many personal concerns.”

Even if everyone pinky-swears they won’t fight over the Pfalzgraff plates, you still face wrenching choices: Who do I really want to raise my kids if their dad and I are no longer here? Is leaving them a lot of money a noble gesture, or a pass for lifelong laziness?

But, mostly, how do I want to be remembered? What people, charities, ideals matter to me?

Not every moment was high drama, of course. I laughed at one kit’s suggestion: “When describing an item, be as concise as you can – ‘my Steinway piano,’ ‘my llama throw rug.”‘

Steinway piano or llama throw rug? Good luck explaining that choice to Child A and Child B.

And this: “It is usually not a good idea to place conditions on a bequest – for example, ‘My red sports car to my nephew, Donny, as long as he maintains a good relationship with his mother.”‘ So, what’s the problem?

Mostly, though, I lost sleep. And still I have willmaking on my mind. Jon and Liz Sayers understand. The Florida-based financial products technicians created itsmylife.com, with heavy vetting by lawyers, after they suffered the loss of several relatives and friends in a shockingly short time.

“When there isn’t paperwork, people argue over the stupidest things,” Liz said. “You leave your emerald ring, but what if you have three emerald rings? You’d be amazed at the fights that break out.”

And not just over rings and things. The Sayerses have seen children who had no relationship with deceased parents who then ask: “What am I getting in the will?” They’ve seen pets euthanized because their loving owners never let their wishes be known, and precious heirlooms inadvertently dumped into the trash because no one understood their emotional or financial value. They’ve seen people buried elaborately who wanted to be cremated and vice-versa. And they’ve seen strangers in the court system decide what happens to the children of unmarried parents because no one chose a guardian. “It is shocking to us that any parent would risk dying without putting their wishes for their children in writing,” Liz said.

“For those left behind,” Jon said, “the experience can be really OK or it can be really, really awful. The difference has a lot to do with what you leave in writing.”

So, get started. Take it slowly. While some will kits require completion within 30 days, the Sayerses’ allows for 12 months, with simple systems for updating.

Write. Reflect. Revise. When you’re done, no matter how long it takes, find out how many witnesses you need to make it legal (generally, two). Store it in a place where others can find it.

Making a will, Jon Sayers said, “should be about love, not money, but it really is about both. And possessions. And death. That’s why it’s such a cocktail of emotions.”

When I get it done, I’ll need another vacation.


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