When last I wrote my will, I didn’t have a dog, a point that had begun to nag at me.
“When you’re dead, you’re dead,” I’d always told myself. “You’re childless, so what difference does it make who gets the money, if there’s any left, or the sentimental treasures?” By which I mean my mother’s “sterling” silver, which turned out to be plate, and my flea market discoveries.
But my 10-year-old standard poodle was another story. Unmentioned in the existing document, Henry would be left alone after I died: unfed, unwalked, unloved. Would he die, too, only to be discovered by a neighbor when he started to stink up the joint? I owed him better.
My elder care lawyer raised a skeptical eyebrow when I explained that the inspiration to update everything was my dog. I might as well review all the paperwork, I told him: the power of attorney, the health care proxy, the living will, a codicil here and there, the list of friends’ children who had always been my beneficiaries.
But a full year went by while I looked guiltily at the file folder on my desk marked “new will.” That took me by surprise, as I’m not a procrastinator. Remember the hated kid in high school who always had her papers done way in advance and went to the movies while everyone else was pulling an all-nighter? That was me.
But my lawyer, Gregg M. Weiss, was used to people starting the process and then disappearing. “That’s the No. 1 bane of my existence,” he said when I finally resurfaced, all papers ready to be signed.
“Whatever is on anyone’s to-do pile, this typically goes to the bottom. It’s avoidance, not facing the reality of death. The 80-year-olds we see are different. They don’t dillydally.”
My mother had needed no admonitions about such things and had her affairs in order before she was out of her 50s, most likely because my father’s sudden death had left her with a mess to clean up when one least needs to be cleaning up messes.
These days I tell other people how to do this, too smugly I suspect — a professional “angel of death,” my brother Michael says. But as often as I follow my own advice to readers here and elsewhere, just as often I balk when the tables are turned.
My new will splits the difference between being smart and being stubborn. Friends’ children remain the main beneficiaries, along with charities. My health care proxy remains a sensible, loving and brave friend who says that she has no problem pulling the plug under the right circumstances.
Another friend replaces the former No. 2 for reasons of geography: A health care proxy who lives 3,000 miles away is not very likely to be available when you need her. My brother is grateful, as he always has been, to be spared that task. He wants me to have the kind of death I choose, but not to be in charge of it.
Custody of Henry, my dog, goes to his walker, who loves him so much (and vice versa) that she has refused money to cover his care.
A line in my living will directing that I die at home has been removed. I may want to — who doesn’t? But I now know the many circumstances that would make that impossible or unwise.
“You’re realistic,” said a lawyer in Mr. Weiss’s office. “Most people aren’t.’’
My brother is my executor, with Mr. Weiss second in command, with the reverse lineup for power of attorney. Michael also inherits my real estate, gets all family memorabilia and is in charge of distributing other possessions. The executor and P.O.A. changes, Mr. Weiss tells me, require that I sign yet another piece of paper saying I wasn’t coerced.
“Why?’’ I ask.
“Lawyers get little old ladies in here and say, ‘Appoint me and my son will work with me,’ ” Mr. Weiss said, which means a double fee comes out of the estate. “No wonder people hate us.”
Caveat emptor. And update your will.