Last August, an article on time.com was widely read on the internet. It was titled, “Why you need to make a ‘When I die’ file—before it’s too late,” written by Shoshana Berger and BJ Miller, coauthors of the book “A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death.”
The authors called compiling the file “the single most important thing you do before you depart” that “will save your loved ones incalculable time, money and suffering.”
Among the things the authors suggested, most appropriate in the American context, were a signed advanced directive (instructions), a will, marriage/divorce certificates, various passwords (phone, computer, email, social media accounts), instructions for your funeral, and letters to loved ones.
Indeed, one can imagine the relief of your surviving kin when they realize you’ve put things in place.
In the last few years, I have developed the habit of emailing my nephew a list of important numbers, passwords, accounts and contact persons every time I travel, in case I don’t come back.
I also used to leave a holographic will. To be clear, I consulted a lawyer-friend, who confirmed that there are two kinds of wills: a notarized one, and a holographic one, the latter being a will that is completely handwritten, dated and signed.
According to Article 810 of the Philippines’ Civil Code, this doesn’t even need a witness; the writer just has to indicate that it is his/her last will and testament, and show it to one other person who will know it exists, in case somebody contests it (!).
My friend clarified that a will is different from a list of final instructions, with the latter not being subject to any legal process. “It helps if you do make an inventory of everything you have, and leave instructions on how you want them to be disposed of.”
When it comes to bank accounts, in case of the death of a parent, all his/her money goes to the children, evenly divided among all identified heirs. Meanwhile, a bank manager friend advised that it would indeed be better if a parent shared an “or” bank account (as opposed to “and/or”) with an heir, specifying that one signature would be enough; it would be assumed that 50 percent of the balance belongs to the surviving signatory.
With new specifications in the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act that became law in 2017, the surviving coaccount holder can withdraw the contents of the account, subject to 6 percent tax.
If you are single, and don’t share your account with anyone, remember that in the absence of any will or instructions, your money will be divided among your surviving next of kin—a parent or your siblings.
The banker also confirms the informal practice of many banks: “If the client doesn’t inform us about the death, we won’t know. The coaccount holder can withdraw the contents of the account, and it’s really none of our business if they leave only a few pesos in it.”
Based on my friends’ advice and the Time article, here’s what you ought to put in a box/envelope/safe, or whatever receptacle you deem appropriate (a friend keeps everything in a portable carry-on suitcase).
1) Your list of instructions—Mine includes a list of account numbers and investments/placements and who to call (brokers, bank managers) to help settle them, any outstanding bills, and short inventory of what I own and where to find titles, documents, and deeds of sale (all of which I still have dumped in a plastic box, unfortunately, but in separate folders).
Include, as well, any DNR (do not resuscitate) instructions for hospitals, if you don’t want any machines keeping you alive.
I do have a fully paid cremation plan; all they have to do is call the service provider. I have specific instructions for what they should do with my ashes.
Who gets my dogs
My list specifies who I want my dogs to live with in case anything happens to me, and how much should be given these people—enough to take care of my babies for the rest of their earthly lives. (FYI, those same friends, a couple, have willed their dogs to me in case they die in a plane crash or something.)
If you have treasured personal possessions like a signed book, special jewelry, or a photograph they might find valuable, you can specify who should have it, too.
I wrote that friends and relatives can have a go at my clothes, meager jewelry, cheap accessories and prized assortment of Gudetama stuff, but I won’t take it personally if they just pack all these up and send them to a charity.
2) A will—My holographic will indicates who I want to leave any property to, plus some provisions: amounts of money from my savings going to a valued helper and organizations I support. I update this regularly, especially if it’s been some time since I last dated the document.
3) Important numbers—You can write passwords and ATM PIN on a separate sheet. Since I don’t have joint accounts, I will trust that whoever finds my stash will use my ATM cards to clean up my accounts. I leave a signed blank check for my current account. The lawyer advises leaving signed withdrawal slips, as well.
4) An ethical will or letters to loved ones—An ethical will is something like a final love letter to anyone or everyone you value, say Berger and Miller. This would be a great idea for anyone with children, especially if you are ill and will, sadly, miss out on adult conversations with them. Stories, videos, journals and other priceless keepsakes for small children will be appreciated for years to come.
Be sure this box/receptacle is in a safe place; if anybody finds those ATM PINs and withdrawal slips, you’re dead before your time.
Don’t carve any of this in stone, though. Things may change—what if your favored relative turns out to be an a–hole, after all?
If you’re single like me, you may just be lucky enough to use up all your money in your lifetime, whether in health or in grave sickness—and even luckier if you drop dead the day after your hard-earned resources are all gone.