Discover more from Sarah Fay
Is Preparing One’s Will a Major Life Event?
Reading time: 7 min.
Answer: Not necessarily.
I pictured mahogany. A softly lit office. Bookshelves along two walls. A septuagenarian man with thinning white hair seated behind a large desk. And me in a burgundy leather chair. That’s how I imagined filling out my will. But it’s the digital age. I can just log in to the Mama Bear Legal Forms website, pay $129, and it’s done. No septuagenarian required.
The Mama Bear Legal Forms are efficient, licensed, and infantilizing. The logo is of a blue (presumably mama) bear holding a form. It’s very sweet. Not death-anxiety-inducing at all. The autofill with my name, city of residence, and email address is effortless.
I’m given two boxes to choose from: single or married. Single. I tell the form I don’t have children, name my sister the executor, and my brother-in-law the successor executor.
Then it’s time to bequeath my “estate.” My niece and nephew are the obvious benefactors. The form lists gifts I wish to give: cars, collectibles, jewelry. I don’t drive, so that rules out a car. I’m a minimalist and not sentimental and don’t have “collectibles.” I wear no jewelry. I ask the form to divvy up my assets to my niece and nephew—bank accounts, investments, royalties—and that’s that.
The form asks if I want to give a share to charity. In the past, giving to charity was something I did begrudgingly. Mainly, I didn’t have much to give and tithed mainly because I thought if I didn’t, I’d be karmically screwed, and the universe would force me to live in basement apartments with leaky plumbing until the day I died. Now, I give a lot and enjoy it. Partly, I enjoy it because I’m not scraping by anymore. Donating money is fun, almost thrilling—though not in an arrogant way. It’s getting to experience for three seconds what Mother Teresa must have felt for most of her life.
My money should probably go to mental health patient advocacy groups. After all, I’m a mental health care advocate who had mental illness for a brief twenty-five years and am currently training to be a Certified Peer Support Specialist. Still, I know too much about how some (if not many) organizations take money from sources that influence their work, e.g., the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) accepting funding from pharmaceutical companies and pushing unfounded diagnoses as if they’re scientifically proven.
Suicide prevention is deeply personal to me, given that I almost ended my life, but most of those organizations take their cue from the Samaritans and primarily offer hotline counseling, which research shows doesn’t actually prevent suicide. No one knows what does.
All my money goes to homelessness, mainly because without a home, how can anyone be expected to heal from mental illness the way I have. Having a home is step one. Even for those without mental illness, without a place to live, how can they change their lives for the better? How can they get a job and become financially independent? Of course, people in transition (as many now refer to “the homeless”) do heal and change their lives for the better and get jobs and become financially independent, but not many and not without a lot of luck.
As of 2021, half a million people live in a state of homelessness each night. It’s “only” (as one website put it) 0.2 percent of the population. I live in Chicago, where temperatures touch down to twenty below wind chill in the winters. Anyone being in a state of homelessness in those or any other conditions in one of the wealthiest countries in the world is inexcusable.
Yet it’s excused. The rich get richer, and those without a place to live are told to deal with it. Four years ago, change.org posted this petition titled “Jeff Bezos: Use your vast personal wealth to end homelessness overnight.” This brilliantly photoshopped image accompanied it:
Bezos is worth a staggering $205.5 billion. An unfathomable amount of money. It’s not like he’s done nothing to end homelessness. He and his former wife McKenzie committed $2 billion to the Bezos Day One Fund, which gives to organizations working to end homelessness. That’s $2 billion of $205.5 billion. A pittance. Just 1 percent of his wealth.
I divide my “wealth” equally among the charities working to end homelessness, my niece, and my nephew: 33.3 percent each. Imagine if Bezos gave 33.3 percent of his wealth to end homelessness: $67 billion. Problem solved—and then some.
Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe it’s easy for me to say because I’m not the one with $205.5 billion. Maybe I just don’t understand (though I know that’s his net worth and not ready cash). Valid point. I don’t understand.
I finish the steps of the online form of my will, print it out, and enter my credit card number. The logo of the little bear stares out at me. The whole experience is startlingly unremarkable. All I have to do is get the will signed by a witness and a notary and that’s it. No man with thinning white hair will lock it in a safe to keep it from preying hands. I’ll just put it in the file drawer in my apartment and get back to work.
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