7 Emotional Aspects About Updating Your Will in the Military

Recently, my wife and I discussed updating our will as we look towards our transition. Basically, it’s a matter of making the time to go to the Legal Office at MacDill to actually do it.  It’s the same old story:

“We will make an appointment as soon as the kids get back in school.” Ironically, in June I told myself that I would accomplish a litany of items “as soon as the kids finished up school for the summer.”  Well, here we are trying to knock out all of the fun things so that we can say we “had a great summer.”

As I was making plans, my wife and I happened to talk with a good friend about estate planning, specifically about what would happen to our children should something happen to us. She comes from a very non-traditional home.  In in her case, she feels the care of her children would be better with a close family friend rather than either set of divorced, remarried, re-divorced and then re-married parents.

I had originally planned to research “updating your will” and the technical details that accompany the process. After all, we understand the importance of updating your will as major changes happen (our children getting older, change in marital status, etc.).  However, our discussion made me wonder about the emotional aspects of estate planning. Something that seemed unusual to me might seem like a better solution to someone else.

Below are seven emotional aspects that I never considered about updating your will:

1. Sometimes, having your kids go to your family isn’t always the greatest place for them. Consider that sometimes as military families we forge friendships that transcend the family relationships we have. Will having your aging parents take care of your toddling son and newborn baby girl be practical? Will having your senior in high school leave all of her friends, teachers and routine be the best decision? Should you include some sort of stipulation that says your children should remain the current residence until they graduate from high school?

2. It’s important to take time to ensure that our sentimental items go to the right place. Throughout our travels within the military, a lot of us acquire priceless items and memories. Don’t forget to allocate those specific things to the appropriate child. For example, a hand-painted ceramic table from Sicily might not be appropriate to will to the child who wasn’t even born yet.  My mother in law jokes that she goes through her house and marks items with an “L” (for my sister-in-law) and a “T” for my wife. Whether that is true or not, it gives my wife and her sister-in-law a clear understanding of our her intent.

3. If you gift a sentimental item to a family member, how sure are you that they will value it the same way? Something that may have a significant meaning to you may become clutter to your child. Can you trust that the item is going to be taken care of responsibly? With regard to items that are handed down for generations, will the family member remember the “story” or its significance? Or, are you willing to let that go?

4. Creating a will can help heal wounds or make them deeper. The will-writer gives a very clear message to whom they want to designate certain items. Feelings can potentially get hurt here.

5. Do you need to revisit your will because you wrote it at an emotional time? Or, are you updating your will during an emotional time? Remember, you might make a knee-jerk reaction.  If that reaction is recorded in a will, it might have an unintended impact.  Sometimes, an ugly truth about ourselves manifests itself when writing a last will and testament.

6. Are you emotionally prepared for the finality of a Last Will and Testament? A will needs to be prepared no matter how old you are. Some people find its preparation depressing, but the fact is that it is one of those things that needs to be done.

7. Updating your will while you’re dealing with major changes in your life is more difficult than you think. Deployments, military transition, PCS—we all deal with these stressful times.  Even though will updates are a part of any deployment checklist, do you think that you’ll be making the clearest decisions while you’re checking off ‘updating your will’ on your to-do list?

I guess I have my work cut out for me. A will is much more than a legal piece of paper. It’s the message you send after you are no longer able to send it.

What emotional experiences have you gone through when updating your will?  Please leave a comment below!

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