Beneficiaries? No Easy Answer

I’m filling out forms to receive payments from one of my late father’s investments. The man had money in many pockets. I wish he had spent some of it on himself and my mother. It’s too late now, and I know I am blessed to have it. The monthly payments will make up for the job I no longer have. (See previous post) BUT the forms want to know who my beneficiaries are in case I die before the money runs out. What to put in these blanks is obvious for people who have spouses and children. It was easy for my father, but I’m stumped. Can I leave it to my dog?

These are the sorts of things in life that stump the childless widow. That and questions like “Why are you saving all the this stuff?” and “How many grandchildren do you have?

It’s the same thing when I have to fill out medical forms listing who to call in case of an emergency. I don’t know. My brother lives too far away to be any immediate help. I list friends who I hope are in town and in good health when I get in trouble. So far, that has worked out.

How I wish I had children whose names and contact information I would know as well as my own to plug into those blank spaces on the forms.

I’m reading a novel that takes place in a Native American community where all of the older women are “aunties,” no matter whether they gave birth or not. I think that is my role, too, at this point. I am going to list my niece and nephew as my beneficiaries. After all, they are my father’s grandchildren as well as my closest younger relatives.

Having some money to give away offers a chance to be creative. Who could I surprise with extra money if I die? Some of my friends could definitely use the cash. But I can’t surprise them. I need their social security numbers for the form, and they might be insulted if I decided to play benefactor. Can I leave it to an institution? Which one? I need to do some research and consider some options that might not be available to parents because, as a childless auntie, I can.

How about you? Are there situations in which your lack of children sends you into a brick wall that parents sail right over?

 

I am the Keeper of the Family Keepsakes



I sit on a folding chair in my garage surrounded by the leftovers of several people’s lives. This weekend I am holding a garage sale, where I hope to finally get rid of these things and make a little cash. The wares include 200 vinyl records, four cases of CDs, several piles of books, an electric typewriter, two FAX machines, darkroom equipment, Christmas decorations, wine glasses, mugs, and more. I have a basket of refrigerator magnets and knickknacks to give away. Where did it all come from? Some of it was mine, some my late husband’s, but a lot comes from his mother, father and brother, all deceased. All of the things that weren’t taken in the initial rush after they died have ended up with me.
There’s lots more in the house. I’m not ready to sell it, at least not yet, not my mother’s sheet music, my mother-in-law’s china, my grandmother’s tea cups and her rocking chair, boxes and boxes of photographs, slides and movies, more crocheted afghans than I have beds, and some of my husband’s clothing that I can’t let go. I seem to be the inheritor of everything. I give away or sell as much as I can. I distribute things to other family members, but I am still the keeper, the curator, the guardian of what’s left that is too precious to sell or give away.
I’m sentimental. I admit it. I can attach significance to the most seemingly insignificant things. The adorable little copper cup in which I keep my paper clips was part of my husband’s shot glass collection. I look at it and remember our antique store expeditions, so many happy days. Reminders of Fred are everywhere in this house, blended with my own cluttered collection of keepsakes.
I know people who would toss it all in a dumpster and forget it about it. Every sign of the lost loved one would disappear. I fear that’s what will happen to my own stuff when I die.
I have written a will and allotted the house, car, money and other big things to my stepchildren, my niece and nephew, and a couple favorite charities, but what will happen to the little things like pictures and jewelry? I suppose it will be thrown away or put out in a yard sale like I’m doing this weekend. I’m the end of my branch of the family tree. As a childless woman, why do I bother keeping photos and souvenirs? Who am I saving it for?
I’m saving it for me. Seeing these things, having these things makes me happy. It would be wonderful to have grown children to step in and take care of things when I’m incapacitated or dead, but I don’t. Still, I don’t see it being much different from what happened to my grandfather’s house and everything in it: dumpster, yard sale, relatives taking home what they wanted. He had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Parent or not, the process ends up being the same. The only difference is who’s doing it and whether it’s a chore or a labor of love.
People who have children always tell me you can’t count on your kids to step in, so make yourself a will, choose an executor (my brother is mine), and make your wishes known as much as you can. Meanwhile, go ahead and save what makes you happy, just for you. Why not?
Have you inherited your loved one’s things? What did you do with them? Do you worry about what will happen to your things if you don’t have children? Let’s talk in the comments.

Copyright 2014 Sue Fagalde Lick

No Heirs?

A childless Washington couple recently left 1.1 million to the children’s hospital in Portland, OR. They had lived a frugal life and managed to save enough to give $5,000 each to a nephew, three nieces and four non-relatives. The money from their house and everything else went to the hospital. Hospital officials told the Columbian newspaper it’s not unusual to receive bequests from childless donors. It’s certainly a worthy cause.

If you don’t have children—or you do and you don’t like them–you’re free to leave your worldly goods to whomever you choose. In my case, there probably won’t be much money. I have already named libraries for the books and needy music students for the instruments and sheet music. But it’s fun to think about where you might spread your life savings. Favorite relatives or friends? The humane society? The Friday-night-beer-and-Pizza-Group? I made that one up.

Think about it. Nobody wants to ponder their inevitable death, but if you’ve got to go and you can’t take it with you, who should have it? It’s your money. You can be as generous or as selfish as you choose. Maybe you want to blow it all on the grandest funeral the world has ever seen. Go for it. Or maybe you want to help the homeless, victims of abuse, or folks with incurable illnesses. It’s your choice.

Whatever you decide, just make sure you put it in writing or the government will dole it out to the closest relatives they can find.