It Needs to Happen, but the Idea of Creating a Will Makes Me Anxious

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I’ve managed to get to age 66 without writing a will. The thought has always terrified me, but now it’s more real than ever. As my kids start (gently) pressuring me to consider talking to a lawyer about finally drawing one up, I’m feeling more and more anxious about it.

Death doesn’t really scare me so much, but having a document that my family will read when I die makes it terribly real. It brings up images in my head of them all going through it together and everything being so final. I know I’m at an age where I can no longer ignore it or put it off, but I stubbornly want to never deal with it.

Do you have any advice for someone who is anxious to tears about doing this? Or any thoughts about how to get through the process without falling apart? —Wills and Grace

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Dear WAG,

I’m sorry to hear about your struggle. End-of-life matters are inherently unpleasant, but it sounds like your anxiety is running overtime and making those matters much worse. First and foremost, I recommend working with a therapist who can help you better understand the nature and origin of your anxious feelings. That insight may yield opportunities to identify soothing and coping strategies that make it easier for you to follow through on the difficult task of developing a will.

“Thy will be done”—sooner rather than later. And although you didn’t ask, this applies to health proxies and powers of attorney as well. These are important legal documents designed to safeguard yourself and your family. See a lawyer, then write, sign, and file these papers, which are designed to make everyone’s life easier, including your own. Tell your kids where they can find them. Give them copies.

The original documents should be kept in a safe place. Safe place doesn’t necessarily mean safe deposit box, because your kids will not be able to enter that box without your prior written permission. Arrange with the bank and one of your kids so they have permission to open the box; otherwise, they will need a court order. Give that kid their own key and let them all know where your bank is.

In fact, organize your financial documents and tell your kids where they are. I keep mine in the upper left-hand drawer of my desk, and my kids know that. Let your kids know the names and contact information for your doctors, lawyers, and bank. Make a list of important information and give it to them. You will also need to ask someone to be your executor, the person in charge of carrying out your wishes.

If it seems like I speak from experience, it’s because I do. I have a will, and it divides my estate among family members and gives a little bit to the public library and some other places.

I assume you have assets. If you become seriously ill, your kids may need these assets to help pay for your medical care. Make it easy for them in both your life and your death, which, you write, “doesn’t scare you.” Just thinking about it does! Yes, this all makes the prospect of your death terribly real. Death is terribly real for everybody; unfortunately, ignoring it doesn’t prevent it.

You worry about “falling apart” while getting this all together. I’m not sure what you mean by that, but I do know that by 66 you’ve done a lot of hard things, probably fell apart doing some of them, and then put yourself back together. Here’s your chance to do that again.

You write that you “stubbornly” don’t want to deal with your eventual death, but it’s your kids who will have to deal with it. Your kids will be dealing with their sorrow and maybe also their frustration with your unwillingness to prepare for their future without you. You sound like you love them, and I’m guessing if you’re 66 they may be in their 30s or 40s, which means you’ve seen them through many difficulties and perhaps crises of their own. Here’s your last chance—literally the last—to take care of your kids. Do it for your kids, if not for yourself.

You’re concerned about your family reading your will, but you don’t say what it is that concerns you. Yes, it is sad to think of your kids reading your final wishes and reacting to your death. It’s even worse thinking of them having to sort out your finances while they are in states of grief. They’ll be grieving if you don’t have a will or if you do have one, but I imagine they’ll feel worse if you haven’t prepared them for how you want things to go when you die. They have been asking you, after all. They’re concerned. Would they be angry with you if you don’t have a will?

You worry about “falling apart” while getting this all together. I’m not sure what you mean by that, but I do know that by 66 you’ve done a lot of hard things, probably fell apart doing some of them, and then put yourself back together. Here’s your chance to do that again. You might ask a trusted friend or relative if they can help, or you might consult a therapist along the way. Aging gives us many things to worry about; death may be the least of them.

It is very painful to imagine yourself separated from the people you love. You won’t know what happens next in their stories, and that is sad. I personally would love to meet my great grandchildren and their children, too, or at least see into the future and know their biographies. Our children’s lives will go on without us, as they should. But as their lives proceed, the part we played continues to live on within them. Keep those memories clear, lead the way forward, and show them a positive model of aging and death.

I wish you well as you navigate this struggle.

Kind regards,

Lynn Somerstein, PhD, E-RYT

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • 5 comments
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  • Gavin

    Gavin

    November 7th, 2017 at 2:06 PM

    Shouldn’t it cause you more anxiety to think about dying without having one and having your intentions and wishes explicitly known?

  • Margie

    Margie

    November 8th, 2017 at 11:10 AM

    When you reach that point and have to confront the reality that you will not be around forever, yep, that can be a little overwhelming for even the strongest of us.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    November 8th, 2017 at 1:49 PM

    It’s scary, that’s true.
    Take care,
    Lynn

  • william

    william

    November 11th, 2017 at 6:33 AM

    Please take something from my story. My dad didn’t leave a will, and I still am not on speaking terms with my brothers as a result of that. I don’t know where all the animosity and anger came from but once dad dies and we had to try to work out the estate it has just been a mess that I wish other families could avoid. And the sad thing is that there really isn’t all that much to be fighting over and yet here we are. I don’t know that him having a will would have made things any better. Maybe the resentment would have still been there. But at least we would know that this is what he would have wanted. At this point we all have different ideas about what that is and it has taken a huge toll on the whole family.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    November 11th, 2017 at 11:50 AM

    William, thank you for writing about the problems this caused your family– it’ generous of you to use your experience to help others. I’m sorry for the confusion and animosity that you and your family are experiencing.
    Take care,
    Lynn

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