It's time to grow up! That's the conclusion columnist and author Jen Lancaster came to when reaching her mid-40s. She writes about her epiphany and the experiences that came with it in her new book, "JENERATION X: One Reluctant Adult’s Attempt to Unarrest Her Arrested Development, or Why It’s Never Too Late for Her Dumb Ass to Learn Why Froot Loops are Not Dinner." An excerpt.
"Death and Taxes? Can I Select Neither?"
When I told my husband Fletch that nothing could be more simultaneously boring and terrifying than meeting with a tax attorney, I was wrong.
That’s because we hadn’t yet met with an estate planning law firm.
Today we’re in this white-shoe law firm discussing what’s going to happen when we die. I hate that we’re here, I hate what we’re talking about, but it’s got to be done. At this juncture in our lives, we need an estate plan more elaborate than the cocktail napkin where I drunkenly scribbled “I leave everything to my pit bull!!” before doodling a bunch of bananas and a sheep.
The tenor of the conversation has my palms sweating, but they’re not visible because I’m sitting on my hands. Last week I discovered a nail polish called Jade Is the New Black. I normally have an aversion to any color polish that couldn’t double as lipstick, but with a name like that I couldn’t not buy it!
When I shake the estate planning attorney’s hand, I feel exactly like the kind of asshat who thinks green nails are a fine idea. Perhaps when we’re done here, I’ll have my name tattooed on my neck and paint a rebel flag on the hood of my car.
Fortunately, I’m not sure the lawyer notices the polish color because of my outfit. Before we left the house, I discovered that every piece of appropriate clothing I owned was not only sitting at the bottom of the dry cleaning basket, but had been used as a litter box by one of my five cats.
I settled on a white pair of Capri pants, a flowered pastel tunic sweater, and a pair of silver sandals topped with a big silver cabbage rose, all of which I’ve previously worn separately without issue.
I thought I looked adorable until I saw my reflection in the shiny law firm windows. Then I thought, “I should hold the door for the lady who came straight from Nana’s mah-jongg game down in Boca.”
Seriously, I’m one pair of Easy Spirits away from booking an Alaskan cruise in this getup. I look exactly like Michael Westen’s mother on Burn Notice.
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We’re being schooled on the four facets of estate planning and Ben, our lawyer, is asking us hard questions, like who we want to give health care power of attorney should we become incapacitated. Ben explains if something happens to one of us but not the other, certainly we’ll make that decision for the injured spouse, but what happens if we’re both incapacitated? Normally this task falls to family.
That gives us pause and Fletch and I both gawp at each other. Finally, I tell Ben, “We’ll need some time to discuss this.”
We don’t have kids, so who will we choose to make medical decisions for us? I have great friends — the best, really — but have I been a good enough friend to request such a favor? What am I going to say, “Hey, remember when I didn’t come to your birthday party because it was rainy and my hair was frizzy? Yeah, sorry about that. Listen, do you mind being the one who decides if I live or die? Thanks!”
Then we get to the actual will.
Ben explains that what we want to do is draft a will where everything’s assigned to a trust. The trust is where stuff gets specific, like who gets my porcelain Royal Doulton Union Jack bulldog.Video: Wine tasting with ‘My Fair Lazy’ (on this page)
I kind of love the idea of being able to run things from the grave! Like if I want my alma mater to get money, I can make it so they’re getting paid only if they endow a chair in my name. This is like a legal form of extortion!
As I cackle and rub my green-tipped hands together in delight, it occurs to me that I shouldn’t be quite so gleeful.
I mean, this isn’t a hypothetical arrangement and for all my bravado, I actually am planning for my eventual demise. No matter how I spin it, I am going to die.
Suddenly everything feels very real.
Although I’ve considered my own mortality many times before, I’ve never contemplated it on this level.
In putting together these documents, I’m forced to come to terms with the fact that I’m no different from a carton of milk. I have an expiration date and there’s no getting around it.
That’s when Fletch and I really begin to talk. Do we want our legacy to be making everyone we know arm wrestle for the spoils? Or do we want to take what we’ve earned to do the kind of good that we — to this point — have not quite accomplished on earth?
We’re opting for the latter.
After earmarking the bulk of our net worth to deserving nonprofit organizations, I feel an enormous sense of relief as we leave the law office.
No matter how silly or vapid or mean I’ve been at times, I’ll go out confident that my life will have made a difference and that fills me with a sense of peace and calm.Video: Test your knowledge of reality TV (on this page)
Despite my reticence, I’m glad we made these decisions. I feel like I’ve leapt an enormous hurdle today and I’m coming to the end of a Reluctant Adult Decathlon.
We head to the car having made the decision to begin concentrating on what’s really important in our lives.
But before that happens, I’m probably going to get a fresh manicure.
Reluctant Adult Lesson Learned: Estate planning sucks. Do it anyway.
Reprinted from "JENERATION X: One Reluctant Adult’s Attempt to Unarrest Her Arrested Development, or Why It’s Never Too Late for Her Dumb Ass to Learn Why Froot Loops are Not Dinner" by Jen Lancaster by arrangement with NAL, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2012 by Jen Lancaster.
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