Testaments, advance directives, and living wills – numerous forms and procedures for last wills.

My Will Be Done

In the November 20, 2016 issue of Sunday paper NZZ am Sonntag, Eugen Stamm describes why he kept putting off drafting a last will and other important documents, and how it feels to have tackled this task once and for all.

What music will they play at my funeral? Maybe Highway to Hell? Although not the most important question, this was still one of the many questions I asked myself. For a long time, I had been putting off completing this paperwork: a last will, advance directive, living will, and organ donor card. Even the names are cumbersome!

It's no wonder, then, that I never felt like sitting down after work and getting on with it. I thought it would be complicated. When I'm hungry, I have to cook. I already know how to. I can't ride my bike if the tire is flat – once again, the problem forces me to act. I had no idea where to start with all this paperwork, though. After all, you can ignore and put off this unfinished business without any repercussions.

It was just never the right time to sit down and write out the words that I thought would be so difficult. Every day, there are also more urgent and exciting things to do than precautionary paperwork. Plus, I would tell myself that I still had decades and years ahead of me. After all, there's no rush yet, hopefully. Right?

Putting off Abstract Tasks

Sometimes, my guilty conscience would catch up with me and say, "Get it over with already. Don't you want to make things easier for your loved ones when things will already be hard enough for them?" Instead of following this instinct, I would comfort myself with the excuse that if I didn't decide anything myself, then legal regulations would apply, which would be good enough for me – and everyone else. And it would even be okay if they played Stairway to Heaven.

Generally speaking, the things we put off the most are the ones where we don't know what the next step is. That is why it is worth just getting started with some things to figure out where the actual issues are.

I took a sheet of paper, wrote "Last Will" on it, and carefully underlined it. During an interview, an expert once told me the first thing you should do is just set out the points that matter to you in particular. That piece of advice was enough for me to reduce the abstract and hefty problem of writing a last will down to the people and organizations that matter enough to me that I want to leave money to them. Since this is a clear, manageable question, it's also easy to answer.

When discussing my project, one person asked whether writing a last will is excessive if I don't have much to pass on. That's hard to say: are gifts meaningless unless they are worth millions? If something matters to you personally, then the value of a donation is not just based on pure numbers. Instead, it is also a question of how much of your financial means you devote to it.

I was surprised to find it only took me 15 minutes to jot down a few endowments and to do some online research into what a last will needs to have to be valid. Once I had signed the document, I even felt a little bit proud of myself. The end result reflects what I actually want and is better than the situation was without a last will. Okay, perhaps I could have used nicer paper and better handwriting. You can also experience how good self-determination feels by drafting an advance directive and a living will. There has never been a way to cheat death, no matter what pact you sign. Modern medicine has not just given us longer life, however. For many, it has also meant long periods of vegetation, either in hospitals or nursing homes. Anyone who doesn't want this poisoned gift can plan ahead, which is what I have now done. A living will allows you to decide what the doctors should do – whether or not they should "save" your life at all costs.

The value of a donation is not just based on pure numbers. Instead, it is also a question of how much of your financial means you devote to it. 

Eugen Stamm 

A Good Feeling

I would not leave this decision up to anyone else, and certainly not based on the principle that they should do everything that is technically possible. I also wouldn't want to burden my loved ones with the decision of whether to allow my body's organs to be removed for donation or not. You can create an organ donor card specifying this in less than five minutes, since Swisstransplant has an app for this. It would also suffice to tell your relatives whether you want to donate your organs, because they must decide if you do not have a card and are no longer able to speak. Of course, this topic of conversation is not one that you can simply bring up during dinner, and rightly so. So the app can also send a text message with a standard text to the person who needs to know this.

What happens if one day, you are no longer able to make your own decisions? An advance directive allows you to specify one person or several people you would like to make responsible for your assets and organizing your care. It is also quick to draw up this document if the circumstances are straightforward. Templates can be found online. In order for the authorized person to fulfill their obligations, it can be helpful to provide an overview of your accounts, passwords, online accounts, and the like in a folder. This is another task to be carried out – and another important one – but it is also straightforward. That's enough for one day, though. It was worth it to tackle these documents once and for all – and not just because of my guilty conscience. In terms of music, I think I'm leaning more towards Bach or Handel now, after all. But I have time for that still. Right?