Writing a will: What to leave behind after you die

It may be an uncomfortable thing to do, but creating a will can save your loved ones a lot of headaches after you're gone.

BJ MILLER: As these things go, there are layers of issues. So a will is not sort of a simple, one piece of paper kind of document. There are many different kinds of wills. There's wills to handle your things. There's wills to handle your body. And there are wills to handle your legacy, in a way. We have layered in systems and structures and legalities and all sorts of paperwork to this subject. So, if we have some old-fashioned notion that death is natural, it'll come, society absorbs death all the time, family members absorb death all the time, that we can just kind of let nature take its course, well, again, we've supervened in nature in too many ways by now.

So if you don't prepare, if you don't do your will, if you don't set up a trust, if you don't do your advance directives, et cetera, then you fall into these default mechanisms in our systems that aren't necessarily always commonsensical. So one thing that happens all the time -- and it happens at every level of society -- I mean, most recently, Prince famously died and had not done his will. And it's left an enormous mess for his family and his estate. And they'll be fighting in that family for I don't know how long, for a long time. And so much of that could have been obviated by doing a will, putting it in a trust. It's not fun. But it's also not that difficult. You just have to take time to do it.

So this is sort of one of the ways that death goes from difficult to feeling impossible, or difficult to feeling almost cruel. The pain that we layer on top of our grief can be profound. And it's often for the lack of these very simple things, like you just didn't do your paperwork. Or a common scenario is someone takes the time to put their estate into a trust-- if you put into a trust, your family gets to avoid probate, which is a hellish legal process that goes on for years, generally speaking. But they'll set up a trust but they'll forget to put their assets into the trust. Or they'll forget to sign a piece of paper.

Or they'll do their will, and then not tell anyone where it is. These kinds of things are really common. And you can imagine, it's a simple mistake. I mean, there's an advance care directive, which is often also called a living will. And that's where you stipulate your wishes for how do you want to be treated if -- when you're who do you want to be your health care proxy, making decisions for you if you can't? That is probably the single most important thing any of us can do, is to name our health care proxy. And that's a relatively easy process.

So you've got the living will slash advance directive -- naming your proxy, naming your durable power of attorney for finances. And then you can get into things like who gets what after you're gone, et cetera. So there's that bundle of paperwork that also will often cover what's called code status. So if you die, when you die, do you want medical effort to try to revive you, resuscitate you? Or do you want to let people make you comfortable and let you go? You can make those kinds of stipulations in your will and your advance directive.

On top of that, if you have assets, if you have anything that you want heirs to inherit beyond personal items, you'll really want to consider a trust. And that's a legal protection that, again, gets to avoid probate for your heirs. And that can be a really powerful thing to get done. So those are sort of the mechanical pieces -- like what to do with your stuff, and what do you want done with your body, and sort of navigating the material world. And then there's this other thing around a legacy and what any human leaves behind -- and of course, especially if we have family, but anyone, friends, anyone that you care about, if you want to pass along tips of wisdom or things you've learned, or pass along the narrative of your life as you see it, or what you think of yourself in the world or people in the world, or what you hope for for your heirs or for the future -- these, much more spiritual, philosophical, those issues, you can also transmit those.

Certainly, like in an oral tradition, you can talk to people you love, and you can make yourself known that way. But there is this really beautiful ancient thing, this ancient process called an ethical will. And they're gaining some traction again. These have been around for millennia. This is sort of a way to document your story and all the things I just mentioned -- all of what you might want to pass along, things you've learned, et cetera. And there's a format for this. And you can lay out your feelings, really, your thinking in an ethical will. And you can pass that on to anyone you wish to as well. That's a beautiful thing to do. I mean, most people, sure, when my parents go, I'm sure I'd love that old ashtray that my grandfather used all the time. Or I wouldn't mind what cash they have left or whatever.

But I would really love to know what my parents think of themselves in the world, or think of the world more broadly, or think of me or wish for me or hope for me in the world -- that kind of thing. And that's an ethical will. And I would love it if we all did that.

  • A will is not a simple, one-piece-of-paper kind of document. There are many different kinds of wills: There's a will to handle your things. There's a will to handle your body. And there are wills to handle your legacy.
  • If you don't prepare a will, and if you don't set up a trust, and if you don't arrange your advance directives, then you, and your loved ones, fall into these default legal mechanisms that aren't necessarily always commonsensical.
  • In ethical wills, which are gaining popularity today, deceased individuals pass along tips of wisdom or things they've learned to those who survive them — this is an opportunity for them to pass along the narrative of how they say life, what they thought of themselves and others, and what they hope for their loved ones.


Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.

LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER

"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.

JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW

There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

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Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
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