“…now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.” Mark Twain, in Life on the Mississippi
Conjure the best image of pirates that you can. Perhaps think of Captain Jack Sparrow and his crew on Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. What, you may wonder, do pirates and estate planning have to do with each other? The short answer is “everything.”
Pirates, while they may feel invincible, live constantly under the dark cloud of imminent death. They are routinely blasted by cannon or musket fire, skewered by swords, washed overboard, chomped by sharks, or stranded on desert islands. (One choice per pirate, please.) They know that death can come at any moment, so they are prepared for it. The pirate method of planning for the afterlife, or their “estate planning”, gives them fewer things to worry about, and so they can focus on life and living. In fact, I would suggest that because they have planned, thus removing the worry of that “loose end” most of us always intend to get to (but mostly just fret about), pirates actually live longer and more happily than they would have without this end-of-life planning.
Pirate estate planning was a fairly simple matter: buy a gold earring and wear it. The earring wasn’t for the purpose of looking edgy, threatening, or fashionable. The purpose of the earring was to pay for your burial by those who found your body washed up on shore after your final battle or last storm. Or, if you died on board, the earring would pay to transport the body home. Some pirates even engraved the inside of the earring with the name of their home port, to assist in shipping their remains.
For you and me, our estate planning consists of multiple parts and includes documents such as a Living Trust, a Will, an Advance Health Care Directive, a Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs, and a POLST (Physician Orders For Life-Sustaining Treatment). We craft these plans (hopefully with the help of a good attorney), then file them with our doctor, give them to our children, post them on the fridge, and stash them in our safe-deposit box. With these plans in place, our “dark cloud” is removed, and we too can live longer (hopefully) and more happily.
Centuries of pillaging, sacking, and plundering have tainted the pirate reputation, casting him as greedy, self-centered, and heartless. The ever-present gold earring, however, tells a different story: a pirate cares enough about other people, especially his loved ones at home (or coastal villagers who might find his rotting body entangled in kelp after a storm), to make end-of-life plans, and even to make pre-need arrangements to implement those plans. A pirate is concerned about the future as well as the present. A pirate acknowledges his mortality and deals with it.
Live joyfully. Give the gift of estate planning to your loved ones. Plan like a pirate.