Life Advice



Ask Amy: Sister wants elder to make estate plans

Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: My older sister is 75 and unmarried.

She has three grown children in their 50s. I am eight years younger than she.

My sister has always avoided aging and seems in denial about mortality.

When I visited the family a few months ago for her 75th birthday party, my niece expressed concern to me that my sister has made no provisions for death or unexpected illness.

She has no will, power of attorney, advance medical directive, or burial or cremation instructions. Attempts by my niece and her siblings to discuss any of this with my sister are quickly dismissed. My sister refuses to talk about it.

Last year I shared with my sister my general estate plan, including the fact that I have a will, power of attorney, trust, and advance medical directive, and gave the names of my appointees.

I had hoped that sharing such information might nudge her to do similar planning. No luck. My niece is concerned that she and her siblings will be left holding the bag to make critical medical and other decisions for their mother without any idea of what she would want, and that the three siblings might not agree.

This is not about monetary inheritance, as my sister doesn’t have a lot of money. My niece has asked me to try to influence my sister to at least prepare an advance medical directive and burial or cremation instructions.

Should I stay out of this or get involved — and, if so, how?

– Concerned Sister

Dear Concerned: Yes, you should attempt to speak to your sister about this. It might be best not to overwhelm her with estate planning, but do encourage her to appoint a health care proxy as a start.

Given that you are savvy, well-prepared, and substantially younger than your sister, might you be the right person to take this on?

My home state has health care proxy forms and very easy to understand instructions on the state’s government website. A directive can be simply worded or very detailed. You will need two witnesses but (in my state) it is not necessary to have it notarized.

Do a search for the state your sister lives in, discuss the forms with her, and if she would like you and you are willing, fill the forms out with her and notify her children of her decision. She can always change her mind later.

Dear Amy: My grandmother was married and widowed four times. Her resting place remains unmarked because the family had a very ugly argument about what should go on her headstone.

It has been 20 years now. All of her children have passed away.

I would like to put a nice headstone up for her, but have no idea what to put on it.

She had children with the first two husbands, so I do think that it might be appropriate to use all of her names. What do you suggest?

– Wondering


Dear Wondering: It is such a good thing for you to finally mark your grandmother’s gravesite.

My answer is assuming that your grandmother’s four husbands are not buried in this particular family plot.

If I were doing this, I would include her full birth name, as well as her final surname (assuming that she legally took her last husband’s surname). I would also include her children’s names, if allowable.

For instance: Mary Besemer Clark Jones (birth and death dates)

Loving mother of Stacy Randolph Carter (birth and death dates)

And Steven Alden Fox (birth and death dates)

The cemetery will have guidelines and suggestions. Some cemeteries will only allow names of people included on headstones if those persons are actually buried in that plot. Make sure to check with the cemetery director before you make your decision.

Dear Amy: Several years ago, you suggested that a woman “make friends with her fears,” name them “Stan,” then tell Stan to “get lost.”

Like everyone, I have my issues. The most destructive to me are my tendency to live in the past and to hold grudges.

Every time I start re-living negative events from my past, I tell my “Stan” I simply don’t have time for him now, and then deliberately distract myself, just like you said.

IT WORKS! Immediately and easily!

I’m a lot happier, now that I’ve made friends with Stan.

– A Friend of Stan

Dear Friend: I remember writing that advice, and although I am unable to find the original column, I’m so happy you’ve made friends with your own “Stan.”


(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

©2022 Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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