Saturday was a beautiful spring day in New England. Temperatures were moderate. No humidity. It was bright and sunny with languid puffy clouds hanging in the noon time breeze. A beautiful day to be outside especially after the gloomy weather that Mother Nature has thrown at us during the winter and spring so far. A beautiful day for gathering with family and friends and celebrating the milestones of life whether a birth, a marriage, a graduation or connecting with others.
It so happened that I was attending the funeral celebration for a friend and client. Celebration is the right word. While sadness always is part of these things, it truly was more fitting and proper to highlight and remember the qualities that we all should aspire to.
In this case we were gathered to celebrate a sister, aunt, daughter and friend who lived fully during her short 50 odd years. A global traveler, talented cook and baker, gifted woodworker and gardener and charitable sort who always thought of others less fortunate.
Regardless of one’s religious persuasion, the celebrant of this service, a Roman Catholic priest, expressed it best when he said that many of us think a long life is synonymous of a good life. But in reality, he emphasized, the teachings of many religions focus on the quality of life as opposed to its length. And this person, my friend and the sister of my very best friend, truly made her short time in the temporal world full and rich.
Like a light switch, one moment someone’s vivacious smile is there and in the next instant it is gone leaving us only with the warm glow of memory. Whether it is better to have a sudden death or have time to prepare for the inevitable is a constant debate. In this case, my friend was there one moment and in the next she was gone.
Inevitably, when confronted with such sudden tragedy, we tend to think of our own mortality. I recall after the Twin Towers came down in NYC, how families were drawn closer together even if they didn’t have a direct connection to the victims of the terrorist attack. And the interest in insurance and estate planning was at a high point. Lawyer friends reported doing more wills and guardianship plans. Insurance agents were fielding calls for new insurance policies.
It shouldn’t take a tragedy – whether public or personal – to get people motivated to act in their best interests but we are frail humans and tend to look at the present disregarding the future.
But we do that at our own peril.
Someday is Today
A person with friends is truly rich – remember “It’s a Wonderful Life.” While I truly believe that sentiment, it doesn’t mean abdicating one’s responsibility to care for family and friends by skipping the planning.
It is frustrating to be a financial planner and in trying to deal with such issues receive either blank stares or promises to deal with it later. At other times there is the all-encompassing answer to all: I’m All Set.
- Someday, I’ll draft a will.
- Someday, I’ll check my insurance coverage.
- Someday, I’ll talk to my brother (or sister or friend) about guardianship of the kids.
- Someday, I’ll deal with all these financial planning issues.
Someday is now.
Planning for the inevitable is not for you. It is to help others. It is selfish to think that things will just take of themselves. Sure, plans will together. But the stress on the family, friends and loved ones left to deal with picking up the pieces is not something you should burden someone with lightly when taking a few steps will help smooth the transition.
- At the very least, get a Will. You don’t need to be rich to have one of these. Better yet, make sure you have a Durable Power of Attorney in place so that your financial affairs can be coordinated.
- Review and update your Will periodically. Even if you do have a Will doesn’t mean that it still works for you. Times change and so do tax and estate laws.
- Include written instructions. Do you want to be buried or cremated? Who do you want to have certain sentimental, personal effects?
- Have a list of online passwords for your banking and social media accounts in a safe but accessible place. Without them your heirs will have trouble dealing with some of your financial matters or your social media accounts could possibly be shut off. And since most of our lives and communications are now so much online, your family might not be able to notify your extended network of your passing unless they can get online.
- Review your insurance as part of a comprehensive financial needs analysis regularly. Too often people simply think that what they have in place covers them regardless of the simple fact that personal circumstances change and dictate changes in coverage.
- If you own property and have a mortgage or have young kids who would be raised by someone else when you’re gone, make sure you have insurance that at least covers the bills. This means having a term insurance policy for at least the balance of the mortgage. And if you have kids, figure out the costs to raise them (and pay for college maybe) and put a policy in place to equal that. Otherwise, you may be leaving a spouse, friend, family member or business partner with trying to carry the costs without benefit of the resources.
- Check and update the beneficiaries on insurance policies, annuities, company-sponsored 401ks and personal IRAs. Maybe you had a divorce and never updated this so your ex-spouse may be the unintended recipient. Or new kids, nieces or nephews have been born since the last time you did this.
In my banking and financial planning careers, I have seen both personally and professionally the impact on survivors left behind to pick up the pieces. There was the client who needed to refinance to help pay for an elder parent’s funeral. There was the friend who battled bravely against cancer but eventually succumbed leaving behind a wife, a three-year old toddler and a mortgage.
The pain caused by the loss of a loved one doesn’t need to be compounded by the stress, frustration and confusion of having to unexpectedly deal with financial challenges.