Preparing For An Expected Death
Helping a family member – parent or spouse – pass on is one of the most important jobs of a lifetime. A terminal diagnosis is crushing but no matter what kind of time you have left together on this Earth, it is so important to begin communicating about your family finances and the expectations surrounding them as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter if you have a mere three weeks left together or expect three more years…this is not a conversation to put off.
After a diagnosis, life quickly gets filled with doctor’s visits, pain management plans, visits with religious leaders, family reunions, and just the simple act of enjoying the time that you have left together. Many spouses and children think that they have a clear idea of what the financial plans are…but when pressed for real details, come up empty. Moreover, it’s easy to think that the “Will is done and taken care of,” or “there’s a book with everything in it that you need to know.” Too often five or ten years pass – and even though it feels like yesterday – these documents need to be revisited and updated.
Start With The Sit Down
This is the toughest part, so get it out of the way. Under the best of circumstances, talking about money and the financial choices you’ve made is nerve-wracking. Gathering your immediate family around a table and reviewing the status of all accounts and the plans you’ve put in place will be uncomfortable. But, do it. Review the bank accounts, the safe deposit boxes and their contents, the stocks and bonds, the real estate, and the terms of the life insurance. Double check beneficiaries of the retirement accounts, life insurance policies and annuities to make sure they accurately reflect your wishes. These assets do not follow instructions of a will or trust. Clearly outline the short and long term arrangements for the surviving spouse. Review the Will/Trust together and make sure that all the children understand why the choices that were made, were made. If this seems intense, it probably will be. But the questions will be answered and you’ll all be able to move ahead with a clear sense of what to expect ahead.
Enlist The Support Team
Especially if we’re talking about the passing of a parent with a surviving spouse, it will be important to start planning for their life alone before the event takes place. This starts with making sure that the surviving spouse has a strong relationship with the family financial planner and has an estate lawyer in place. You will want to deal with assigning power of attorney and designing an end-of-life plan. Perhaps a new accountant would be helpful to hire for help paying the bills.
With official business taken care of, you will also want to deal with the mundane matters of day-to-day life. If your Dad always took care of the landscaping, perhaps you want to arrange for a landscaping team to help your Mom. If your Mom always did all the cooking, perhaps you want to look into a meal-planning program or food delivery service for Dad. Think about how the surviving spouse will stay physically active, connected to their church and, and engaged with their community in the months ahead. Design your support strategy sooner, not later.
Connect With Friends
Undoubtedly, there are people in your life who have experienced similar trials. So talk to them. Ask their advice. Ask them about the lives that they’ve built since the passing of their loved ones and what they wished they had known then. You have rich resources in the friendships that you’ve maintained over the years, make sure that you take advantage of them.
When I say Live, it might sound trite. But, the sentiment has triple meaning to me. First, enjoy the time that you have left with your loved one. This time could be considered one last epic family hang out…one to be cherished always. Make sure that you take advantage of it.
Secondly, when I say Live, I mean…once you’ve prepared yourself for life after the passing of your loved one, you will be able to focus in living in the moment. It’s a real luxury to be able to focus on your feelings rather than facts and finances in moments like these.
And, lastly, I mean…enjoy the life that you have ahead of you. Do everything you can to embrace the next chapter. Good things are ahead.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for individualized legal advice. Please consult your legal advisor regarding your specific situation.