This may come as a shock, but you are going to die. I get that considering your death isn’t the most chipper form of reading. Hear me out though, you need to not only consider it yourself but talk about it with your family and loved ones. Because though you will not be here when you die, they likely will.
One gift you can give those you love after your death is by equipping them with what they need before your death. Too many times this conversation is avoided, and it shouldn’t be. Why not give your family the gift of arranging this and communicating about it now, so that they will not experience the mess of a disordered estate added to their grief in the inevitable days to come?
Later is sooner than you think. Set a date on the calendar of when you will discuss these matters with the family and invite them for a Family Meeting. Why not pick a date this summer? The following list is by no means exhaustive, but here are 10 ideas and questions to consider before and communicate about during that time with your loved ones:
1) Identify a secure location to put all important documents that a members of your family can go to retrieve when the time comes. This is like a First Aid Kit that is filled with all kinds of items for an emergency. It’s not needed, until it is! Let’s call it a Family Estate Kit. Here are some things that can go there:
- Health Care Directive
- Power of Attorney
- Trust document
- Ordered reference list of all financial accounts like checking, savings, retirement, insurance, annuities, location of hidden cash, etc.
- Ordered reference list of all debts (credit card, house, line of credit, etc.)
- Social Security and/or Veterans Benefits Information
- Real estate and critical business documents
- List of key professionals to identify (financial advisor, accountant, lawyer, pastor, funeral home, etc.)
- Obituary information
- Goodbye letter to the family as a whole and/or each individual member.
2) Have a conversation about your future care if you become in need of long-term care. What expectations do you have about this and what expectations do those who might oversee taking care of you think about it? Talk about challenging things like living with family members and/or moving into elderly care facilities. Remember the cost of long-term care is expensive: how will that cost be paid? Translation: who will pay it?
3) Will you have a funeral? Where? Who will do it? What are your wishes for your body (burial, cremation, etc.)? Please don’t leave that to your spouse and kiddos to decide.
4) Have you consulted legal advice and created a will and/or living trust?
5) Who is your executor and/or trustee(s)? Why are you choosing them? This is your decision. Communicate it to those you love.
6) What about all the stuff you’ve accumulated through the years? Who will it go to? Might it be helpful to consider what is worth keeping, selling, or giving away now?
7) Are your IRA, 401k, and life insurance beneficiaries in proper order? What about taxable accounts? Do those have beneficiaries named through payable on death or transfer on death registrations? If you have a trust, are all pertinent accounts named in that manner? Should anyone be added to one, some, or all of your accounts now?
8) If you have children who are minors, who will take care of them? A family member? They may be willing to, but are they able to? Who is this? Why?
9) Sometimes one spouse will be more financially savvy then another. It can even be the case that one spouse is entirely in charge of financial matters and the other is in the dark. If you are the savvy one, consider hiring a financial advisor you trust before you pass, so that your spouse can have a relationship with one before you are gone.
10) Write stuff down. This is huge. People sometimes think that their wishes will just magically happen if said out loud. They won’t. Legal and financial documents must be properly completed; and other interpersonal familial matters should be written down, so your wishes won’t be subject to the fallible memories of family members.
I don’t think I need to remind you that conflict happens in relationships and having the above kinds of things in place and conversations now can reduce future conflict amidst those you love. You might think, “Well, these conversations themselves might cause conflict?” They may, but it probably will be nothing like the conflict to come amid your family due to the emotional impact of your death on those you love (and who love you!)
You might be thinking. My goodness, this is a lot. Indeed. And if you don’t get a head start on it, you have made a choice to leave the weight of it to those left behind. Treat your preparation for the Family Meeting and Family Estate Kit as an act of love. I can assure you; it is.