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I found out yesterday that a long-time client of mine suddenly passed away. I was shocked to say the least. Over the course of my business, I have sadly lost several clients. Some were older, some were sick. In some cases it was sudden and in some cases, it was a long time coming. It is always tough for me when it happens.
My only comfort at a time like this is that I get to be the one who can reduce some of the stress on the family. I can tell them where the bank accounts are and what is in them. I can tell them where to find contracts and policies. I can sit with them and show them that everything is under control from a financial perspective so they have one less thing to worry about. I can often answer many of the questions that come up that no one else can answer.
Early on in my career, I was at a client’s home and the client was very sick with cancer and only had a few days left. Her daughter sat next to me, heartbroken, and said “I guess I need to plan a funeral.” I told her that she didn’t. It had already been planned and paid for and opened the drawer to show her where she could find the information. She began to cry. The relief and appreciation that a burden had been lifted from her, was overwhelming. It wasn’t a conversation that her mom ever had with her. Moments like those, as hard as they are, are some of the most most gratifying knowing I have made a difference to a family at a time like that.
In the case of this client, the family member left in charge of the estate lived in another state and had little knowledge about the daily financial life of his brother. He wasn’t sure where to begin. He told me “Thank God he had you. I don’t know where we would be without this information. I feel so relieved after talking to you.”
The only way I can do this for my clients and their families is by having important conversations with my clients before events like this happen. We discuss if they have a will, a POA, a health care surrogate ,a trustee. I ask them who will handle their affairs if something should happen to them. I ask them who I can call if I am concerned about their mental or physical well being. I learn where the bank accounts, safe deposit boxes and important documents are. I clean up their files and set up financial tracking systems, like Quicken so everything is in one place. I have user names and passwords organized.
But what happens if you don’t have a Certified Daily Money Manager in your life? What would you leave behind for your family if you got hit by a bus tomorrow? Would your family easily be able to find any important documents? (Remember – do not put these in a safe deposit box where no one else can access them without a court order.) Do they know who your lawyer is? Your accountant? Your insurance agent? Your financial advisor? How would they manage to keep paying the bills while everything is sorted out? Do they know what your wishes are for your funeral? Could they find user names and passwords for your accounts? Are they aware of life insurance policies? You need to sit down with your family members and talk through these things so that your spouse, children and/or parents are aware of important items in the event something happens.
I know these aren’t easy conversations to have, but they need to be had. Think of what your family will be going through in the aftermath of your death, do you really want to make things harder for them? How will you be emotionally after your parents pass? Will you be able to cope with the added stress of having to track everything down? Sometimes it can be uncomfortable to talk to members of older generations because they might not consider it polite to talk about money, but it is so important to explain why you need to know. You don’t want to control them or their money, but if something happens, you will need to know. They will make your life infinitely easier in the midst of your grief if you already know all of this.
It is always a good idea to write out where all your bank accounts, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, safe deposit boxes, etc. are. Include policy numbers, contact phone numbers and names. Don’t forget locations of keys that would be needed for safe deposits or storage units. Include logins and passwords for online accounts. Don’t forget to include locations and log in information for picture websites and websites like dropbox. If you don’t want to share all of the information with your family now or aren’t able to have those conversations with your family members, writing it down and telling them where they can find that piece of paper will at least make things easier. And if your parents or grandparents won’t have the conversation, ask them to do the same. And remember to update it as things change. Dealing with loss is hard enough, we should do everything we can to make it a little easier on those we leave behind.