Are You Planning Ahead?

This is a very personal post, but one that I feel I need to share.

I lost my younger brother a little while ago. Chris was a financial advisor for his entire (and entirely too short) professional life, and he did what all advisors do: He encouraged people to plan for the future and to think about what would happen if something happened to them. He was very successful, but I suspect that, like the physician who makes a terrible patient, he didn’t always take his own advice.

Oh, sure, he had life insurance, a 401(k) plan and a college fund started for his young son, but there were a lot of things he didn’t do. I’m sure he thought he had lots of time to take care of the simple details. He didn’t. He was just 44 when he died.

So, as a combination public service and a memorial to my brother, I offer the following.

First and foremost: If you don’t have a will, you should. Even if you only use one of the many simple wills available at your local software seller, do so. If your needs are more complicated than what these will accommodate, call your lawyer today. It’s absolutely worth the money. Oh, and make sure someone knows where it is!

Second, make a list of each and every insurance policy you own. List the name of the policyholder, the face amount, the policy number and any other pertinent details. Also, indicate how your survivors will be able to collect on that policy: list the phone number for the claims department for each policy, and provide a general list of what will need to be submitted with the claim.

On that same list, provide all of your bank information: savings, checking and other accounts. List the name and location of the bank(s), the account number(s) and a phone number for each establishment. As with the insurance policy information, give a brief description of what your survivors will have to do to get to the money.

Next, if you have your own financial advisor, a lawyer, a stockbroker, an insurance agent, or any other type of advisor, list their names and contact information as well. These are the people who know where your assets are, and can help guide your survivors at a time of great distress, helping to make the worry about “What am I going to do now?” much less stressful.

The next part is really hard—to read, to write and to talk about with people you love.

Have a conversation with your spouse/partner/significant other, with your kids and/or grandkids about your thoughts on the end of your life. Do you want to be buried? Where? Do you already own a cemetery plot? Add the location and other information to your list. Would you prefer to be cremated? What would you like done with your ashes? Do you want a particular kind of religious service? Tell someone all of these things, and make sure that it’s written down somewhere, preferably in the same location as your will and the lists described above.

Consider preplanning the end of your life. It’s not fun or glamorous—and it’s certainly not pleasant to think about, but make it simple for your family to continue to enjoy the life that you have been able to provide for them.

I’m sure that by now you can guess all of the things that my brother didn’t do. Perhaps even more than wishing him back with us, I wish he had taken his own advice. It might have been possible for his family to more easily cope with the loss of their husband and father if they didn’t have to worry about what the future—especially the very near future—holds for them financially.

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