How to Let Your Family Know Exactly What to Do When You’re No Longer Here?

A few years ago, we received a very sad phone call from Susan, a young woman who was calling on behalf of her mom, Jane.   Jane, age 64, was referred to us by her best friend, one of our Relaxing Retirement members.

The reason for the call was Jane’s husband Charlie had recently passed away after suffering a massive heart attack at the young age of 66.

Jane’s daughter Susan shared with me how difficult and overwhelming all of this was for her mom after suddenly losing her husband of 45 years.

In addition to dealing with the emotional trauma, Jane and her three grown children quickly discovered that they now had a host of problems that they had to deal with immediately.

And, they had no idea where to start.

The reason for the urgency was the fact that Charlie was classic “old school” and kept all of his information and plans tight to the vest.  The kids knew absolutely nothing about their parents’ affairs, and unfortunately, Jane wasn’t in the loop on much either.

Our Meeting with Jane and Her Kids

Jane’s son Kevin, and her two daughters, Susan and Laura, brought her to our office.  Jane put up a strong front, but we could all see how devastated she was.

What we learned was that Kevin is married, has 2 children, and lives in Atlanta. Laura is married with three children and lives in Chicago.  And, Susan is married with one daughter and another on the way.  Susan’s lives locally so she organized everything.

As they all explained, Charlie was a real rugged individualist, a do-it-yourselfer, and a pack rat.  Charlie paid all the bills, did all the banking, prepared and filed their income taxes each year, handled all of their investments, created their wills on-line, and purchased their insurances.

Because of this, Jane and her children had no clue where to begin.  They didn’t know:

  • Who to contact:
    • Friends?
    • Professionals?
      • Attorney, financial advisor, insurance agent, or CPA?
    • What funeral arrangements had been made
    • What Charlie wanted in his obituary
    • If they had a will or trust (Jane knew that Charlie had done something, but it was so long ago that she couldn’t remember any details),
    • If Charlie had life insurance (Jane remembered him purchasing insurance, but had no idea if it was still in effect, and with what company)
    • The password to their fireproof safe
    • The keys to their safe deposit box at the bank
    • Passwords to files on Charlie’s computer
    • What bills to pay to stay current and maintain good credit
    • Which insurance bills to pay and which to stop paying
    • What vendors to contact
    • How to handle their income taxes because Charlie prepared them himself each year
    • Where Jane’s income will now come from
      • Veteran’s services (since Charlie was a veteran)
      • Social Security
      • Charlie’s pension:
        • Was there a joint and survivor benefit? How much?
      • What investments they owned:
        • 3 brokerage accounts: Merrill Lynch, Fidelity, and Ameritrade
        • IRAs
          • There were no Inherited IRA instructions
        • Roth IRA
        • Charlie’s 401(k) which was still being held at his former employer
        • Limited partnerships

In short, it was a complete mess because Charlie left no instructions for anything, and hadn’t included Jane in any of his planning.

Jane felt helpless (and, unfortunately, foolish), and Kevin, Laura, and Susan felt terrible because they didn’t know how to help their mom.

They didn’t know where to begin…

A Burning Question For You

After going through this heartbreaking process with Jane and her children, here’s the burning question I have for you:

If something tragically happened to you tonight, and you were no longer here to guide them, would your family be able to answer all of these questions?

If you said “no”, you’re not alone.

It’s a rare circumstance where I meet a new Relaxing Retirement member who has all of this tied together tightly for their family.  (That’s why we created a solution to this horrific problem: The What To Do When I’m No Longer Here Program.)

My Recommendation For You

Dedicate an hour this weekend, just one hour, to writing out your answer to these questions for your family.

Now, I fully recognize that you won’t wake up tomorrow morning and say, “Let me see, this weekend I can relax with my family, go to that party, read a book, watch the game, clean the garage, or write out a set of instructions for my heirs when I pass away! Hmmm, what do I want to do first?”

We’re all in the same boat.  I understand.

At the same time, however, your family deserves better.  They don’t deserve to be in the position that Jane and her children were in when Charlie suddenly passed away.

Not when you’re in complete control and can rectify it right now.

Just take a little bit of time to write it all down and share it with them.

As difficult as this may be to do given the scope and underlying purpose of this project, try to put yourself in the shoes of your heirs for a moment.  Try to picture them anxiously attempting to carry out your wishes, but without your presence to guide them.

Assume they don’t know anything that you know.  Because of this, I recommend being as thorough and clear as you can.

If you’d like a copy of The What To Do When I’m No Longer Here Checklist referencing specific pieces of information you’ll provide to your heirs, simply email and write “What To Do When I’m No Longer Here Checklist” in the Subject line, and we’d be happy to provide you with a free copy.

However, even without that checklist, you can get started by simply answering the questions posted above.

Do it right now!  Your family will never be able to thank you enough.

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