Save Your Family


I don’t attach much importance to dreams.  They are just there to make sleepy-time less boring. Last night, I had a dream where I spent most of my time trying to prepare my wife to run our finances before telling my son that I wouldn’t be around to watch him grow up.    That’s an unpleasant thought to wake up with.  Lying there, trying to digest this dream, I started thinking about the transition from “I deal with the bills” to “I’m not there to deal with it”.   We aren’t prepared for that transition.   Last year, we started putting together our “In case of death” file, but that project fell short.    The highest priorities are done.   We have wills and health directives, but how would my wife pay the bills?  Everything is electronic.  Does she know how to log in to the bank’s billpay system?    Which bills are only in my name, and will go away if I die?   Is there a list of our life insurance policies?

I checked the incomplete file that contains this information.   It hasn’t been updated since September.  It’s time to get that finished.  Procrastinating is inappropriate and denial is futile.   Here’s a news flash: You are going to die. Hopefully, it won’t happen soon, but it will happen.  Is your family prepared for that?

The questions are  “What do I need?” and “What do I have?”

First and foremost, you need a will.  If you have children and do not have a will, take a moment–right now– to slap yourself.   A judge is not the best person to determine where your children should go if you die. The rest of it is minor, if you’re married.   Let your next-of-kin, your spouse keep it.  I don’t care.   Just take care of your kids! Set up a trust to pay for the care of your children.   Their new guardians will appreciate it.  How hard is it to set up?   I use Quicken Willmaker and have been very pleased.  Of course, the true test is in probate court, and I won’t be there for it.   If you are more comfortable getting an attorney, then do so. I’ve done it each way.    You can cut some costs by using Willmaker, then taking it to an attorney for review.

It’s a sad fact that often, before you die, you spend some time dying.  Do you have a health care directive?   Does your family know, in writing, if and when you want the plug pulled? Who gets to make that decision?   Have you set up a medical power of attorney, so someone can make medical decisions on your behalf if you aren’t able?  Do you want, and if so, do you have a Do-Not-Resuscitate order?  Willmaker will handle all of this, too.

What’s going to happen to your bank accounts?  I’m personally a fan of keeping both of our names on all of our accounts.   I share my life and my heart, I’d better be able to trust her with our money. If that’s not an option, for whatever reason, fill out the “Payable on Death” information for your accounts, establishing a beneficiary who can get access to your money if you die.   Do you want your spouse to lose the house or the car if you die? Should your kids have to miss meals?  Make sure necessary access to your money exists.

Does anybody know what you have for life insurance? Get a copy of the policy and make sure your spouse and someone else knows what company holds it and how much it is worth.

Now, it’s time to make some lists.   You need to gather account numbers and contact information for everything.

  • Bank accounts. List every bank and account you own.  Checking, savings, CDs.
  • Investment accounts. Again, every company, every account.
  • Mortgage and car payment information.
  • Life insurance. Get your policy numbers, contact information, beneficiaries, and amount of coverage all in one place.
  • Credit card accounts. Every card, every company.    If it’s just your name on the account, your spouse will need to send certified death certificates to stop collections.  Otherwise, she’ll need to pay the bills.
  • Utilities.  Get the account number for the electric bill, the gas bill, water/sewer/garbage, cable and phones.
  • Other bills. These include car/home insurance, Netflix, memberships and anything else you pay.
  • I’ve included the account information for my web host, registrars and websites. Some of it is salable, some of it is income-generating.
  • Car titles. Put the actual titles in the pile of lists.
  • Property deeds. Keep these here, too.

Non-financial information to list:

  • Online accounts. Any financial sites that would be useful, or any community sites you would like to have informed about your death.  Your online presence is a part of who you are.
  • Email accounts. Will your survivors need to interact with anybody potentially contacting you?   They will need your username and password, or most big providers won’t let them in.
  • Social media. How many networks do you participate in?  Do you want to disappear, or should all of your Facebook friends know your dead?
  • Blogs. Do you have a blog that needs an announcement?   Does it generate income?  Could it be sold?
  • Contact list. Who else needs to be informed of your demise?  Don’t make your loved ones hunt for the information.

Now, take all of this information and put it in a nice, fat envelope and lock it in the fireproof safe you have bolted to the floor.  Make a copy and give it to someone you trust absolutely.   Make sure someone knows the combination to the safe or where to find the key.

Your loved ones will appreciate it.

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You’re Gonna Die, Part 2

The Grim Reaper

The Grim Reaper (Photo credit: Helico)

You know that, at some point, you’re going to shuffle off of this mortal coil.

You will die.

Hopefully, you’ll have lived your life is such a way that the even won’t be easy for your heirs, but you can do a bit to make the process less painful for them.   Do you want them gutting your house trying to find out if you have a will, or does the idea of a treasure hunt for a life insurance policy make you smile?

Assuming you don’t intend to sit in the afterlife giggling about how difficult you’ve made life for your offspring, the first thing you need to do is find a spot to put your important paperwork.    This should, ideally, be a fireproof safe, which you can get for under $50.  You’re looking for something big enough to hold the things that matter, while being able to withstand a bit of fire, in case the part of “Grim Reaper” is being played by an arsonist.

The next thing you need to do is put your important papers in the safe.  Seriously, this beats both filing your insurance papers in a telephone book stacked in the corner and wrapping an envelope full of cash in a 10 year old newspaper and storing it with your recycling.   It’s also superior to tucking an insurance policy in a coupon mailer and losing it the cracks of a chair.*

Important papers include:

  • Your will
  • Life insurance policies, including accidental death policies
  • Bank account information, but don’t forget to remove these if you close an account
  • Safe deposit box information
  • Car titles and lien releases, if applicable
  • The deed to your house
  • Investment accounts
  • Retirement accounts

Things that are not important papers for your heirs:

  • The last 30 years of your monthly gas bill
  • The last 30 years of your electric bill
  • Home Shopping Network receipts
  • Child support filings for your 33 year old daughter who has 3 kids of her own
  • Coupon mailers
  • Credit card offers
  • 10 year old angry letters to the police department about that guy in the silver car who ran a stop sign in the grocery store parking lot

The final thing you need to do to make this all work is tell someone about it.  Don’t hope somebody will find a book that has “In case of death, my will is here” scrawled inside the cover, buried in your kitchen.  Really.   And if that is your plan, don’t move the will later, without updating the book.

Your homework over the weekend is to gather up your important papers and put them in a box.  Then tell someone about the box.

*I wish I was making this up.

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Deathbed Regrets

Missing chocolate chip cookie.

Image via Wikipedia

A friend recently pointed me to an article written by a hospice nurse.  This nurse spent her career working with people who were dying, beyond recovery, and aware of it.   Her job, primarily, was to provide comfort, whether that be physical or emotional.

During her conversations, she found several themes when her patients discussed their regrets and she lists the 5 most common regrets in her article.

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

I don’t see this one being an issue for me.   While I did buy in to a standard life template (college, wife, kids, suburbs, office, etc.), I am me.  I am undeniably me.

I’d be delusional to think that I wasn’t a bit…different.   I see things differently than a lot of other people, I react differently, and I’m vocal about it.  That sometimes makes it hard to get close to me.  I doubt anyone who is close to me would argue with that.

I also tend to do things.  Most people talk about doing things, I try to make them happen.   “I wish I were out of debt”, “Honey, I want to start a business”, “Let’s drop 40 pounds this year”, or “I want to build a trebuchet”.   I think I know why my wife gets nervous when I say “I have an idea”.

I may not be running anyone else’s script, but at the end of the day, I’d regret not doing things more than I’d regret trying them.

I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This one is a personal struggle for me.   I’m scared of missing my children grow up.   I hate the idea of looking back and finding my children as adults, with few memories of how they got there.

At the same time, I’ve got a pile of debt I need to get rid of before I can dial back too far.    I could quit my job tomorrow, but that wouldn’t be providing a good life for them.

My worry, and the worry of some people close to me, is that, once the debt is gone, I won’t be able to let go of my extreme work hours, even though I’m working so hard now to be able to work less later.   “Later”, in this case, means a couple of years, not retirement.

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Ugh.  Feelings.  If this is a standard deathbed regret, I’m screwed.   My loved ones know I love them, but other than that, I’m happy to be in control of myself.

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

I do.  It’s not always close contact, but it is contact.

I’m of the opinion that life’s too short to spend time with people you dislike, so some people have been relegated to the past.   My friends, my family, my loved ones are a part of my life, even if it’s occasionally months between emails or years between visits.

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

I think I do pretty well on this front, too.   Happiness is a choice.   I could worry about all of the things that aren’t perfect, or I could enjoy the things I have.  I choose to enjoy what I’ve got, even while trying to improve the rest.

In the words of Denis Leary : “Happiness comes in small doses folks. It’s a cigarette, or a chocolate cookie, or a five second orgasm. That’s it, ok! [You] eat the cookie, you smoke the butt, you go to sleep, you get up in the morning and go to…work, ok!? That is it!”

Happiness isn’t a hobby farm, a new job, or a dream vacation.   Happiness is a date with my wife, or cuddling with my kids to Saturday morning cartoons, or taking my son to the range.

Happiness is the things I’m doing now, not the dreams I’m hoping for someday.

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Funeral Costs: How to Keep it Inexpensive, Without Being Cheap

MIAMI - JANUARY 24:  A pallbearer for Poitier ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The average funeral costs $6500.    Many people die with absolutely no savings.   Even if there is life insurance, it takes weeks to get the money, while a funeral is completed within a week.

Funeral homes have an easy sales pitch.  Nobody wants to sully the memory of their loved ones.   The tiniest hint of a guilt trip will have most families upgrading to the silk pillow in a second.   Here’s a secret: Your loved one doesn’t care.  I’m not recommending using garbage bags and a dumpster.   By all means, treat your loved ones with care, but don’t go overboard.

Not everyone is comfortable with cremation, and some religions don’t permit it, but it is probably the least expensive way to process a body.   It costs approximately $1400 to cremate a body and you can get very attractive urns for under $100.  Compare that to a $3500 casket and storage & transportation fees, and–from a strictly monetary standpoint–the choice is clear.

Don’t worry too much about decorating.   Flowers aren’t cheap and florists don’t tend to offer discounts to people who aren’t emotionally prepared to negotiate and who are in a time crunch to find the flowers they need.   Get a few bouquets for a small display around the casket or urn, and let the rest take care of itself.   Many of the guests will bring flowers, so the entrance will soon be decorated for free, and that’s the part that makes the first impression.

Shopping online can save you a lot of money on an urn.  Funeral homes will try to sell you a $500 urn, which may include a 1000% markup.    If you buy online, you will have to pay for overnight shipping, but that’s a small cost compared to the standard markup.  You can also find a huge discount on attractive caskets by shopping outside of the funeral home.   Federal law prohibits funeral homes from requiring that you buy a casket from them or charging you a fee for getting one elsewhere.
This may be the most ghoulish part of this article, but you can dig the grave yourself.   It’s probably not worth it for a full-size casket, but for an urn, you can save hundreds of dollars.   An urn generally only needs to be buried 18 inches deep, as opposed to the 6 feet required for caskets.  Just be sure to check with the cemetery and get the burial location right.  If you think it’s ghoulish to dig the grave, just picture digging it up.  Not fun.
Planning a funeral is never enjoyable, and it’s often expensive.  Nothing you do will make it fun, but it is possible to make it affordable.
Have you had to coordinate a funeral?  Did you take the funeral director’s recommendations, or did you cut some costs?

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