Make it easy on your survivors

Written by
Peter Dunn

"I miss him so much, but I'm so angry at him." -Widow of 6 weeks, in my office yesterday

When you die, your passwords die too. When you die, the peculiar place that you keep your business documents remains peculiar - and unfound. When you die, the financial role that you have held in your family immediately is relinquished.

I'm currently cleaning up a financial disaster. Money isn't the issue. Yet, it's a financial emergency nonetheless. Most "protect your survivors" articles that you read focus on life insurance and beneficiaries. This post is not about those things. This post is about the transition. How does the surviving spouse recreate the daily financial doings of the person that dies?

"He has two different businesses with two different checkbooks, and he has two different credit cards at two different companies. Every phone call that I make in order to make progress, creates three new phone calls. He was such a private person that he never wanted me to worry about money. Although he left me plenty of money, I have to unwind his businesses and I'm so scared."

Money isn't everything. Death begets loss. Loss begets grief. Grief plus disorganization begets anger. It's quite common for people to say things like "the most loving thing you can do for your surviving spouse is to make sure that you leave them adequate life insurance." This is true. But leaving money for someone isn't enough.

Things are different. The internet has changed the game when it comes to survivor transitions...and not in a good way. All generations are at risk. My wife is at risk. She doesn't know my passwords (not that I'm hiding anything -awkward.) And she doesn't know about the intricacies of my business. Whereas she will have plenty of assets, thanks to life insurance and our savings and investments, she will be level-five pissed at me for sticking her with my business dealings. They will consume her life...while she is trying to raise our children...while she is grieving. This is unacceptable. I have work to do to bridge the gap.

The problem is worse for our parents. Baby boomers were socialized with traditional gender roles. This means that men primarily dealt with the family finances. The death of a male baby boomer sends shockwaves through their families. Whereas the death of a female baby boomer is equally awful, the financial transition isn't as severe based on how 1950's gender roles were established. This is a real problem. Your parents and your grandparents may have financial plans for their death, but it's unlikely they have transition plans in place. And it's unlikely that you have a transition plan in place.

You know what's next. Tips. Here are the things you need to consider to help make the worst moment in your loved one's life, a little easier.

  1. Have a password plan- I use a password vault program such as LastPass. I have one password to remember. The rest of the passwords are managed by "the vault." Mrs. Planner just needs to know one password, and she can open the vault to all my other passwords. It's secure. And it's the best way for your loved one to access your important information.
  1. Discuss your job- Your significant other needs to know important details about your business/job. He/she needs to know where you bank, where your retirement accounts are, and many other "esoteric" details. Your spouse also needs to have an awareness of your business advisors, your lawyer, your accountant, and any financial advisors.
  1. Lift the curtain- Do you have weird financial habits? Yeah, me too. Please, please, please let your partner know what the hell is going on. Regular budget meetings help with this. Regular discussions about your financial life will address this.
  1. Ask up- Ask your parents what their plan is. Don't get this twisted. You aren't asking about their finances, you are asking about their transition plan. It's a loving conversation. "Dad, where do you bank? Who's your lawyer? What do I need to know in order to take care of mom when you die?"
  1. Ask down- Ask your adult children what their plan is. It's show and tell. You show them your plan, and then ask to see their plan. Discuss the importance of a healthy transition plan. Hell, send a link to this blog post to them. Just copy and paste this next sentence in the email to them. "Hey bud, I love reading this guy's blog. His name is Pete the Planner. He's really good looking...and smart." Well, something like that. Just trying to save you time.

Your significant other's right to grieve peacefully is important. Allow them to do this. Once again, to be clear, this has NOTHING TO DO WITH MONEY. It's all about organization. Do it.

Step up your financial wellness game.

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