To Everything There is a Season: What We Can Learn from the Death of a Loved One
This month marks a very difficult anniversary for me – a year ago my dad died. My family, close friends, and Truepoint teammates all know that it was a very sudden illness that took my dad away from me. And while it’s certainly true that time (attempts) to heal all wounds, it’s still a raw wound.
However, I’ve always been the type of person who seeks to find the lessons learned and the silver linings in any situation. This is no different – and I’d like to think that my dad would have agreed. He was more than just a father. He was a friend, a mentor, a coach, the list goes on. While I still miss him so much, I’ve learned to live with the loss and also accept those times when the grief hits me like a tsunami. And through his brief illness and death, I did learn so much about my own resiliency to handle the tough stuff in life.
But, that’s not all I learned through this whole process. While the personal lessons keep showing up, on a more practical level, I also learned a number of financial planning lessons. Despite working in the industry for the past four years, many of the topics my colleagues love to talk about didn’t truly make sense until my own world was rocked. Things like talking to your aging parents about their finances. Or having “that conversation” with your spouse about healthcare priorities. And, what has become my own personal soapbox, making sure that every financial account has the right beneficiary. A year later, I feel I can impart some advice that hopefully may help others.
Openly discussing money with your family
I was fortunate to grow up in a family where we had more than we needed; yet, money was still not a topic of conversation at the dinner table. It was such a foreign topic that at a young age I got my own part-time job (admittedly, some of this was driven by the need to “wow” college admission counselors), so I didn’t have to ever ask for my own spending money. This same sentiment showed up in my college years. I was lucky to have my parents and grandparents help fund my college education and prevent the need for accruing post-college debt, but I was still focused on finding my own money sources to subsidize my hobbies and pursuits. Money simply wasn’t a topic of conversation, and while I’m sure my parents had their own motivations to shy away from the topic, I know that I could have been a more productive young adult had money been discussed.
Determining and discussing end-of-life wishes
This is not an easy topic to write about…at all. No one wants to face their mortality, especially someone like me in their late 30s who just witnessed the death of a loved one. But life is unpredictable, and I’m fairly certain the events of the past few months have made that clear to all of us. My dad made his intentions very clear in his living will, which made some of the decisions I had to make (with my mom) as healthcare power of attorney slightly easier. And yet, at the time of my father’s death, my own husband and I had not had the conversation about our own end-of-life wishes. Nor had we even legally documented our intentions. At times, we feel invincible with our youth, but long life and health are not guaranteed, even despite the best efforts and intentions. I’m fortunate to work in a place where I have access to subject matter experts on these topics and have had the opportunity to see how they work with clients. This past summer, my husband and I finally made the phone call to an attorney. It was a heavy topic, but we both felt incredibly empowered to know that we had shared our wishes and documented these intentions. If you are looking for a primer on how to even think about an estate plan, I would highly encourage you to read my colleague, David Bross’ Viewpoint on this topic.
Adding beneficiaries to all financial accounts
So now on to my soapbox. To say we scrambled around after my dad’s death is an understatement. For so long, he had managed his own finances. There was a certain amount of pride, I’m sure. And while I don’t disparage the choice he made to self-direct his financial plan, I do question how wise that was when there are so many options for good advice (Truepoint is one option, and Commas is another). Case in point? Beneficiary designations. My dad thought that having a will was the end all, be all of estate planning. Turns out, that’s not the case. He assumed that his will would ensure all financial assets would pass to my mom, and in the case of her death, would then go to my brother and me. But when you go to the local bank or call the financial custodian to transfer assets upon death, it turns out that you need to have a named beneficiary. And if you don’t, well, there’s a very good chance that you are going to need to seek legal assistance. Once we got things settled with my dad’s estate, you better believe that the first thing we did with my mom, and our own financial accounts, was to ensure beneficiaries on all accounts, including bank accounts. It is well worth the effort to make sure this is all in place. A diligent financial advisor would have likely ensured these names were on all the right accounts.
“A Time to Every Purpose”
The days and weeks after the death of a loved one are interesting. Time seems to flow rapidly, but then also at a snail’s pace. To give you a sense of what I had to deal with in those days after he passed, I had to comfort my mom (who lost her husband of almost 40 years), grieve with my younger brother and extended family, and plan a memorial to celebrate my dad and his life…all while working full time and trying to be a good wife, friend, and coworker. Oh, and deal with my own sadness that seemed to consume me at times. Certainly, I’m not suggesting that having my parents’ financial lives a bit more organized would have shielded me from the pain, but it would have been one less thing on the “to-do” list which felt overwhelming at times. A year after his death, I honor my dad with this Viewpoint. For those music lovers reading this piece (and my dad was an incredible lover of music and a gifted musician himself), you may connect the title of this piece to the song, “Turn! Turn! Turn,” written by Pete Seeger and later performed by The Byrds. It was a song that my dad loved, and the lyrics seem so fitting in this time of reflection. May we all recognize the “time to every purpose” but also prepare when we can for life’s inevitable challenges.