Families need to come together to talk about death. Even the youngest can understand final wishes when they start learning at an early age. Why is it so difficult to have the conversation?
A local preschool has a tiny, fenced-in plot with a sign that says “Cemetery” where children have buried dead birds and classroom pets. Nearby, the kindergarten students found remnants of cat bones on their property. The discovery started a conversation and a special learning experience with caring, sensitive teachers.
Some parents have taken their young children to the cemetery to visit siblings who died at birth or relatives they never knew. It gives their lives a connection and a story to keep for the future.
A father answers his son’s questions about ‘how things work’ and the boy asks “what happens to your body when you die?”’ The father describes funerals and cemeteries in age-appropriate words.
The boy says he “wants to help dig.” They talk about Green Burials and watch a video online together to help him understand that his mother would like to be returned to the earth when she dies.
Why don’t adult children start the conversation with aging parents? Why don’t couples talk about their final plans before they become gravely ill? There are opportunities all around us, to talk about our final plans. Natural disasters and news reports offer a perfect opening to ask “what would you like for yourself?”
In other countries, the topic of death is a normal part of growing up. In the USA, we struggle with the words, afraid of upsetting – or of being upset. Let’s start early. The book LIFETIMES by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen is a beautiful way to explain death to children, about plants, animals, and people.Maybe then the little ones can start the conversation.
Optional Suffering. That’s how Chanel Reynolds described the aftermath when her husband died suddenly. Reynolds said “…it was hard to stay present in the room…and hear what doctors were saying, because I was so overwhelmed with not knowing how much money we had in our checking account…and whether I was going to be able to float a family by myself.”
She shared her personal experience so that other might avoid the same hardship; sorting through bills, insurance policies, bank accounts, assets and other costly life details in order to go on after death. It cost a fortune in legal fees. What saved her was life insurance. It bought her time.
Life insurance is just one aspect of what Reynolds calls “intentional financial planning.”
We all know what’s involved: a will, a review of savings and assets, and selecting people to care for children or elders. We all know. But do we do it? Hardly ever.
Making final plans is an aspect of financial planning that is often missed. It spares survivors similar optional suffering: What were his/her final wishes? What funds are available to carry out those wishes? Who can help me through all of this?
Having a trusted, holistic Financial Advisor can make a difference. Someone who isn’t just recommending certain investments and adjusting your portfolio: a trained Advisor who helps you with your finances from here and now into the future…planning for your family, your retirement, as well as for your death.
If we can’t do it on our own, hiring a professional to remind and cajole us into action could spare a lot of pain in the future. Get a referral from someone who cares about you. And make your final plans.
Ron Lieber wrote about Chanel Reynolds for the New York Times. A print article appeared on January 12, 2013, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Shocking Death, a Financial Lesson and Help for Others.
Death can cause frustration and unnecessary expense to those you leave behind when they struggle to locate assets.Your assets include passwords to social media accounts; proof of ownership for property, investments, retirement accounts, and the value of any life insurance you may have.
If survivors don’t know how to access information those assets are lost to them when needed the most – or even forever!
An 18 year old man with a rare form of cancer died before he could express his funeral wishes. His notes were stored on his iPad along with many photos of him and family members. His mother did not know the password. She is mourning his death as well as the loss of those memories.
One family was told about a valuable piece of property left behind when an out-of-state relative died. The heirs will need an attorney and a long process to recover the inheritance because they cannot find the papers they need.
Life insurance proceeds go unclaimed every year when beneficiaries don’t know about policies and cannot file a claim. Wills and trusts are often impossible to locate without time and energy better spent on mourning the loss of a loved one.
OTHER PRECIOUS ASSETS:
Think about photos: A picture from the 1930’s or those of relatives who served in WWII are irreplaceable. Medical records and DNA test results can be extremely valuable when there is a rare genetic family condition, and could be helpful many years after a death occurs.
It’s tax season. The perfect time to organize your valuables and establish a way to access, share, and preserve your assets. Don’t make your family dig through file drawers, hunt through boxes, or try to guess passwords. Set up a way to access, share and manage what you leave behind.
One suggestion is to transfer vital records to a portable thumb drive. It might work if the drive is not lost or if it travels with the individual at all times. Another option is to use a scanner like Paper Port, which converts documents to PDFs. But still the question remains: how to store and share whatever is scanned. When you die – where will survivors know to look?
A new and better way is using a service like AfterVault. Once you store your documents, you decide WHO can access everything. AfterVault stays in touch with you automatically. When you die, your designated “Guardian” knows how to locate and preserve everything you left behind.
Talk About Your Final Plans. Locating important documents should be part of the conversation. If you want more ideas, email or call me.
Does your family own a car? If you are like most Americans, you also have a car loan. New car payments in America have crept above the $500 per month mark, (USA TODAY Peter Dunn, 2016). And the average length of a car loan was quoted as 68 months… nearly six years!
Yet very few families have a plan in place to pay the final expenses for each of them when they die. Death is not just a personal loss; it’s a financial crisis. Historically, the funeral industry did not offer financing. It was cash, check or charge – and someone related to the deceased needed to put up the money. Some have endured the embarrassment of a neighborhood car wash to raise money to bury a loved one. Others turn to online crowdfunding sources like GoFundMe to ask for contributions toward funeral expenses.
Websites such as Plumfund, YouCaring, ALittleHelp and HelpAFund are mentioning final expenses specifically in their statement of purpose. And a new company, Fund A Funeral, is working directly with funeral directors to help families finance merchandise and services at the time of need. But why wait?
There is a better way. Plan ahead. Just as you researched the car you planned to buy, and found good terms for your car loan… budget for final expenses and plan for the entire family. It won’t amount to saving $500 per month either!
Don’t leave your family without the means to provide final disposition: cremation or burial. Don’t expect your adult children to foot the bill. Don’t imagine that your young family won’t experience loss: death knows no age limits. And don’t leave your spouse to worry about paying the bill after you pass away. It’s not fair to impose such financial stress on top of grief.
If you need ideas about planning and saving for your final plans, contact me. Attend one of my presentations, or invite me to speak to your family or group.
Death has changed. And little by little, we are changing, too. Once a taboo topic, it’s being talked about more openly, more often. Machines are keeping us alive, for better or worse. Death is defined differently, regarded differently.
Californians now have End of Life legislation, thanks to Brittany Maynard’s outspoken courage.Hospice care means more people can die comfortably at home if they prefer. People are talking to their loved ones, using Advance Directives, detailing how they wish to spend their final days.
There are more books, radio segments, and Ted Talks about the quality of life when death is imminent. In Albuquerque, the Doyenne of Death, Gail Rubin, uses podcasts and hosts events that include humor and movie clips to get her audience comfortable with funeral planning.
Funerals are no longer somber events, exclusive to clergy. Celebrants and lay people conduct memorial services and celebrations of life, not just in houses of worship, but in community centers and backyards.
The formal suit and tie or frothy gown is no longer expected attire for the decedent. Instead, we honor our dead by dressing them in athletic uniforms, street wear, and clothing that had meaning during their lives. Dallas TX Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens had expressed his specific wishes long before he died. Instead of wearing a uniform and badge, he wanted to be buried in a T-shirt, shorts, and no shoes.
People are increasingly choosing cremation. Remains are made into jewelry, bookends, and meaningful mementoes. Others actively seek to donate their body to medical research and for teaching. Some want to return to the earth in a green burial. A few will have their remains shot into outer space.
People are attending Death Cafes, where they drink tea, eat cake, and share their thoughts and feelings about death. Communities around the world are using giant chalkboards and art installations in public spaces to generate conversation about death. The “Before I Die” wall gives people a chance to fill in the blank: “Before I Die I Want To…..” with a dream or a goal.
Death has changed. Have you changed your outlook on the subject?