3 Ways to Prepare for Death: Lessons Learned from my Late Father
As I write this I’m 31 years old and I’m dying.
No, I’m not sick. I’m not fatally wounded. I’m just human and humans die. My dad just did, he was 57 years old.
Now, I’m not trying to be a downer. I love life. I’m grateful for my health. But I know, one unknown day, my time on Earth will end. I will die and I’m generally okay with that.
Guess what? You will, too.
I get you might not want to think about your inevitable death or that of a loved one. Trust me, I’d rather write and think about how cute my dogs are, how awesome my wife Andrea is, and how much I’m enjoying our little family.
But death is what I’m dealing with right now and it’s been taking up nearly all of my mental real estate.
My dad didn’t prepare for his death and, if I’m being honest, his lack of preparation has made dealing with his death much harder. I’m not angry or bitter towards my dad, it’s just that Andrea and I are worn out.
The good news is, I’ve learned a lot from our recent experience and how woefully under-prepared Andrea and I and our loved ones were for our own deaths. Even better news, I’m not such a selfish jerk to keep it to myself.
There are things we can do, I think, to make death easier to deal with for ourselves and/or for those we leave behind. So whether you’re thinking about your own mortality or that of your loved ones, here are the things my wife and I have in place, or will shortly, that can help make dealing with death a bit easier.
A couple years ago, Andrea and I read Dave Ramsey’s “The Legacy Journey.” Probably the most practical take away from the book was the idea of a “Legacy Box.” The idea being to take all of your important, relevant information together and put it in a safe box, folder, drawer…whatever…for your loved ones to find upon your death.
Life Insurance policy? Goes in the box.
Deed to the house? Goes in the box.
Titles to the cars? Goes in the box.
Last Will and Testament? Goes in the box.
Bank account information, online logins and passwords, emergency points-of-contact, tax information, etc? Goes in the box.
My dad didn’t have a legacy box and wasn’t organized in any way that made sense to Andrea and I. So we spent the days immediately following his death tearing his house apart, opening old mail, thumbing through binders…making a huge mess of things trying to find a Will and reconstruct his life and estate.
It was hard, time-consuming, draining work stacked on top of an already emotionally tough time.
With a “Legacy Box” or whatever you want to call it, we could’ve skipped “the world’s worst escape room.” We could’ve used our time to mourn, memorialize my dad, and try to heal. So think of a “Legacy Box” as a final act of love, to insulate loved ones from excess stress.
Estate Planning: Pay Now or Pay Later
Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer nor do I play one on the internet, so don’t just take my word for it. This is simply what I’ve found through my own experience. Check this advice with a qualified professional. Besides, Estate Law varies state to state, country to country so my experience might not be analogous to what you can expect.
My dad died without a Will, meaning we have to go through a full Probate Court process. It’s a staggering amount of bureaucracy to deal with. But a Will on it’s own is not enough. A Will more or less just tells the Probate Court what to do, within the limits of the law.
Instead, look into pairing a Will with a Revocable or Living Trust. A Revocable/Living Trust is like magic, legal box you put all your stuff in.
House? Goes in the box.
Cars? Goes in the box.
Bank accounts, investments, jewelry? Goes in the box.
While you’re alive, you control the box and can make any changes you want to it and do whatever you’d like with the stuff in the box. When you die, a Will would then say who’s allowed to reach in and take things out of your magic, legal box and how they’re allowed to use them.
The benefit? Nearly instantaneous transfer of ownership, whereas Probate Court can take months or years to sort things out.
Why does this matter, besides being convenient?
It’s expensive when someone dies. There’s medical bills, funeral arrangements, burial/cremation, memorial services, travel costs, etc. It adds up quick and pretty much all of which need to be paid immediately. We’ve been shown a great deal of kindness and generosity in the six weeks since my dad died, and yet Andrea and I have shelled out ~$12,000 of our own money and counting.
What about life insurance or other death benefits, you ask? They take time to pay out and by the time you get anything from them, the bills will have already piled up.
A Will paired with a Trust reduces the likelihood of survivors reaching into their own pockets to pay for the deceased’s final expenses. Or, if nothing else, it can get them paid back quicker.
Not to mention all the time and expense saved by skipping the Probate process altogether!
The craziest thing I realized about Estate planning and Estate Law? Setting up a Will/Trust combo costs roughly the same (or less!) as hiring an attorney to deal with Probate Court. Might as well sort this stuff out while you’re still alive and save your loved ones’ the headache. I certainly wish my dad did.
As much as I miss him, I wish my dad took the time to confront his own mortality while he was still alive. Heck, I would’ve happily paid for his estate plan…I’m paying for it now anyway.
Emergency Fund to the Rescue
Yes, you read that right a couple paragraphs ago.
Andrea and I have paid out ~$12,000 of our own money in the six weeks since my dad died. The average funeral in North America costs between $7,000 and $10,000. Add travel costs, legal fees, etc…you get the picture.
So just in case I haven’t made this point clear enough yet, dealing with the death of a loved one is expensive. It can be a huge, stressful burden that can last long after the funeral, if you’re not prepared.
Thankfully, Andrea and I were prepared. We had an Emergency Fund we could use to pay for all this stuff and you should, too.
The last thing you’ll want to do when mourning is worry about going broke. Or if you’re the dead one, I’d hope you’d want to spare your family the fear of going broke.
A Hard Lesson
My dad was the first parent either Andrea or I have lost and we know he won’t be the last.
Andrea and I have since talked to our surviving parents to make sure they’re at least organized and thinking about an estate plan. We don’t care if they leave everything to Mickey Mouse, we just don’t want to repeat our messy experience dealing my dad’s death.
I’d encourage you to do the same. I’m going to die. You’re going to die. Everyone of our loved ones are going to die.
Death is inevitable, but a lot of the crap that comes with it doesn’t have to be.
What have I missed? How have you learned from/prepared for death?
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