If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we’re all much more vulnerable than we imagined. People of all ages were affected, not just seniors – as we saw with strong, young athletes in prime health.
Among our friends and family, we witnessed the devastation that comes with the loss of life. In addition to the forced social distancing among loved ones, that loss was often compounded further by couples and individuals who had not prepared in advance for the unexpected curve ball of a deadly virus.
Let’s not forget the lessons COVID-19 taught us.
Looking at the unknown
People in America are optimistic by nature, living in a dynamic, forward-looking culture that makes it particularly challenging to deal willingly with the end of life. If we can’t visualize ourselves or our loved ones being gone, we are truly dealing with the unknown.
The consequences of the unknown can be minimized by having two conversations. The first conversation entails organizing your financial life and tying up all the loose ends left after we’re gone. Fortunately, people working with financial advisors and estate planners will likely have that conversation. They’ll be encouraged to plan not only for financial continuity – but for a streamlined transition as well – in the case of death. Preparedness entails having in place, among other things:
- All vital documents and authorizations
- Paid-up insurance and other protective policies
- Updated beneficiaries
- Correctly titled assets
- Contact information for all priority service providers
- Precise, unambiguous succession plans
- Tax-minimizing estate-structuring mechanisms
While all those preparations are essential, because of their nature, many can be put in place through a process that is more in the head than in the heart. There are forms to be filled out, formulas to follow, and enough legalese to keep the discussions from becoming too intimate or emotional.
However, being prepared involves more than just financial issues. It involves a layer of arrangements far more personal – and sensitive.
It deals with how we each want to be celebrated and remembered – the subject of a second conversation.
Having the other conversation
Whether you are a wife, a husband, a parent, a child, a sibling or a best friend, an invaluable gift you can leave your loved ones is clarity on your wishes regarding all the immediate steps that follow your death. These may seem like uncomfortable topics, but they don’t have to be morbid. They can result from a conversation shared with someone else or with yourself – ideally when you are in total health. The outcome can provide immeasurable gratitude and relief to loved ones that you thought to take this step for them.
The information you gather can be stored in a physical or digital folder somewhere one or more people around you know where to look. In that folder, you’ll want to place the following:
- Your life story with enough detail and facts since you know your story the best. It can be updated periodically and will save others the task of looking for graduation dates, job titles, and full names of all significant relatives. You’re not writing your obituary. Instead, you’re providing the details and key points you’d like to be remembered for – and making the obituary-writing task far easier for whoever is assigned it.
- A high-resolution photo that you would like to have used in publications or in a memorial service program. Over time, you may want to update this photo.
- Your burial arrangements for something as regulated as a military funeral to something as straightforward as donating your body to science. These decisions are yours alone and shouldn’t be left for grieving family members to weigh and decide. All documents, including burial plot and funeral home contracts, should be in the folder and, hopefully, only require a few phone calls to implement.
- Your service preferences if you choose to have one held. While services are mostly to comfort the living, your wishes are vital if the service is to reflect you and your personality – your religious or secular preferences, the venue, your chosen eulogist, favorite songs or hymns.
- Your updated “please notify” list with contact information – full names, relationships, email addresses and phone numbers – of all the friends, family members and others you would like to be notified of your passing.
The contents of the folder will hopefully not be needed for many years. But when they are, those around you will be dealing with multiple emotions, some of them unexpected. What you generate by having that “other conversation” can be a gift to those who love you most at a time you can’t be there to hold their hand.
At WH Cornerstone, we help our clients prepare for the first conversation – about financial preparations – through our Curve Ball Life Planning™ program. At the same time, we’re ready to provide you with resources to help you with the “other conversation.” Take action today on planning for these important conversations.
This article originally appeared in the Old Colonial Memorial.