A story from Courage Does Not Always Roar.
"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."
- Benjamin Franklin
Sometimes we can get blindsided by the events that happen in our lives. Certified Financial Planner Rebecca Kennell shares the story of two of her clients, Pam and Tom, whose lack of planning could have been averted with the courage to take responsibility for the future.
Both in their fifties, Pam and Tom had not really done any long-term financial planning. Theirs was a second marriage, and Tom knew he should have a will or trust, but somehow he just didn't get around to it. Soon after Tom and Pam's meeting with Rebecca, Tom had a bicycle accident. The resulting x-rays revealed lung cancer and he passed away three months later, with the will kit still in the closet.
Without a will, a bitter probate battle developed. Tom and Pam had only been married a year and a half and the life insurance policy that Tom held listed his daughter, rather than Pam, as beneficiary. The result? Probate lasted two years, causing Pam a great deal of stress and costing her $30,000 in court costs. Suffering from a lack of sleep and distraught by the double impact of the death of her spouse and fighting with his daughter, Pam finally turned to anti-depressants to help balance herself emotionally. She developed physical effects, ranging from skin rashes to stomach problems - she was a mess, both physically and emotionally. Tom's death caused her deep heartache and presented problems she was never prepared to handle.
Pam was not very sophisticated financially when she married Tom, and he was just beginning to teach her about his assets when he passed away. She didn't bring a lot of assets or income to the marriage and mistakenly felt she didn't then have the "right" to discuss these topics. This is an error Rebecca sees many times in counseling clients. "If you are entering into a marriage partnership, you not only have a 'right' to discuss all of these topics, you should discuss them to avoid any future miscommunication," Rebecca advises.
Although Pam felt overwhelmed by this extremely stressful situation, she swallowed her pride and became wiser financially and stronger physically. She began to take charge of her own financial future - learning what to fight for in probate and what to let go of. Even more importantly, with Rebecca's help, she became financial savvy ... understanding her assets and setting up her own trust.
"A lot of people are in denial about end-of-life planning," said Rebecca. "But that really turns out to be a selfish decision, one that leaves everyone around you having to make very hard choices. Sometimes it starts disagreements that can last for a generation."
Not only did Pam have to make end of life decisions for Tom, she had to deal with his daughter and an ex-wife who was still very angry at Tom for their divorce two years earlier. The best gift you can give your loved ones is putting your plan in place so there's no guesswork or disagreement in an emotionally stressful time.
Rebecca suggests taking small steps to protect your future. "It's important to be prepared," said Rebecca. "It can start with something as small as getting organized - having file folders and putting beneficiary information in a file for both spouses to share. Sometimes it just takes one spouse stating the obvious to get the conversation started, 'If something happens, I'll need to take over for the two of us. If I can't find things, they might be lost forever.'"
Smart planning doesn't only relate to end of life decisions. "While no one goes into marriage thinking about divorce, it's something that affects a lot of couples in this country," says Rebecca. "Women lose a lot of their inheritance though death or divorce when documents aren't updated." As one of our clients said, "I don't want to be sad and broke."
Death and divorce are highly emotional times. It takes courage to take the long view and protect yourself for the future before these events happen. Death is inevitable and divorce affects millions every year. As Rebecca says, "You can't stick your head in the sand and think that it won't happen to me."