Get your affairs in order before it is too late
By David J. Zumpano
Recently, while reading the obituaries, I saw that Jeff, my neighbor’s father, died at the age of 78.
While viewed as somewhat ordinary, it immediately made me flash back to my childhood and growing up in a neighborhood of over 25 kids, 10 of which were myself and my siblings and seven were Jeff and his wife, Lorraine’s, all the same age as one of us.
We grew up in the ‘70s playing kick the can, red rover, red light/green light and many other outdoor games to keep ourselves busy. There were no video games in those days.
With Jeff dying, it symbolized the end of an era we see as the “good old days” when you can relate back to where you came from and appreciate the simple things. I made it a point to visit Lorraine and her children, several of whom I was still casually in touch with, to express my condolences.
Unfortunately for Lorraine, she not only had to deal with the loss of her husband of 55 years, but also had to deal with the tremendous unknown of having to maintain her life without him. You see, Jeff did everything. He paid the bills, managed the finances, and handled all the financial responsibilities of the household, while Lorraine managed the family. Lorraine did not even know how much money they made each month. She was unsure of what bills had to be paid and she was scared to figure it all out now, without her most important ally with her.
As an estate-planning attorney, the family naturally started to ask me questions, which began with, what we in the business often refer to as, “the morbid scavenger hunt.” That is, the hunt for information after someone has passed to try and figure out what was being done.
Left in the dark
They were unaware of insurance policies, financial accounts, bank accounts, and in fact, Lorraine did not even have power of attorney for Jeff in his final phase of life. Exacerbating this very stressful time leading up to Jeff’s death and after his passing was the unknown and the additional fear created by it.
Do you know someone like Lorraine? The truth is, estate planning is ensuring you have a plan in place to handle the legal and financial matters while you are alive and healthy, after you become disabled, and after you pass.
Ultimately, a properly drawn estate plan will also provide for a smooth transition after the passing and, most importantly, avoid family fights.
Lucky for Lorraine, I am an estate-planning attorney and do this every day of my life. And because I have a strong affinity to her, I was willing to sit in her kitchen and go through information with her and her children to try to assemble the past, resolving all the unknowns.
We began calls to the insurance companies and some miscellaneous names she had given me all to try to discover the pieces and parts that made up her financial life. The good news is we are making headway; but it didn’t have to be this stressful.
I feel for Lorraine and I encourage those of you who are not actively involved in your estate to begin the journey of knowledge now to alleviate the unnecessary pain created by the unknown after the pain of losing your loved one.