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  • Writer's pictureArwen Rasmussen

What If You Were The One Left Behind?

By Katy Hacksworthy and Matt Thompson of Celebration of Life Center

My mother was the one in my family who took care of the organizational household tasks … paying the bills, balancing the checkbook, handling taxes, and insurance, to name a few.

When she died, my dad was at a loss, not only due to his grief but because he was completely unprepared to take over these responsibilities.

It took many weeks and months of searching through files and records to familiarize him with the things he needed to learn and get him comfortable managing everything on his own. The one positive was that my mom had completely pre-planned her funeral wishes so he at least had a personally prepared guide to follow in arranging her service of remembrance.

This is a scenario that plays out over and over again, although not always in the same way as my family experienced it. The one left behind could be a husband or a wife, a domestic partner, or any member of a relationship in which one person is committed to or is responsible for another.

In any case, when one person is the primary keeper of the finances, records, and important documents and doesn’t make a point of sharing with or educating the other, the loss of that person can leave the survivor in utter chaos trying to figure out how to handle everything.

Not only is it emotionally stressful and frightening, but it can also be financially detrimental when the survivors don’t have the proper information, documentation, or authority to do what needs to be done.

There are some simple but critical things that everyone can and should evaluate to prevent a situation like this from catching you unprepared.

These things are important no matter what your health circumstances are, but they become even more pressing if you or your loved one has received a diagnosis of a life-limiting disease or condition. Matt Thompson, the founder of Celebration of Life Center, emphasizes “when people today choose to pre-plan or pre-fund their funerals, the top reason, without a doubt, is to keep their loved ones from having to deal with the logistics themselves”.

Are your estate documents and financial accounts up to date and do they accurately reflect your current wishes and circumstances?

This would include wills, trusts, powers of attorney, deeds to properties, bank accounts, life insurance policies, investments, and other assets. How are these documents set up, who has ownership, who are the beneficiaries, and who has the authority to access these accounts? Each person’s situation might determine a different way to assign these things, so it is important to consult family members, your attorney, tax professional, or investment advisor on what is best for you.

Do you know or have easy access to pertinent family information, history, records, and contact information, including who should be notified in the event of a health crisis or death?

You will need to provide your loved one’s social security number, parents’ names (including mother’s maiden name), employment, education, and military service information in order to complete a death certificate (certified copies of a death certificate will be needed to close out or transfer ownership of most financial accounts and assets). Current, up-to-date contact information should also be available for relatives, close personal friends, and other significant people in your loved one’s life.

Has your loved one shared their thoughts regarding how they want their final wishes carried out, including a living will/advance directives and funeral/burial arrangements?

This conversation is probably the most difficult and emotionally challenging of all, especially if it takes place when someone has received a terminal diagnosis. Nonetheless, taking the opportunity to discuss your wishes provides a great deal of peace of mind not only for you but for your family as well, allowing all of you the opportunity to connect, share and get on the same page while you can still provide valuable input. On the more practical end, “people pre-fund funerals to protect their money from things like nursing homes or family conflict”. Additionally, Thompson, whose funeral home price guarantee is decided upon at the time of pre-funding & pre-planning funerals, emphasizes the benefits of that route, saying “this guarantee is just as important as following the individual’s wishes - the consumer wins, the funeral home wins, and the family wins”.

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