I have a mission: to create a truly comprehensive end-of-life checklist for my clients.
Over the years, I have discussed end-of-life planning with my clients. Their prior planning, if any, has been universally spotty. Why? In many cases, it’s because they have an aversion to facing the inevitability of death.
While folks generally understand that they should prepare a will, how many do so? Beyond this basic document, how many consider a durable power of attorney and/or a health care proxy?
There are books and websites available to provide guidance, but most are limited in their scope or the information they provide is out of date. For example, a financial planner may have a checklist that covers investments, bank accounts and insurance but includes nothing about shutoff valves in the home or the location of keys or who has access to the safe-
deposit box. An attorney will provide legal documents but will not give advice on how to determine the radon level in the home.
And it isn’t just the thought of death that inhibits end-of-life planning. Just tackling the subject is daunting. Where does one begin? What portion of the planning should be addressed early on? If the planning is for parents, are they willing to engage in the discussion? Are they mentally capable of doing so? Are there family squabbles?
Neglecting to address end-of-life planning doesn’t mean there isn’t a plan. But it’s usually just a hodgepodge plan. It’s like dying without a will (intestate). The state will direct who gets your assets. And without a written end-of-life plan, you leave your loved ones with a steep learning curve and questions that may never be answered.
So, referring to the Montaigne quote below, I have identified a package of checklists and added my thoughts based on 45-plus years of experience in helping others with insurance, financial matters and personal planning. Consider me the “string” of this effort.
A Love Letter
I consider my personal end-of-life plan to be a “love letter” to those I leave behind. The plan says that in addition to the material and financial legacy, I wanted to try to answer all the inevitable questions that would arise at my death.
Brief story — some years ago, Mary came to my office. Her husband had recently died. While I had no insurance or business relationship with her, she sought my advice. Her responsibility in the marriage essentially had been to cook and clean. Her husband handled the rest and now, lacking a host of details, she was faced with a required IRS estate tax submission. And she was distraught!
Life shouldn’t be that way. And it won’t be if your clients prepare your own “love letters.”
Another brief story — the father of a friend was forthcoming about end-of-life details before his death. He even showed his daughter the secret hiding place in the basement where he kept his safe-
deposit box key. Had he not done that, she would have been unaware of the existence of a safe-deposit box. On the other hand, it was two months after his death before she found his will.
The number of “gray divorces,” divorces of those ages 50 years and older, has increased significantly in recent years, according to Pew Research. If there are no children of the marriage, who will be available to handle end-of-life issues? Who will be the executor?
My younger sister, a widow, lives three states away from me. As her executor, I face challenges that are compounded by distance and her aversion to using a computer. At my urging, she did purchase a filing cabinet to organize her documents. And I have talked to the professionals who serve her — accountant, lawyer, property/casualty agent and stockbroker.
How does an insurance or financial professional get started in end-of-life planning? First of all, recognize that this subject is a very personal matter. You aren’t just discussing life insurance, for example. You are reviewing the individual’s whole personal “landscape.” They need to feel comfortable with you.
When someone wants to engage me on end-of-life planning, I let them know that the first meeting might take a couple of hours. There might be subsequent meetings and/or telephone conversations. I ask them to bring relevant documents for my review, with the understanding that I am not an attorney or investment advisor giving professional advice.
They will be advised that I am fee-based, based on total time spent, face-to-face or otherwise. At the end of the engagement, I will prepare a summary of my suggestions for them. A typical engagement might consist of an initial two-hour meeting, another hour on the phone, and an hour reviewing documents and preparing a summary. Each situation has its own pattern.
Done professionally, this planning can lead to spin-offs such as life and/or long-term care insurance sales. That said, keep in mind the reason for the engagement, and focus on that. You are consulting, not selling.
Checklist and Documents
What documents do I include? Executor’s checklist, guidelines on selecting nursing homes and continuing-care retirement centers, funeral pre-planning, filing systems, etc. And I include a checklist on items to be considered around the home, items such as location of the breaker box, gas main and the water shutoff valve. Is there any mold? When was the radon level last checked?
Almost everyone would like help with documents and guidance in their preparation. But that begs questions. What documents? Where are they found? To whom might I turn for comprehensive guidance? In providing the “string,” I believe I have answered these questions.
Ultimately, no plan can be truly complete. After all, memories occasionally fail. Addresses change. Focus changes. However, with a comprehensive approach, updating a plan is easier. In one package, loved ones will find guidance on personal, business, legal, financial and health care information, calming advice during a stressful process. It is, after all, a love letter.
For the moment, step away from the poetic love letter motif. In addition to considering your clients’ situations, consider your own real-world situations or, for the moment, one of mine. My son is my executor. So identified in my will, he could probably gain access to my safe-
deposit box. However, additional documentation with the bank gives him immediate, assured access. My suggestion? Talk to your bank about your own situation. Now would be a good time.
Try to imagine the questions your loved ones will have after your death. Then provide the answers now. You will feel better, and so will those you leave behind. They will know that you cared.
End-of-Life Planning — Some Questions
Comprehensive end-of-life planning includes much more than a will, a durable power of attorney and a health care proxy. It needs to include matters concerning the home, the friends, pets, funeral arrangements, the business and obituary.
For example, you have a beloved pet. How old is the pet? What medicines does it take? What food does it eat? How is its health? What is the veterinarian’s contact information?
Some other questions:
• Are you a member of a gym? Any organizations?
• What email accounts do you have?
• What social media accounts do you have?
• What are their passwords?
Think of planning this way: What questions will your spouse or children ask when you are no longer able to provide answers?
Edward C. Auble, CLU, ChFC, MSFS, LUTCF, is the owner of Auble Financial, Paoli, Pa. Ed may be contacted at [email protected]