My father passed away seven years ago. He was 93 when he died, but his mind started deteriorating six years before that. Alzheimer’s stealthily stole the essence of who he was, and watching him lose a step here and there was painful for our entire family. We were very close and I miss him every day. My dad would have preferred to die of a heart attack while enjoying a long walk but, as it turned out, he had a long time to consider what was just over the horizon. A loving and conscientious husband and father, he thought carefully about the comfort and safety of his wife and family after he was gone.
Among the many wonderful gifts my dad gave my mom, my siblings, and me was a thick file labeled “What If.” Compiled when he learned he might soon be unable to manage his affairs, the file contained important information we would need when he was gone. This included everything from his funeral and burial wishes, to details on his finances, to a list of important advisors such as his attorney and accountant. He told us how he wanted his funeral service to flow, who should speak, even that women should wear brightly-colored dresses and men should wear ties.
My dad’s What If file contained passwords we would need, banking and personal property information, account numbers, and instructions on how to find the things we would need to handle his estate and move on. He furnished information about his life insurance policies, such as company names and policy numbers. Knowing what was to come, he left advanced directives instructing us specifically under what circumstances he would want to be treated for medical conditions and when to let him go. With his What If file my father even reminded us that he had given each of us jewelry and cherished items when he was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and expressed his personal thoughts and wishes for each of us and our children.
Did he forget to include anything? After spending several years working on his list, my dad covered nearly everything we needed to know. After he passed away the What If file was with us every step of the way.
The Sh*t Show: Your Client Who Lets Things Slide
My dad was meticulous in covering all of his bases, but he knew, and had the courage to face, what was coming. Sadly, many of our clients refuse to acknowledge that death could be right around the corner for anyone, postponing preparation for some amorphous time in the future. Millions of people paint this sad self-portrait. In 35 years of working with insurance agents and their clients, I’ve seen too many people neglect to leave useful instructions for family and executors, afraid of even mentioning what is inevitable for all of us. In the aftermath, I’ve seen those they left behind struggle to handle everything from settling an estate to notifying their friends and social media connections of their passing. Where do we find the healthcare proxy, the advanced directive, the will? If she never expressed her wishes, should we keep a loved one alive once there is no chance of recovery? Where did he keep the burial plot deed? A safe deposit box could contain a fortune in jewelry or gold coins, or the original will; in most states you cannot get through probate without an original will (a will should never be kept in a safe deposit box, but that’s a different article). How can we use a safe deposit box key if we have no clue what bank holds the box? What do we do about credit cards, debt, auto leases, business interests? If we can’t find login information, social media accounts may remain active indefinitely, and every year Facebook followers will be reminded to wish the deceased a happy and fun birthday.
Clients neglecting to update, and share, their plans risk their estates ending up very different from what they thought they’d planned. When the loved one dies the family searches frantically and often unsuccessfully for online banking and investment information. In such a situation, an ex-spouse or former business partner might still be the beneficiary of life insurance (and thrilled with the oversight). If there are no contingent beneficiaries designated, the courts might have to decide who receives the insurance.
“I’m Dead. Now What?”
Death comes to all of us—the only question is when. As insurance advisors we know there is nothing more important than helping our clients plan for it. To be a great insurance adviser, part of your job is also to look out for the peace of mind of your clients and, by extension, their loved ones. I’m Dead. Now What? is the quirky title for one of several peace-of-mind planners (a few have toned-down titles such as What To Do When I Die). You enter the information in the guided planner and make sure your loved ones know where to find it. Like my dad’s What If file, these volumes foster a sensible approach to organizing a person’s legal matters, health directives, financial affairs, estate documents, personal instructions, and more. The books suggest you make provisions for pets, insert personal letters to loved ones, and outline charitable donations that you would like made in your memory. I’m Dead. Now What? has a section titled, “What to Pay, Close and Cancel,” with space for providing the account and contact numbers for credit card companies, utilities, landlines and cell phones. In the life insurance section there is space to list each policy with the name of the insurance company, the face amount of insurance, the policy number, who the beneficiary(ies) are and in what percentage, and customer service or claims phone numbers. (Note—no insurer will require a beneficiary to produce the original policy.)
A Practical Gift
What an impact you would make if you gave each client this valuable gift of an organizer like I’m Dead. Now What? For about the price of a bottle of Merlot, you can set a spark that can lead to an in-depth conversation that may naturally flow to estate planning topics such as keeping wills and life insurance up to date, correct ownership and beneficiary designations, annuities, and funding for long term care needs. If you want to be an exceptional insurance advisor, take the leap and talk to your clients about preparing their loved ones for their final days, even if they are in fine health now.