The loss of a loved one is difficult - the time after such a loss, even more so. Waves of denial, great sadness, anger, and depression can come and go for months. To make matters worse, this time is typically encumbered by the significant number of decisions required to address your loved one's affairs. The decisions are many and the consequences often significant. Hastily made decisions and inadequately implemented actions can cause great angst and the loss of the critical resources of time and money. If you are like most, the cost of a few poor decisions can dramatically limit ones available choices in calmer periods further down the road of life.
The management of this period of time subsequent to the loss of a loved one is referred to as survivorship. Though never painless, survivorship can be made significantly easier. The key to survivorship is the old mantra of "proper prior planning". Such preparation should take the administrative form of a personal contingency plan. A well thought out plan, created in a more thoughtful time, can provide a roadmap to be followed that can quell frustration, reduce time, and save significant amounts of money.
A personal contingency plan is created be completing five essential actions. The first order of business is the collection of essential information. Organizing this
information and supporting documentation is the second essential activity. Third, is the creation of administrative vehicles essential for one's estate management. Next, determine and document your personal wishes regarding your remains and your estate. Finally, layout a decision making path and supporting finances to be executed by your spouse or executor upon your death. Although a great many other issues can and should be addressed in the course of such planning, these five activities are the most essential.
The contents of such a plan needs to address a significant number of questions in eight important categories: Personal Information, Estate Planning, Financial Assets, Financial Liabilities, Physical Property, Benefits, Professional Services, and a smattering of miscellaneous topics. Documentation of critical information and decisions made should be made in each of these areas. Such guidance should answer many, many questions similar to a few examples provided:
- Location of our birth certificates?
- Do we want a burial or cremation?
- Do we have a will on file?
- Do we need a trust?
- How would we pay for a funeral?
- Should an IRA be accessed immediately?
- Is our mortgage protected by a death benefit?
- How is each of our bills paid?
- Would we still need both cars?
- Do we have any special bequeaths?
- Does our medical coverage continue after the death of my spouse?
- Would we be eligible for any social security benefits?
- How much can we reduce costs by canceling subscriptions?
- How might member organizations help during this time?
- Who might want our dog?
- Who should receive our genealogy records?
The development of a personal contingency plan for survivorship need not be a somber one. In fact, many find the open discussion required to create a comprehensive contingency plan to be a release. Wishes are communicated, future conflicts resolved, and gaps in personal estate plans are identified and addressed. The most significant benefits of such planning are threefold. The first is the peace of mind attained knowing a plan exists incase of the worst-case scenario. The second, is the identification of gaps in survivorship planning - there are numerous issues in each of the eight categories above that if left unaddressed can create uncertainty and stress. Addressing these gaps can save significant time and dollars down the road - a time when resources will be ever more important. A gap in estate planning alone can result in the loss of many thousands of dollars. Finally, a plan for survivorship provides a predetermined course of action for the survivor or executor which can be followed to reduce angst and improve decision making. Sound decision making reduces time, frustration, prevents mistakes, and saves valuable resources.
There are also collateral benefits of creating and maintaining such a contingency plan. Many struggle to find a systematic approach to organizing critical information and retaining key documentation. The exercise in preparation can help organize thinking, data and administration. Vehicles, such as the Survivor Guide, can provide help with this critical function.
These are uncertain times. Terrorist attacks have threatened our homeland. Our loved ones are serving in the armed forces on distant shores. Hurricanes and floods have ravaged whole regions of our country. Now more then ever we need to be able to quickly collect and mobilize key information and documentation. Lost information can often result in financial losses and administrative delays more significant than that incurred by the loss of home or property for survivors of these natural disasters. The opportunity to reach out and take with you essential information and documentation is a significant collateral benefit of survivorship planning.
Preparation is the key here. The more one plans beforehand the easier the transition through the life's most challenging events will be. Life is most certainly going to throw us curve balls. We must plan for those we leave behind. Survivor planning is a comforting gift to those we love.
Robert and Elaine Fisher are founders and owners of the Survivor Guide LLC. Their patented product, The Survivor GuideTM planning system, is a personal contingency plan for the inevitable passing of a loved one. The Survivor Guide provides a supporting structure, essential guidance and administrative tools to help in the development of such a plan. You can find them and the Survivor Guide at www.thesurvivorguide.com