Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Love Letter You Must Send Your Children

Having recently lost my mom I've experienced first-hand how the days after losing a parent is a blur of emotions and things to do. Emotions you often can't wrap your head around, urgent decisions to make and the list of new responsibilities are overwhelming. 

As a single mom, it will be my daughter in this situation one day. In her case she won't just have to deal with losing me, she will instantly inherit the care, oversight and decision making for her special needs sibling. An overwhelming task for a parent much less a sibling, who is grieving too.

Like each of you I've been thinking about this for years and I constantly ask myself "how can I minimize the burden that will fall on her beautiful shoulders?" And here is what I've come up with so far.  Despite my always telling my kids, not to worry I'm going to live a very long time; I finally got real with myself and found a way to talk with my daughter about my death without scaring her. We talk about death in a loving and matter of fact manner, like any milestone we were planning for, a "one-day" thing. I laugh when I say "We both no one get's out of here alive". I am always telling her I love her and it's my responsibility to prepare. I can't take away the pain or the burden, but I can do all I can to ease the burden when the day comes”.  What I have found is that in talking she knows I understand what she is going to inherit as it relates to Nick, and that I love her and want to do everything in my power to help them both. I can tell it helps her, because she hears that I'm thinking not just about Nick but about her, and she get's the reassurance of knowing there is a plan. 

Perhaps most important of all is that I talk to my daughter all the time about what I'm planning and what to do when that day comes. I routinely tell her where things are, from my burial/funeral plans, how to get money right away, what insurance policies I have, and I check in with her routinely to make sure she remembers. 

No one likes to think about their own death, much less imagine the day we won't be here to care for our children, but the day will come.  And the thing I want to share most is no matter what your plan is, no matter how simple or complex I hope you will take the time and write an ‘I Love You Letter’ sooner than later. An "I Love You Letter" is essentially an easy-to-read guide to our personal wishes combined with the sort of practical and financial information survivors are too often left scrambling to find. In addition to all the plans and conversation I've written one for her and she will get it when the time comes.  And in my case my letter includes encouragement and gratitude for having the best daughter ever!

Also, writing an I Love You Letter can strengthen the  your estate plan if you have one. Because while your will should spell out what you want to happen to your assets and other items, it can take weeks or months after you pass for the legal process to start. In the case of my mom who had a will and a trust it will be almost one year before her estate is settled, and I'm told that is a good scenario. Although not a binding legal document, an I Love You letter can provide certainty in an uncertain time and help bridge the information gap in the early days while your will winds its way through the court system.  

Writing your letter
Aside from any personal messages you would like to deliver to your bereaved friends and relatives, the well-conceived I Love You Letter relays information concerning any important documents as well as account numbers and contact information for bank, brokerage or other financial accounts. For example, do you have a locked safe? Let your loved ones know where it is and the combination. What about insurance? Use your letter to notify family members of any policies, policy numbers and whom to contact to make a claim. To ensure that your estate doesn’t end up intestate — a situation in which a court decides what to do with your assets because your heirs aren’t aware of your will — include the name of your accountants, attorneys or financial advisors and directions on where to find the latest version of your will.   In may case, I have designed a single person, who Evyn knows, as the one who has copies of ALL the important documents listed above so she only needs to make one call. 
Given Nicholas will always require a guardian, and he has an extensive medical, therapeutic and educational history I have created a file called "Care of Nicholas Jones" that details everything from preferences for their future custody and upbringing to medical history, current medications, caregivers, caseworkers. 
Finally, don’t forget to list your email and social media account passwords in your letter. This will make it easier for your family to tie up any loose ends and protect your identity after your death.
 Delivering your letter
Address the letter to one person – your spouse, a sibling, adult child or trusted friend, and leave it where it will be easy for them to find. For example, you may want to put your letter in an envelope with a name on it and place it in a bedside table or send it by email for them to keep. Remember, you are doing this out of an abundance of caution. Hopefully, your I Love You Letter will not be needed for many years. If that is the case, return to it at least once a year, perhaps around tax time when much of this information is already top of mind, to update account numbers, add new ones and get rid of accounts that are no longer active. An outdated letter may cause more confusion than no letter at all.
 A gift of clarity
For you, in the here and now, a letter provides the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’ve covered all your bases and done everything in your power to establish stability rather than chaos in a situation in which otherwise you will be completely powerless. 
 For those who live on after you are gone, an I Love You Letter bestows the gift of clarity. And when your loved ones are forced to scramble to figure out the basics, there won’t be the sort of questions about finances and bequests that can sometimes, in moments of stress and emotion, boil over into arguments. There won’t be long, exhausting sessions sifting through drawers and boxes and under the bed for that single piece of paper with that one account number. There won’t be struggles to remember the foggy details of a long ago conversation about “What if…?”
 Instead, they’ll have more time to come to terms with their loss and begin the mourning process — fully understanding they can do so because of an act of foresight and love you undertook while there was still time.

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