Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows that my wife, Sarah, is not only my best friend, but the rock upon which our family relies in countless ways. A day doesn’t go by when she doesn’t do something amazing for me or for our family, whether it’s finding energy and time to play actively with our kids after a long day of work, giving me a squeeze when I need it most, or simply taking care of something that needs done, handling it quietly and without complaint. I love her more than I ever thought it was possible to love a person.
Yet no amount of love or care can stop a drunk driver from smashing into her as she drives home from work. Nothing I can do can prevent her from getting hit by a sleeping truck driver or having a brain aneurysm.
The simple fact is that she’s human, and humans are fragile. There is some significant chance that she could suddenly pass away or contract an illness that takes her from me before her time. (The reverse is true as well, of course.)
Is there anything I can do now to prepare for a world without Sarah?
Life insurance is the obvious first step. A term policy large enough to make sure that the relative quality of my children’s lives is disrupted as little as possible is a must. We have a policy on Sarah that replaces ten years of her take-home income.
That just scratches the surface, though. I would be left with a home filled with things of hers, many of which I would not want to keep. Yes, I would want to keep all of the mementos and family photos, but what about her old clothes? Her piles of yarn from her crocheting? Her books in genres that don’t interest me?
The best approach is to simply talk about what she would want done with those things. There are items she would like to see donated to charity. Other items would go to specific friends and family members.
These are things that you could write in a will, but even a very up-to-date will is going to miss many items. It’s just as important that I understand what she wants, as well.
I’m in the process of documenting all of these wishes and things, just as a precautionary measure. It’s a painful thing to do because it requires me to think a bit about an inevitablity I dread, but it’s well worth doing.
I remember the difficulties that my grandfather went through when my grandmother died. In a lot of ways, he was pretty much lost. He was overwhelmed emotionally by the loss and the constant reminder of her things was a constant challenge for him. He simply didn’t know what to do with the things, and it wasn’t long before his health began to fail him, too.
I’ve witnessed similar things with couples that had been together for a large portion of their lives. When one of them leaves, it devastates the other in a very deep way.
Our effort in documenting her wishes for her belongings (and my own, regarding belongings and other things she would not want to keep) is as much for me as it is for her. It gives her the peace of mind of knowing that her important things will wind up with the people she cares about.
What it gives me, though, is a blueprint. It gives me a list to follow at a time when I might not be emotionally capable of making good decisions about our items. I don’t have to think about what Sarah would want. I would know what she wanted, and I could just follow the instructions.
I don’t have to wonder what I should do with her clothes or her personal items. I can go through them on my own time and when the emotional wave hits me, I don’t have to make rash decisions. I can rely on the documents I have to guide me to exactly the place that Sarah would want me to go.
Estate planning goes beyond just life insurance and funeral expenses. There are lives that go on after you pass away, ones that will be deeply impacted by the loss of you. They deserve to be taken care of.
It’s a painful task, but it’s one that’s filled with love. I look at these things as gifts that will aid us through an incredibly trying time in our lives if it should ever come to pass. It will keep us from making emotional mistakes and, hopefully, give us something to guide us through those days.