Recently, I was fortunate enough to listen to Cameron Huddelston, author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk, during a live presentation on “How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances”. It was fantastic.
Cameron knows how to make an awkward and not so fun topic interesting and easily understandable. We’ve reviewed her book on Women Who Money and highly recommend it so I won’t go into many details about it here.
Instead, what I want to do today is stress the importance of having these “money conversations” with others in your life too.
Because accidents happen. People die too young. And cancer, dementia, and a whole lot of other diseases suck.
We know it’s inevitable we will all die someday. And we can expect to handle the final affairs of our parents or a spouse when that day comes for them. We also know one day someone will be handling ours too.
As Cameron stresses in her book, we should look to have the following hashed out and communicated with our loved ones as soon as possible:
- proper estate planning documents
- discussions on long-term care and its financing
- discussions on future living arrangements
- an emergency documents binder or financial inventory document
Taking these often emotionally challenging steps is critical to avoiding future pain and confusion that can cost you or a loved one significant time and money later, or even jeopardize relationships.
You’d typically expect to have these estate planning and financial conversations with your parents, your spouse’s parents, and your children or step-children. But what about other member’s of your family?
The Potentially Overlooked
Perhaps your brother is married to an only child and they have no children. Or maybe your cousin was recently widowed, and has no siblings or kids. Perhaps you’re unmarried and think you’re still too young to create a will.
Your sibling, cousin, and yes, even you, also need to tackle the important estate planning and emergency document steps and money talks.
Why? Because without them, essential financial and medical-care decisions in times of emergency, will be extremely difficult – if not almost impossible to handle.
Without an advanced care directive, decisions for medical care are left to medical personnel, not family.
Dying without a will means an administrator from the probate court will distribute assets, not the people who care the most.
When an inventory of financial accounts and documents is lacking, assets could be lost, bills may be missed, and a whole slew of negative financial consequences could result. Ask me how I know.
The Completely Unexpected
Due to an Uncle’s recent passing, disagreements between extended family members including unfounded criminal accusations against one, and incomplete legal and financial documents, I’m in the midst of sorting out my 78-year old Aunt’s past, present, and future.
A task I never, ever expected to be tackling.
As I write this I’m awaiting the scheduling of a court date to present my case for becoming her official guardian and conservator due to her dementia. Unofficially I’ve been doing the job for over six weeks now.
It’s one of the most arduous tasks I’ve ever taken on.
Initially, it required me to be away from home for 2 1/2 weeks straight, except for one night and two quick 3 hour trips home to shower and grab clean clothes.
Now it requires approximately 10-20 hours a week of my time between visits with her, tackling her paperwork and bills, running her errands, and fielding calls from her or the care staff at her assisted living facility. I’ve received four such calls today, and made or received eight yesterday.
While much of the physically hard work is now done – cleaning out the home my Aunt and Uncle lived in for over 50 years – the emotional, financial, and legal work required will carry on for some time.
My Uncle had dementia far more serious than any of us realized. And as it turns out he handled the finances. They’re a mess, but I’m slowly figuring them out.
My Aunt also diagnosed with dementia, is grieving the loss of her husband, her home, and the companionship of a great-nephew who lived with her for the past eight or so years. I can’t replace any of those things.
She has some good days – active and social – and some not so good – depressed and wanting to stay in bed.
Some days I answer the same questions twice, others six or seven. But I’m not complaining because I know I’ve got the easy part.
Oh sure, my patience has been tested often, and I’ve even let my emotions take over a couple times during phone calls with her. More than once I’ve wondered if I’m cut out for this job.
The answer I keep coming back to is yes. She’s family, she needs me now, and I want to do this so my mom isn’t burdened with it.
Time will tell if anyone else wants the responsibility. While my Aunt signed the consent forms nominating me as her guardian and conservatorship, other family members are being notified of the application and could contest it if they feel they’re better suited.
I Never Saw This Coming…
During my childhood I was particularly fond of this Aunt and Uncle. My Aunt is one of my mom’s nine siblings. She and my Uncle had only one child, a son five years older than me. I adored him. In a tragic incident he died on his 21st birthday. As you can imagine they were never the same again.
Over the years my relationship with my Aunt and Uncle became distant.
They did however, become extremely close to the grandson of another Aunt. This great-nephew of theirs eventually moved in with them during his senior year of high school and stayed until just recently.
As a result of their close relationship my Uncle named this great-nephew in some of his estate planning documents. And we thought my Aunt had too. At least that’s what they told the entire family for years. We heard repeatedly that he was taking care of them and would inherit their home and other assets when they passed.
Which all made sense to us. And who was going to question their statements or decisions anyway?
In hindsight, someone should have. If nothing more than to ensure the estate planning and financial documents were indeed updated, legal, and able to be found.
But It’s Here Now
When I spoke of embracing change, this isn’t what I expected.
But I’m adapting to it as best I can, and I’m certainly learning a lot along the way.
I hope you can avoid learning these things they hard way though.
Read Cameron’s book. Engage your parents and children in money conversations. Create your own estate planning, financial, and emergency planning documents. And strongly urge your extended family and friends to do theirs too.
I’ll share more about my role as guardian and conservator, and the responsibilities that come as a result, once I become official.
It will likely continue to be challenging, time-consuming, costly, and stressful.
Luckily, I’m not having to do it alone.
I have a hard-working older brother to help with some of the physical and emotional parts, and an amazing mom and incredible husband who help me through it all. As well as two great kids who let me vent when needed, and two beautiful grandchildren who light up my world.
Some cousins have lent a helping hand when they could and the staff at my Aunt’s assisted living facility having been caring, compassionate, and helpful.
If you’ve made it this far (thank you) – please take my advice. Get your details in order and make sure your family does too. And be sure everyone knows where and how to access the info!