The Conversation Killer

Source: Edward Lear via Pixabay

Are you a call-’em-as-you-see-’em type or do you beat around the bush? Do you procrastinate in starting difficult conversations or do you dig right in and get to the point? I ask because we’ve recently begun having the kind of conversations in our home that all of us are supposed to have with our significant others at some point.

I’m speaking here of all the facets that come to the fore when a partner or spouse dies. Some couples are good about discussing this way ahead of time. They’ve long had their estate plans written and filed, and they’ve also discussed it ad infinitum with one another on walks, over coffee, after sex, and on long drives. Okay, I made that one up about after sex. I meant during sex. My point is, there are couples who are really good about getting all of these matters out in the open.

Others not so much.

My wife and I fall somewhere in between the two.

Gorgeous and I will be celebrating our tenth anniversary later this year. What both of us had in common prior to getting married is that we both had ex-spouses who didn’t share the same concerns about retirement savings and estate preparation that we each had. You can talk all you want about opposites attracting, but in matters of money I strongly feel that it’s better to be completely on the same page. If not, things will eventually go off the rails. Believe me, I’ve got alimony receipts and a permanent pension apportionment to prove that point.

Immediately after buying our current home in 2017, we had wills and advanced directives written for each of us. The advanced directives include a living will, plus a durable power of attorney related to healthcare issues and financial matters. This is a crucial step prior to aging, yet according to the University of Michigan, only 46% of older American adults have documented advance health care preferences that offer clear guidance to their families and their doctors if they became ill or hospitalized.

We were both relieved to have taken the above step. But the mistake we made is that we literally filed it all away in our locked cabinet and hadn’t bothered discussing it any further. Who wants to talk about morbid things when one can now watch historic Beatle moments that have been hidden for over 50 years?!

Just leave me alone, please. I’m otherwise occupied…

In the process of my spending time listening to countless versions of “Get Back” being rehearsed, Gorgeous had been quietly contemplating what our legal documents do NOT address: how does a surviving spouse navigate all those choppy waters of having to handle everything which was once managed by two people? In short, she had no idea how the cell phone bill got paid every month.

I ended up having to hit the pause button on the documentary when she came out to sit on the couch with me for a heart-to-heart.

Do you have anything written down so that I know what needs to be done if something happens to you? Who do I contact about your pension? What do I do about your 401(k) money?

A-ha, so that’s what this is all about. She’s zeroing in on my money! She certainly didn’t waste any time getting to the heart of the matter, did she? Not a beater-around-the-bush, my lovely bride.

The topic continued to come up over several days until I finally sat down to compile a rather large document of our assets, monthly expenses, annual obligations, and insurance policies. Nearly all of that information had been filed away in separate folders in our cabinet. But as with all research, one does need to know exactly where to look, and we unfortunately had nothing in one place that listed everything.

So that was apparently my task: to create a document which could be used by one of us, and/or our beneficiaries, to continue operations. A road map, if you will. Or, as we referred to it back in my working days, a “Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP)” document. I’m breaking out into a cold sweat right now just having to type it.

The more I got into the process, the more I realized how complicated certain aspects of paperless billing are when thinking about end-of-life issues. For instance, I am responsible for paying all of our utilities, mortgage, cable and internet, streaming channels, and yes even that cell phone bill. Each of them are paid automatically from my checking account or a credit card of mine. Gorgeous pays the car loan and the condo association fee in the same fashion. Both of us also have paperless billing arrangements with our respective credit cards too. While all of this is obviously quite convenient, it can run the risk of keeping the other person in the dark about some of the details.

The first thing I realized is that I had absolutely no idea what Gorgeous’ password was for her email, nor did she know mine. And there’s a reason for that, dear reader: It’s none of her business how much I’m buying from Discogs.

Source: Quietus.com

Unless you share the same email address with your partner (which my old pal G does with her husband — kudos to you, G!), it’s important that both of you know how to access the other’s email account(s). That is most likely where those monthly paperless bills are sent. Thankfully, as a result of this effort, we now each know how to find the other’s current email password. This means I get to finally determine how much someone is ordering from Penzeys each month. All is fair in love and spending, you know.

The document is now mostly finished. It contains all of the information that one of us would need in the event of a death. It also redirects to other folders where even more detail can be found on a particular account or insurance policy. Just as with our will and the advanced directives, we’ll both need to review this together at least once a year to see if changes are required. I assume there will be.

It’s good to talk with one another. You never know what might come up.

Did you know that the AARP has a site where you can create your own advanced directive? You can access it here.

A book I highly recommend on wills, advanced directives, and all other aspects of aging is “Aging With a Plan” by Sharona Hoffman. I found it very useful.

Until next time…

39 thoughts on “The Conversation Killer

  1. Hi, Marty – Thank you for bringing up this important topic. Being married to a retired lawyer, we definitely have discussed this many times and have the documents to reflect those discussions (okay Richard’s documents are in great shape – mine are so-so). Thank you for the reminder for me to refresh my documents. Richard will be impressed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Donna. I struggled a bit with this because it’s mostly written for American readers, and those with partners. But the greater lessons are there no matter what country you live in, or whether you’re in a relationship or not, and I’m glad you picked up on all of that. Always glad to light a fire under someone to get all of those things in order!

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  2. My last will and testament is very concise and to the point. No beating around the bush.
    “To those people who wouldn’t give me the time of day while I was still alive…I leave NOTHING.”
    They’re names of course will be spelled out, coupled with “love, mom.” 🤗

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Awesome post. My dad was going to live forever until he didn’t. All financial records were locked on his pc. My mom knew nothing. My sister swears he whispered the pw in her ear. We never would have guessed what it was.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Serious stuff here, Marty, but it’s timely and you make good references. We have a working document/list of things we’ve been talking about recently that mirror many of the issues you brought up. We still need to redo our wills. I’m ready to do it, but hate to pay what I know it’s going to cost. A friend just recently lost her husband. A 14″ wreath of fresh flowers was $425 and to put an obituary on the funeral home’s site it was $600. I think these prices fall into what we use to refer to as a ‘racket.’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good lord, my jaw is dropping at the obituary cost. You’re right, it really is a racket. The attorney fees weren’t nearly as bad as I had feared — if memory serves, I think for both of us it was around $1,000. After reading the book I mentioned in the post, however, I’m already seeing things I want added/changed, so there’s yet another cost at some point soon. But it’s all important to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Marty, this information is SO IMPORTANT. This is a timely – or maybe untimely – post in the life of someone very close to me. My brother’s wife of 42 years died suddenly of an aneurysm earlier TODAY; she was 69 with no known medical issues. My brother will be grief-stricken for some time, but the cold reality is that along with sharing their day-to-day lives, she took care of most of the important tasks you’re speaking of. Nobody should put these responsibilities off until tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jane, I’m so sorry for that loss in your family. Sixty nine is still young in my book. I do hope your brother (and the rest of the family) will be well. Yes, I handle most — but thankfully not all — of our billing tasks. It’s important to keep all those details written down.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with you about in “matters of money I strongly feel that it’s better to be completely on the same page.” We are. I appreciate the link to the AARP and to “Aging With a Plan.” Both will be useful. As for knowing each other three gazillion passwords to our five million and one online accounts, Z-D set up a chart years ago. He believes it is clear, I see gibberish. I hope I go first.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You nearly made me spit out my coffee just now, Ally. 🙂 That about sums it all up, doesn’t it, though? Tons and tons of accounts. It’s scary how digitized our lives have become. I like the convenience of paperless billing, but it does make it harder when there are two. I actually tried to get the electric bill sent to both of us; sadly, they told me only one email address per account. Ugh.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. We did some of that a few years back. Then we moved so it’s all different. We need to revisit but have been so busy making the new house more livable (or really to our liking as it is livable). It’s a rainy day here so it’s can’t be ruined more by bringing up a dreaded subject. Dying may be easy for the person affect but it is very complicated for the survivors.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. About all those passwords…check out “Sticky Password”. It keeps them in one file securely, etc just google it and find out if it might be something you’d be interested in using.
    Even with that part of our affairs being in order, we’re still in the gather-and-make-a-crib-sheet stage. It’s definitely harder to deal with now than when my folks passed away – mostly because so much IS digital. Convenient for the living, not convenient for the living left behind…
    Thanks for the reminder that we’re not alone in having to navigate all the snarls of this stuff.
    ;-(

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will check that out for sure, thanks! I agree completely about the digital world. I don’t think businesses and banks ever really considered all the ramifications about those who have passed on, and equally their loved ones left holding the bag.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Urgh Marty, you’ve brought the subject back up to the top of my worry list. My father was a very pragmatic man and ensured everything was sorted out and would be simple for my mother when he died. Of course, that was before the days when stuff was online. Now everything is, so my mother has her children all dealing with it for her. But there are 4 of us and so we often have the “has anyone changed Mum’s password to X?” whatsapp conversation. I can see that having a single document would be really useful, but I’d have to be the one to do it. As she’s (hopefully) shortly to relocate to the US with my sister, it would make her life easier to have it all in one place. But, like I say Urgh!

    And that’s before I raise the subject with Himself about doing ours. Maybe I’ll just start preparing mine…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In spite of my post being more oriented than normal towards American readers, Debs, you certainly caught the most universal and international aspect to it: digital record keeping! We’re all dealing with that now, no matter where we live. It’s a sticky problem, especially since so many partners/spouses do have separate accounts of their own. I just decided that there had be one central repository for it, as it were.

      Ah, I had been wondering about your mother since the pandemic hit a halt to everything. So she’s still on track to move here, huh? Yes, that only increases the need to get those records in order. My sympathies in advance for what you and your sister will be going through in getting all of that sorted. And for you and Himself too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Her track to relocating to the US still has a couple of bumps to get over, but we are moving once more (thank goodness). Thank you for the sympathies Marty, much appreciated.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I created an Information Binder for us that captures all of this. I even shared a template that can be downloaded from my blog. Sometimes it helps to have a starting point because you aren’t sure what to include. This was a good reminder that our information needs to be updated. That’s the thing – this type of information changes over time!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I recall you doing that now! Yeah, the one thing I’m learning, as you point out, is that what I’ve created is really a “living” document, so to speak. It changes regularly and the need to update is continual.

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  11. This is such an important topic. There is nothing as predictable as death yet we are uncomfortable talking about it. I think it is best discussed when we are healthy so the subject doesn’t seem to personal… more of a what-if? My husband and I have all of our documents set up but we still need to put everything in one easily accessible place, in case one of us – or our designated party – needs to find it. Thanks for the prompt!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Marty, Great to hear from you, sharing your wit and your wisdom! If I didn’t know better, I would (almost) think we were twins. My husband and I have had recent conversations along the same lines you mention here. We actually have a “Will” appointment with a special ‘will person’ this Tuesday. We hunted down our past wills, stuffed in an old file – the date on them February, 1997 – over 25 years ago….egad! Things have changed…yet we are still above the grass. Bonus!

    A huge lol about the s__ part. My husband and I are also in the “fall somewhere in between the two” part. Ha, ha…she is zeroing in on the money.

    I love yours words “a road map.” I am forwarding your post to my husband as a framework for more discussions and plan of action as part of this week’s appointment.

    Excellent timely information here, Marty! Like I mentioned…we must be twins!😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Twins without sibling rivalry! I can live with that definitely. 😉 Glad to know we’re having yet another moment of synchronicity, Erica. I keep reminding myself that everything we have now will probably need to be revised again in five years. So yes, I’d say you guys are ready to do so again after 25 years!

      The thing that gets me, and admittedly this is part of my librarian background, is that no matter how complete our records are, none of is any good if one can’t find what they’re looking for. So my attempt here is to at least have one document that summarizes everything and then points to the specific folders and files that contain more detail. Or maybe this is just an excuse in trying to sneak one more “blog post” after I’ve passed away. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Excellent point, Marty about access to the files. I made a note to self this weekend to summarize and place info/passwords in one place. I am leaning towards a safe, accessible Dropbox file (I think it is called ‘Vault’) giving my daughter access to this file. I don’t know if you know much about Dropbox. Your library background may shed more expert light on this.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, I’ve Dropbox a bit in the past. This is the only fly-in-the-ointment moment for me, having the document be in an electronic format. I have it on a backup device only and not my actual computer because I’m slightly paranoid about all those passwords. But you’re giving me a great idea of how to share it with the secondary agent named in my will. Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I restarted a Dropbox app last year when communicating with editors from a magazine publication. They asked whether I could send them files, and photos via a specific Dropbox folder. They have access to only specific folders. They deal with a great deal of sensitive information. I placed some separate personal information in “Vault” at the time, and it seems to work well. Of course, nothing in life is 100% secure, as you well know, Marty. I will send you a personal note with a screen shot, so you can see what it looks like.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Wow Marty! Talk about being organised! You guys are great communicators and planners.
    I’ve done my Will and my power of attorney. Now just need to sit down and do the advance care plan. Where I need to specify what happens if I had a stroke etc etc. except I’ve been procrastinating. And like Mr Wanderer has said who knows? WW3 might be around the corner so might as well have one more chocolate bickie!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lol Val. Yes, it’s always good to cram in every bit of enjoyment for those “just in case” thoughts. In Mr. Wanderer’s honor, I’ll have a martini tonight. 😉 The advanced directive we each have is more boilerplate than really personalized. It does everything I like actually, but I think down the line I’m going to want to modify it with language that’s more in line with my personal thinking. But for now I’m glad I have something at least. These things should always be reviewed and not permanently static, I feel. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

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