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.
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…