Death and Money: Helping your family now in case something happens later
A lady I know of died last night. It was expected; she was diagnosed with incurable cancer last spring. I didn't really know her, as I'd just recently moved into a place where I would have had contact with her. I wish I'd known her, as her friends are going to some great lengths to honor her. It's been really cool to see people coming alongside each other, comforting each other, speaking meaningful things to each other. One of the things that has comforted people, that I've heard them mention when they think about her and her family, is that they are in a secure place financially.
I'm not sure what plans they have in place, but it does seem that they have been able to cover her medical costs and will be able to cover her funeral without a lot of trouble. This comforts people because they know that money is one worry this family does not have to carry around as they grieve the loss of this wife and mother. This has all made me think, hard. There is so much that you can do before a crisis hits to help your family when it does. Here are the things I'm glad I have and the ones I intend to look into.
1. Health insurance
I have great health insurance and will have better next spring, when we switch to Dave's plan instead of mine. It's tempting to try to go without health insureance, but the truth is that we really don't know when something will happen. It seems better, both for the sufferer and for those who would be caring for them, to pay the cost of insurance, rather than risk more debilitating bills later.
2. Emergency fund
If sudden, severe illness isn't an emergency, I don't know what is! Even though the average emergency fund won't make a big dent in medical bills, it can help with other things. Supplementing income, for example, if a caretaker is forced to take extra time off. Buying food, if all the other money is taken up covering medical costs. Planning a funeral, it it comes down to that. I'm building my emergency fund, though it's not nearly there yet!
3. Life insurance
I'm lucky; my company provides life insurance for each employee at minimal cost. It's on the minimal side of things, but it is enough that it would help my family if something happened to me. I've been tempted to opt out of it, but now realize that I don't want to do that. I hope Dave never has to use it but, if he does, I want it to be there for him. Even if he just used it to pay rent for several months until he could figure out what he wanted to do, the cost is worth it to me for his peace of mind on that front.
4. A written (or videotaped) will
The thought of writing a will makes me think of a myriad of mystery books I read as a kid, where they had to find the will, or someone was killed over a will. They are associated with deception, in my mind. Now, though, I can see their value. Giving loved ones the security that they have what they need or want of mine just makes sense, because it would give them less to be burdened with if something happened to me. I haven't decided quite how i want to go about making one of these, but I've decided that I do.
5. A plan
Some years ago, when I was an undergraduate, my parents sat me down on one of their visits and handed me several stapled, printed pages. It was the state of their finances, a statement of where they wanted to be buried, and other various instructions for use if something happened to one or both of them. They went over it with me, and I remember doing a lot of nodding. I couldn't really conceive of them not being around. In the last years, though, I've seen just how quickly something could happen and the value of their plan. I would still have a lot to learn about how exactly everything is structured, but it's great to know that all the phone numbers and people to contact are in one place. I would love to say that I've done the same for my family, but I haven't. Not yet!
6. Openness and honesty
It's easy, or at least it is for me, to not talk about my financial difficulties. It's easy for me to say, "Yeah, I'm fine," when people ask me if I can really afford to fix my car again. And sometimes, that's appropiate. But there are also times when it is appropriate to say, "No, I'm not ok," (if that's the truth). That doesn't mean that the person I'm talking to has to help me, or has to get others to help me. It does mean that I know where I'm really at and am not ashamed of it. In particular, it's important to be honest about money with those close to you. One of the things I want my family to be able to do is ask for help when they need it, even if an illness or tragedy brings that need.
I'd love to write a more poetic tribute to this woman and her family, but this is where I'm at today. To this woman and her family, whose privacy I want to respect, please know that she was loved, and that so many people care about you as you grieve this loss.