Why every family needs an end of life plan

By Christopher P. Hill, RFC

Wealth and Income Group LLC and FuneralResources.com


The sad truth is that the financial planning industry largely overlooks how an end of life plan needs to be a part of a sound comprehensive financial plan. To prove my point, despite serving as a financial adviser for nearly 25 years, I have never been trained or educated on how to help my clients prepare their end of life plans and preferences. Furthermore, I have also never been trained or educated on how to help my clients deal with the funeral planning process after a loved one has passed.

The reality is that a client should logically turn to their financial adviser for anything that has to do with their money, financial planning changes, estate planning details (wills or living trusts), tax planning needs, life insurance, and so on. My point here is that as financial advisers, part of our job is helping protect families against unexpected events that can cause major financial or emotional challenges and irreparable losses.

Financial advisers typically accomplish this need to protect their clients by implementing traditional financial products and strategies such as life insurance, or creating wills or living trusts with estate attorneys. They also recommend and promote important insurance policies which are designed to protect against specific losses, such as disability insurance, long term care insurance, annuities, car and home insurance, and many other options. There is not a standard protection package, since each client's personal situation is different.

Before the year 2008, I considered myself to be extremely well-versed in how to protect my clients, as well as my own family, against unexpected events. However, everything changed for me when I lost a loved one on Thanksgiving Day of 2008.

Very few families know what to expect
Losing a loved one is, by far, one of the most difficult experiences anyone can face in their lifetime. I remember feeling so disappointed as we went through this experience because, as a financial adviser, I felt as if I should know better. However, the enormity of the situation really hit me when I realized that I had never attended a single event where I was educated on how to plan and prepare my clients for this particular situation. I was totally unprepared.

I can remember looking at my family, and whether we said anything or not, it was as if we all had the exact same questions. And sadly, these are the questions that most families are forced to deal with when loved ones die:
    1. What do we do now?
    2. Who can we turn to for credible help and advice?
    3. How do we get started?
What could I have done differently?
Looking back, I remember how comforting and gratifying it was to see our family come together and accomplish so many things in such a short period of time. At the same time, I also remember feeling frustrated because not only did I lack the knowledge to deal with many of these challenges, I also had no idea where to turn to for the help and answers we needed.

After experiencing all of the emotional ups and downs, the funeral planning challenges, memorial service details, and steps such as writing a eulogy and choosing funeral flowers versus donations, I can tell you that at many steps along the way, planning a funeral can become overwhelming.

When you consider the importance of losing a loved one; how difficult it is to plan a funeral; the fact that most families are uneducated about this process; and how few families are left with any plans for what to do, you begin to realize the dilemma we face. But the truth is, it really doesn't have to be this way.

Whether you want to talk about this or not, I believe people need to become more educated and empowered when it comes to this all-important topic. There have been countless opportunities over the years for me to find the time to have this discussion with my clients, my personal and immediate family, my friends, and so many others.

I regret that I did not know how to talk about this all-important need to plan and prepare for something this meaningful. At the very least, I should have encouraged my entire family to make sure they documented the most important final plans and preferences for what they would want. To accomplish this, all you need to do is take the time to complete a family record guide.

Every day, I look at a beautiful urn that reminds me of one of the most amazing people I will ever know and love, and I cannot help but wonder, is she in the right place? If not, where would she have wanted to be?

I understand that nobody likes to talk about death, dying or end of life planning. However, we have to face and accept the fact that we all die, and sometimes much sooner than expected. My sincere hope is that I can encourage anyone who is reading this to have this discussion with your family. And since nobody knows what the future might bring, have this talk sooner rather than later. There is no such thing as planning and preparing your end of life plan too soon. On the contrary, the worst thing you can do is take the attitude of "it won't happen to me," or "I can can do this later." As the old adage goes, by failing to plan, you are planning to fail.

You can't go wrong
Here are a few of the meaningful benefits you will experience by creating an end of life plan in advance:

1. Peace of mind: You will sleep better at night knowing that you have completed this all-important plan, and that your family and loved ones will be forever grateful. This is the true definition of a win-win situation.

2. You control how you will be remembered: This will be a time of great loss for your loved ones, and you will be remembered for showing how much you cared by sacrificing the time to do something very special — easing the burden when it is needed the most.

The everlasting gift
Going through something like this helps you realize that every day is truly a gift. I guess that is exactly why they call it "the present." So please, take advantage of the present you are given today and build a plan that allows your loved ones to celebrate your life, and focus on how grateful they are for all of the great memories they were able to share with you.