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As a former estates and trusts paralegal, I often spent days, sometimes weeks on a scavenger hunt helping widows and their families find important information after the death of a loved one. What I also uncovered were chaotic situations during an emotionally charged time.
I spent countless hours sifting through clients’ desk drawers, files, basements, and attics trying to piece together a court inventory of their personal, business, and financial assets. It was tedious and costly.
Often, I observed grieving widows and widowers lost in the maze and magnitude of the tasks immediately following the death of their spouse. Many times, families lacked direction for funeral or memorial services and didn’t even know whether a spouse or parent wanted to be cremated or buried.
Few had made any plans. No one was having those kinds of conversations and, if they had, no one could remember or agree on what was said.
I come from three generations of financial advisors and I'm married to a nationally recognized wealth manager. Talking about planning for the future and being prepared for all the "what ifs" are part of my daily life and often the central theme of family conversations around the dinner table.
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On May 4, 2006, my cell phone rang and my brother spoke two words. He said, "Mom's dead," and my world immediately turned upside down. Panic, tears, and uncontrollable grief engulfed what had been a beautiful sunny morning. My mother's sudden death was a shock. We were incredibly close and I had just spoken to her the night before to discuss who was being voted off American Idol. She was healthy, happy, and living her life. I’m glad I told her, “I love you,” before hanging up the phone.
My family spent countless hours searching for documents, double-checking facts and details about her life for her obituary, making a multitude of hurried phone calls. We ran numerous errands and had meetings with attorneys, funeral directors, clergy, and florists.
I was overwhelmed, emotionally wrung out, and worried about how we would ever finalize the myriad details, sort through her personal effects, and, most of all, honor what we only guessed her wishes might have been.
The irony of it all is that my mother would have hated that at the end of her life she became a burden to us. I learned a very hard lesson a very hard way, but my mother also ended up giving me a real gift—the gift of preparedness.
I want to change the way we approach the topic of end-of-life planning. Let’s engage in practical and helpful conversations that aren’t morbid or fearful so we can be ready when the inevitable happens.
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