Mary Owens: Handling your finances through grief
Tony and Martha shared their last moments together as he unexpectedly passed away. The last day of his life was a magical experience with Martha, sharing a meal in Tahoe and just lovingly being with one another. Silently, as an embolism formed in Tony’s lung, the magic turned to terror and grief as his life swiftly ended.
Martha wept as she grappled with having to call her two stepchildren with the horrific news. The last time she felt this utter level of despondency was following the death of her only child, and again when both her parents passed away. Tony was the one who carried her through those horrible periods. Now she had no one to emotionally coach her through this new phase of her life. She knew her stepchildren were going to be adrift as well. She silently vowed she would do everything she could to ease their grief. They were going to have to get through this together.
The kids arrived in South Lake Tahoe in a matter of hours. They all said their final goodbyes to Tony. The family cried together and made solemn promises of emotional allegiance. They spent the night in Tahoe, with plans to drive home the following day where the three of them would meet with the funeral director.
When they arrived at the funeral home, Tony’s ex-wife Pam was already there speaking with the funeral director. Martha was furious that such a situation could occur without her knowledge. She asked her stepchildren how Pam knew about the appointment. Christie admitted that she had told Pam but didn’t expect that she would show up. Then she hesitated and asked, “Why can’t she be involved?” Martha, remembering her vow to support the kids, relented. Christie’s brother, Sam, mumbled to himself that the decision would be regretted.
With all four of them seated at the funeral arrangement table, the funeral director was informed by Martha that she was in fact Tony’s wife, not Pam. Martha also had his health care directive with her, which gave her the clear authority in all decision making. The funeral director professionally explained that Martha was in charge. If Martha sought input from others, that was her choice, but the final directions would only be taken from Martha.
At that moment Pam stood up, put her arms around her two children and stated, “We will stand against you in any decision. We are Tony’s family. You are not!” The room fell silent as Martha and Pam stared each other down. Sam jumped up, interrupting the stunned funeral director, and yelled at his mother to “Get out! No more of your drama!” Christie started to object but stopped as her brother angrily stared at her. Pam stormed out, and Sam tearfully apologized to Martha. They completed the arrangements, but were all still shaken by the conflict.
That evening, Martha pulled into their driveway and stopped at the mailbox to pick up the mail. She climbed back into the car and a new wave of grief hit her. She was about to spend her first night alone in the house without Tony. As she walked into the front entryway, the tile made such a lonely sound under her footsteps.
She plopped the mail on the kitchen counter and started sorting through it. She was surprised to see a letter from Tony’s life insurance company. As she got the letter opener, she thought to herself, “How could they already know Tony has passed away?” She pulled out the letter addressed to Tony and nearly fainted as she read. The insurance company was returning the change of beneficiary form naming Tony’s children because Tony forgot to sign the form before mailing it in. The letter further stated that the previous designated beneficiary, Pamela Atkins, would remain in force until the change in beneficiary form was signed and returned. Tony’s ex-wife was now the full beneficiary of his $250,000 life policy. Tony had failed to rename Martha on the policy all these years of marriage. Now he failed to sign the form to leave the policy to his two children as they had planned. His true wishes could not be carried out.
Martha slipped to the floor and wept like she never had before. Almost all the people in her life who she loved were gone: her dear Tony, her daughter, and her parents. The only ones she had left were her stepchildren. How was this going to impact their relationship? And to make matters worse, Christie and Sam did not even know yet that the new trust documents were never signed. Tony died two days before he was scheduled to sign them. The old documents that were still in effect were outdated and did not reflect their wishes.
Martha was on the floor screaming at Tony. “Why did you leave me behind in such a mess! Why? I did not deserve this!” All this grief, uncertainty, and fear could have been avoided.
Is your estate plan in order? If not, make it your New Year’s resolution to make it happen. Intentions are worthless without action, and you and your family deserve to have your final wishes carried out as intended. It is an act of love.
The next several months we will be discussing essential estate planning documents and how they function to protect your loved ones.
Mary Owens, Principal/Branch Manager, RJFS, 426 Sutton Way, Suite 110, Grass Valley, CA 95945, 530-272-7500. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC. Owens Estate and Wealth Strategies Group is not a registered broker/dealer and isindependent of Raymond James Financial Services. Investment advisory services offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. Neither Raymond James Financial Services nor any Raymond James Financial Advisor renders advice on tax, legal or mortgage issues, these matters should be discussed with the appropriate professional. The foregoing information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that it is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Mary Owens and not necessarily those of Raymond James. This information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation.
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