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Lessons From a Sudden Death

Less than two weeks ago, I lost a friend, AG, to a freak accident. He was 48 years old.

He and his wife, AM, have been friends of my husband and me for twenty years. She gave birth to their older son a few doors down from my hospital room, twenty minutes before I gave birth to my older daughter.

When there was a lull in his wife’s labour, he popped over to my room to chat with my husband. Was I OK? Was the labour going well? Baby doing OK?

I gave my husband permission to let him in to say hello. He flashed his thousand watt smile and wished me well, telling me he couldn’t wait to meet my daughter (we knew we were having a girl) and how excited he was to introduce me to his child, who would probably make an appearance soon.

That’s the kind of guy he was: kind, thoughtful, positive.

 

Isn’t it ironic?

There is an important message in this story for you, but first, let’s roll back the clock a few years.

It’s May of 2017 and I’m throwing a launch party for my book, Protect Your Purse. Friends, colleagues, and clients fill the room. They are there to celebrate with me. AG and AM were among the attendees.

For fun, I gave everyone a financial literacy quiz and told them that I would award a free copy of my book to two people. Little did they know as they completed the quiz, that the prize wouldn’t be for the two top scores.

Nope. I gave one prize for the best score – yay Miglena!

I also gave a prize for the worst score. When I announced this, after the scores had been tallied, the room burst into laughter while everyone looked around to see who would claim the prize.

My friend, AM, gleefully bounced up and hustled to the front of the room. “It’s me! I have the worst score! See? I win the prize, Doris!”

She was ecstatic about having the worst score and nabbing the win. This from a total Type A overachiever. It was hilarious.

Afterward, she told me that while she was in good shape financially and has good habits, there were some areas where she felt less confident. The book would surely help her.

That night, I can remember thinking, “The winners are in great shape. They are young and healthy. Their marriages are strong. Isn’t it interesting that they ended up with my book? Curious choice, universe.”

Less than four years later, AM is suddenly a widow and solo parent to her two boys.

 

What can we learn?

When another friend died suddenly in 2013, I wrote a post on what to say and do when someone dies. It ended up becoming an entire chapter in my book.

Today, I want to talk about the lessons to take away from a tragic loss like this one. In no particular order:

 

Past performance does not predict the future

When I teach women how to invest, I keep repeating the this to them: Just because a stock or mutual fund has done well in the past doesn’t mean it will continue to do well.

The research is clear on this front. You can’t look at past performance and confidently assert that you have a winner on your hands. (So much for 5 star reviews!) Everything could change overnight, because you can’t predict the future.

And so it goes with life.

We all want to be healthy and live well into old age. That’s our intention and, hopefully, we’re doing everything in our power to tip the scales in our favour.

But we cannot predict freak accidents.

Or certain illnesses.

Or many other out-from-left-field events that life throws our way.

When it comes to your finances, preparation is key. My motto (shared in my book) is prepare for the worst, but expect the best.

 

An up-to-date will is a must

There is no valid excuse not to have a will.

If you don’t have one, this isn’t a judgement, but rather a wake-up call. I’ve heard pretty much every “reason” over the past fifteen years that I’ve been working in the personal finance space and not one of them stands up to scrutiny.

As I share in my book, you can put a valid will in place through LegalWills.ca in minutes for less than $50. In fact, you can use my discount code – THRIVE20 – to save 20% off, making a valid will cheaper than most take-out meals for a family of 4.

Let that sink in for a moment. Dinner from a fast food joint will cost you more than a valid will that would protect you and your children in the event that your spouse or partner dies.

Every excuse I’ve heard can be attributed to the same thing –> fear.

It’s hard to think about someone we love dying.

It’s hard to figure out what to do about the kids and their future and the business and the stuff if one of you were to die.

But it’s a lot harder to deal with all of that when a sudden death happens and you do not have a will in place.

I speak from experience on this point.

At the risk of sounding bossy, here’s what I want you to do: Open your calendar and book a day where you will either a) call a lawyer to set up an appointment to get your wills done; or b) pull up LegalWills.ca and complete your will with your partner.

No excuses.

And for the record, USLegalWills.com is the American version, for my U.S. readers.

 

There’s a cost to abdicating financial management

In my post A Wake Up Call for Married Women, I wrote that marriage presents two key dangers for women: comfort and complacency.

It starts when you first share a home with your partner and you delegate various financial tasks to keep tasks manageable, especially when you have children.

Then, next thing you know, one partner has his/her domain and you have yours, and never the twain shall meet.

In other words, you abdicate responsibility – and understanding – of key parts of your finances.

That’s fine for a while, until life happens, leaving you immensely vulnerable as a result.

That’s the cost of financial abdication. I argue that the risk is too high to ignore.

The fix is simple, though not always easy:

  • Make a list of all your bills and know how they’re paid – which card, which account, what frequency.
  • Understand all of your debts and liabilities – mortgage, loans, credit cards, lines of credit. Know what the balances are, how they are paid, with what frequency, and where they are held.
  • Know what accounts you and your partner have, why you have them, and what they are used for.
  • Keep a list of passwords for all devices. If I were to pick a device in your household, at random, could you get into it? If the device owner were to die, how would you get into it to retrieve important information or documents?

 

Get onboard with investing

This could have been part of the list above, but it’s so important that I’m giving it its own section.

Here’s what I hear from women all. the. time: My husband takes care of investing because he enjoys it and he’s better at it than I am. I find it confusing and stressful, so I let him do it.

Or some variation of that.

That’s not OK – for your sake.

Again, this isn’t a judgement; it’s a statement of fact. Investing your money is critical to your future financial health; it’s what will give you better options so that you have good choices when life happens.

Very few people earn their way to wealth, even though it’s a faster route than investing. They get there by making their money work for them, which means investing.

If you’re hung up on the concept of “wealth”, think of it this way: wealth = options.

–> It’s the option to take six months off work if your partner suddenly dies, to grieve, be there for your kids, and take the time you need to redefine a new normal for your family.

–> It’s the option to pay for your kids’ higher education so that they don’t walk out saddled with debt.

–> And it’s the option to pay for the many parts of health care that are not covered by our so-called universal care system. (I discovered this the hard way, a story I tell in my book.)

Even if you use a financial advisor, you need to understand what they are doing with your money. Actually, scratch that. I mean to say especially if you use a financial advisor!

So many women I work with haven’t the first clue about what their advisor is doing with their money, how it’s fared over the years, and what they have paid in fees. This will materially affect their future financial well-being.

Knowing how investments work isn’t a “nice to know”; it’s essential. If you don’t know how, reach out. I can teach you. It’s not rocket science.

 

Financial secrets can harm you

When you share ownership of a house and you have children, your partner’s financial choices will have a significant impact on you should he/she suddenly die. That’s why you need to know what their financial picture looks like.

Do you know their income?

Do they have any debts that could affect the estate after their death?

The fastest way to understand their financial picture is to look at their tax returns. If they’re uncomfortable showing you, that should send up a red flag.

Why would they be reluctant to openly disclose their financial information if you have children together and a home or other assets?

Read my book for some harrowing stories of financial betrayal. If you don’t know the full picture of your partner’s finances, you are at risk. It’s as simple as that.

Are you OK with that?

 

Enjoy today

I’ve never subscribed to the belief that life is short, probably because I’m a glass-half-full kind of person and I tend to value quality over quantity.

But I do believe that life is uncertain. I’ve seen too many examples of that, and lived through my own story of loss, to believe otherwise.

Enjoy today fully.

I get that some days pass by in a blur, but hopefully this post will help you to hit the pause button and remember what really matters.

There’s a reason that I teach personal finances from a values-based perspective: When you’re honoring your core values, you have a greater likelihood of experiencing a joyful, rich life. And by rich, I mean rich in the things that matter most to you.

Live well.

Love fully.

Share your gifts and abilities with the world.

And enjoy every blessed moment you can.

As for AM, she is in good shape financially thanks to her efforts and good habits over the years. That’s one less thing for her to worry about at a time when the rest of her world is so heavy.

 

Rest in peace, my friend AG. Know that AM and your boys will be OK. In time, they will thrive. You will be missed.

 

 

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