id you know that on average women live longer than men? This is true for most countries around the world. Most people just dismiss this as a statistic, but there’s actually wisdom here worth acting on.
A few years back I heard a story about a man who had just died. He was in his early 40s, a husband to his wife of 20 years, a dad to two kids in middle school. He was in great health and wasn’t one to take unnecessary risks. One day he went to work and there was an accident. He never made it home.
Thankfully, unknown to his family, he was prepared. When his wife went to their safe deposit box for the first time to get their important papers, she found everything she needed, explained in clear detail, along with a letter from her husband. She was so relieved. She went, in an instant, from immense levels of stress about what to do, wondering if they’d have enough money to survive, to feeling a peace and clarity amidst the sadness, knowing that she and her family had the time they needed to heal.
This story sunk in as I heard it. It made me start asking, “What if that were me? Would my family be okay?” At that moment I decided that I would do whatever I had to do to make sure they would be. Here are a few of the steps that I took. I invite you to take them too.
Make sure you have life insurance
Write down what you know
Decide what type of care you want in case you can’t make your own decisions
Make sure your family knows you love them
Once you’ve taken all of these steps, put everything in a big three-ring binder somewhere safe that your family knows how to get to
Short and simple, this makes sure your family has time to process and adjust should you pass. Ideally, this should be 10-12 times your yearly income, because your surviving family members could invest it in a relatively safe way and have your income replaced for years to come. Check out this calculator to find out how much coverage you need and what it’ll cost you. (A healthy male in his 30s can get $500,000 of coverage for under $40 per month as of this writing).
In some homes, the husband handles the daily details of finances, and in others the wife does. Either way, there’s a lot of information that lives in somebody’s head. From accounts and policies to passwords and combinations, it’s all important. In order to get it down on paper, I’d suggest using something like Dave Ramsey’s Legacy Drawer or Eric Dewey’s Big Book of Everything to get started.
When loved ones are worried about losing you, the last thing you want is to burden them with the decision of whether or not to keep you on life support, whether to make you comfortable or keep you alive, or any other difficult choices.
You can work with a lawyer to draft a Living Will (sometimes formally called an Advance Health Care Directive), or you can get started with this letter template from Stanford University. It’s simple and to the point, but it’ll relieve a ton of stress for your loved ones if it’s ever actually needed.
A good way to share how you feel and give them something to hold on to once you’re gone is to write letters to your spouse and kids (and any others you choose) to be opened should something happen to you. You can give these to a trusted friend, keep them in a safe or safe deposit box, or keep them with your important papers. You can write your own, and if you’re not sure where to start, check out Stanford University’s Letter Project for templates.
I’d encourage you to take your time with these letters. Tell your family what they mean to you. Share your feelings for them and push yourself to be as open as you can, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable. Give yourself a few hours and somewhere you can be alone. Mine took several hours and was hands-down the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I cried more in those hours than I have in a long time. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s so worth it.
No matter what you do, anything is better than nothing, and if something were to happen to you, your family would treasure your heartfelt words in that difficult time.
If it’s a safe, share the combination or make sure your family knows where the key is. Having everything together makes things easy (and it’s a perk to have all of your important papers organized and in one place in everyday life too!).
Most people in their 20s don’t think about this stuff. Most people in their 40s barely dabble. It’s an emotionally trying process and takes a bit of time logistically. It’s a pain to organize information, writing those types of letters is one of the hardest things you can do, and choosing end-of-life medical decisions so your family doesn’t have to can be difficult as well. But if you think about the consequences your family would face should something happen to you (if you don’t prepare) it’s hard to NOT get it done.
Though I hope Jess will never need to open our emergency binder, I’m so glad it would be there for her if she needed it. The hope is that it would make the transition just a bit easier. She wouldn’t have to worry about papers, important information, money, or knowing the details of the medical treatment I’d want. It’s all there, with a letter giving her encouragement, love, and hopefully the strength to power through.
What steps have you taken to make sure your family is cared for? Tell us about them in the comments below…