Someday We’ll All Be Widows And Orphans

crispydoc Uncategorized 6 Comments

Memorial Day weekend means many things to me. It's a chance to remember and honor men and women who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. It's a chance to gather with family. It's the unofficial start of summer and winding down of the school year. It's also the weekend when many towns plan their most popular local events.

My childhood hometown holds an Italian street painting festival where artists create surreal images on the grounds of a 300 year old Spanish Mission. I love coming home to visit my parents, wandering the intricate paths between images with my mom (our family creative) as the artists work.

These artists, by virtue of their necessarily public workplace, make themselves accessible to their audience - conversations with the artists, while brief, often provide highlights.

I recognized one artist bringing to life an image of a dancer in a traditional hand-embroidered Oaxacan dress (last summer we took a family trip to Oaxaca to see the Guelaguetza, a dance performance where groups in traditional attire represent their villages by making offerings to the gods for a good harvest).

The artist explained she was rendering her mother in a splendid traditional Tehuana outfit. Her mother had always dreamed of donning such a costume, but they are costly and her family came from humble means. The artist was going to help her mother realize a dream. She would share the image with her mother who remained in her birth village of Tehuantepec, Mexico.

Another artist explained why she loved participating in this event: the art was transitory, here to be enjoyed for a few days until rain and wind swept it away. It captured the essence of living for her - the need to enjoy today what will be gone tomorrow.

Enjoying beauty (and life) as fleeting. Honoring family dreams. It all made sense, and in an "Aha!" moment I saw it fit neatly into the greater narrative of financial literacy as a tool to enable intentional living and spending.

I share my enthusiasm with readers of this blog. Every once in a while, I am unable to resist the temptation to impose small aspects of it on my family.

My father and my mother will celebrate 50 years of marriage this summer, and (there's no delicate way to put this) my most valuable anniversary gift to them will be ensuring that the untimely demise of one of them does not screw the surviving spouse.

As if our chat with the artist were designed to prompt just this reflection, we returned to my parents' house after the festival where I went over the "In Case Of Emergency Binder" I'd purchased for my father to complete.

This is a product created by Chelsea over at Smart Money Mamas (formerly Mama Fish Saves). I make no commission if you buy it for yourself or a loved one. Regardless of whether you buy it, please ensure you have a reliable way of transmitting the information it contains to whomever would pick up the pieces if a catastrophic event knocked the finance person in your world out of commission.

My dad is a sweet guy, but he can occasionally get lazy and dump things onto his kids that he doesn't care to deal with himself. For example, he's made it clear that the extensive clutter that began in his garage (and quickly metastasized to closets, floors and sofa space in many rooms of the house) is a problem he plans to dump on me and my siblings. I'm not thrilled about this, but I've learned to accept it.

How do I hope to motivate him to complete the ICE Binder? It turns out that while he's willing to dump some work on his kids, he would do anything to protect my mom. I did not shy away from sharing the statistics with him: that by and large wives outlive husbands, and that his willingness to run the household finances unfortunately meant that she would not easily be able to take over his role.

I've explained to him that failing to complete the ICE Binder means a fivefold increase in work by her on the back end, when she'll be overwhelmed with grief and other concerns. If he can't be bothered to take a half hour to fill in a page of information about a rental property, it will take her at least 2.5 hours to locate the same information. He seemed to get it.

During our talk this weekend, I also explained that details he is convinced he's told me about (where the safe deposit box key is located; where he has his bank accounts and his will) remain complete mysteries to me despite his insistence to the contrary. If he can't get this information into the ICE Binder, my mom (not his forgetful son) will be the victim of his failure to plan.

My dad is a fundamentally good (often outright great) guy, and I'll be forever indebted to the wonderful head start he and my mom gave me and my siblings in life. This weekend I tried to underscore that sustaining his excellent reputation means ensuring my mom knows he will continue to look after her once he's gone. We all hope that won't be for a long time to come.

No one wants to think about it, but the truth is, someday we'll all be widows and orphans. Framing our duty as a way of paying our love forward to those we leave behind is one way of rousing us to action.

This will post after Memorial Day. If you did not do so during your BBQ, take a moment to be grateful for those veterans who lost their lives to protect you and those you love.

If you can muster a little extra reflection time, think about how you'd like your partner, family or kin to remember you - as someone who continues their legacy of love by ensuring that the caring and concern you expressed in life continues long after you make your exit.

Comments 6

  1. Having recently almost exited, I can tell you this article speaks truth. My solution is a financial adviser and a lawyer. If I exit the dominoes are set to fall and my wife into her 90’s and later my children are well protected. I’ve even tax optimized just in case. My Mom and Dad moved to my town to retire and I have the first born care giver relationship in my family. Since I was 17 my Dad treated me as an adult explicitly through his pronouncement I was now a man and I was expected to be a man. For me it was an important passage and I think it’s important for children to be told when it’s time to act like adults.

    Now my Dad has passed and I take care of my Mom. She got a place around the corner from Church and down the road is all she needs with grocery shopping and pharmacy so basically she can make the circuit by just turning right and at 90 she knows how to turn right. That is by my design. A little fore though goes a long way. When my wife cooks she cooks up something for Mom as well maybe a pan of lasagna or something since my mom doesn’t much cook anymore. A pan of lasagna with some garlic bread is like gold to a 90 year old lady. My kids especially got to know and love her through their lives. Plenty to be said for turning right.

    1. Post

      You’ve created a well-planned domino train, although you have a facility most lack when it comes to acknowledging your inevitable mortality and planning accordingly. We all hope that our kids will grow into the responsibilities we lay out for them, and into adults who can foresee our needs the way we once anticipated theirs. Your late Dad and Mom are fortunate that you rose to the occasion.

      I often think about how to plan out our own senescence – smaller single-story home, walkable neighborhood to groceries and library, community more likely to strengthen community bonds than lead to isolation. Still brainstorming how we’ll find a place to live that will yield our metaphorical pan of lasagna now and again. Glad to see examples of others successfully living independently in their 90s.

  2. I am glad you convinced your dad to fill out the ICE binder. I purchased one and honestly have been very lazy about filling it out (it is very well done and my lack of doing it is more a reflection of me and my procrastination than the product itself).

    That is a nice tradition of the street art festival and it does translate well into the financial teachings you have spoken of in the past.

    1. Post

      You are very kind, Xrayvsn.

      I need to fill mine out as well – I really do see it as an extension of showing concern for those you leave behind if done right.

  3. My father recently passed this spring. Vigorous and mentally sharp till the end he was a DIY investor and still did his own taxes by hand. While he didn’t have an ICE binder, his filing cabinet was effectively one. Everything needed to handle the estate transfer to my mother was there. All non-retirement assets were in a living trust, a copy available. All investment account statements available. His almost finished tax return was completed with TurboTax because all the documents were on the desk. He even titled the vehicles in my mother’s name so no title transfer at the DMV was necessary ( he didn’t know he would be the first to go but he did know he was more likely to speed and had plausible deniability if the cars got busted by the camera radar speed traps in the area, “hey that driver is neither the owner nor a woman!”) I miss him but am incredibly thankful for the job he did raising me and my siblings and for making sure everything for my mother has been taken care of in the past and going forward.

  4. Forcing yourself to go through this morbid exercise is a blessing to your family.

    My wife and I recently created a trust to house our assets, but after going through the trouble of forming it, we’ve been putting off actually transferring all the assets into it.

    As the lawyer told us, “It’s no use to have a trust if you don’t use it.”

    I’ve got to do this… maybe after my next blog post.

    As for my parents, that’s a prickly discussion, but one I’ve got to have as well. I’m going to check out Chelsea’s ICE binder.

    — TDD

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