What would you do if you only had a month to live?

What would you do if you found out that you only had a month to live?  There would obviously be some time of grieving but hopefully a sense of acceptance and calm will prevail and what then?  As someone who works with a team of people who has helped quite a few surviving spouses deal with the financial aftermath of losing their significant other, let me tell you what I think you should do:

  • This one may seem obvious, but check your estate planning documents.  Actually read through them or, better yet, have your financial advisor read through them.  Make sure they still reflect your wishes.
  • Pull together the most recent statement of every investment account you have and check the beneficiary on each and every one.  First, make sure there is one.  If there is, make sure the designation still meets your wishes and if there isn’t, designate one.  Most investment companies allow you to add or change beneficiaries through your online login; however, some do require forms.  Naming a beneficiary on these accounts will enable them to pass directly to your loved one instead of going through probate.   Consider consolidating all of your retirement accounts and all of your brokerage accounts at one institution.  Remember, the goal is to make things as simple as possible for those you leave behind.  If you are a “do-it-yourselfer” and do not have a financial advisor, consider getting a good one – fast.  Leaving behind a spreadsheet of all of your accounts with online logins is NOT particularly helpful to those you leave behind.
  • Pull together all of your life insurance policies.  Again, review your beneficiary designations and make sure they accurately reflect your wishes.
  • If you have any stock certificates in the file cabinet, safe deposit box or your underwear drawer, deposit them into a brokerage account.  Reregistering them is a headache and if you haven’t kept up with mergers and take overs, the headache, probate, and mountains of paperwork you’d leave for your surviving spouse will be even worse.
  • Record your final wishes and let your family know where they can find them.  Maybe there’s a special place where you’d like your memorial service to be held or a favorite bar where you’d like your family and friends to meet to celebrate your life.  It’s easy to assume your family will know or remember what you told them, but remember that they will be grieving.  Is it really realistic to think that they’ll remember what you might have shared in passing or over a glass of wine? 
  • Put together a list of every website you have a log in for and record your username and password.  Obviously put it somewhere safe, but let your loved ones know where they can find it. 

I sincerely hope that no one reading this finds out that they only have a month to live anytime soon, but please take all of this advice to heart.  In reality, odds are that you won’t know when you have a month left to live.  These are all things that a good wealth management firm will assist you with but many of these steps are all things you can take care of on your own.  The list is certainly not all-inclusive, but based upon our experience helping clients through the process of picking up the pieces after the loss of a loved one – it is a good start.  Take care of all of this NOW, stop procrastinating and enjoy every day you have.

Karen Rasmussen is a Registered Paraplanner with PARAGON Wealth Strategies and serves as our Director of Client Service.  For her full bio, click here.  See important disclosures on our disclosures page.