I love the movie Patch Adams. Who isn’t a fan of Robin Williams’ works?
The theme in Patch Adams that I can relate to so much is the divergence between the “professional” side of medicine and the “qualitative/Life” side. Patch is a huge proponent of treating people, not patients – understanding them on a deeper level and going beyond the ailments that they are afflicted with.
I think about this a lot and how it relates to the world of personal finance.
So often people are reduced to numbers, and we miss the true meaning behind the numbers. I am always trying to get people to see past their investment accounts or bank statements, and see things for what they are; to understand the balance between the numbers side of things, and the life side of things.
But sometimes it takes some kind of connection, or a breakthrough before we can really grasp this idea…
TO PUSH UP DAISIES
Which brings me to the meat and potatoes of this article.
There is a great scene in “Patch Adams” where Robin Williams, after months of trying to break through and connect to an ill-tempered patient with pancreatic cancer, walks into the patient’s room and starts listing off different terms for death.
Patch Adams: [reads from the book] Death. To die. To expire. To pass on. To perish. To peg out. To push up daisies. To push up posies. To become extinct. Curtains, deceased, demised, departed, and defunct. Dead as a doornail. Dead as a herring. Dead as a mutton. Dead as nits. The last breath. Paying a debt to nature. The big sleep. God’s way of saying, “Slow down.”
Bill Davis: [he starts to yell at Patch but changes his mind] To check out.
Patch Adams: To shuffle off this mortal coil.
Bill Davis: To head for the happy hunting ground.
Patch Adams: To blink for an exceptionally long period of time.
Bill Davis: To find oneself without breath.
Patch Adams: To be the incredible decaying man.
Bill Davis: Worm buffet.
Patch Adams: Kick the bucket.
Bill Davis: Buy the farm.
Patch Adams: Take the cab.
Bill Davis: Cash in your chips.
The idea behind the exchange was to connect with the patient in a light-hearted way that allowed for acceptance of the inevitable.
Not enough people have properly crossed their T’s and dotted their I’s when it comes to estate planning. The main reason for this is it is widely seen as taboo to speak about death, especially one’s own demise. So right from the start there are some serious speed bumps stopping people from properly planning for this “event.”
The Conversation Project, a Boston-based non-profit was on PBS News Hour in March of 2015 discussing their mission to highlight the importance of talking openly about dying. (Click here to view PBS News Hour segment) This can be a very difficult topic to bring up, so the group has done a lot to help facilitate that conversation and help others gain the confidence to begin that talk.
The truth is, by not doing this, you can cause a lot of additional pain and strife amongst your loved ones.
By taking a few simple steps like creating a Will or writing out a few last wishes, you can eliminate the struggle between your family over answering some very big questions.
Some common things that come up are…
How do you split up the family assets?
Who gets the baseball card collection?
Who gets the summer house in the Hamptons (if you’re lucky enough to have a summer house in the Hamptons)?
If you end up on life-support, do you want to stay on life-support or is it your wish (and you have the right to make this wish) that you should be taken off life-support?
It is unfair to ask the people who love you to make these stressful decisions in the best of times, let alone if a scenario like this is playing out before their eyes.
So here are a few simple, and very important steps you can take before you “blink for an exceptionally long period of time.”
THE BIG THREE
1 – Create A Will
Any decent estate attorney can help you with this. You want to make sure you use an attorney who has experience in estate planning, and one that is familiar with your states’ rules.
2 – Durable Power Of Attorney For Healthcare
Allows designated individuals to make decisions for you if you become incapacitated.
3 – Advanced Medical Directives
This spells out your personal wishes for events like you being on life-support, etc. It helps decrease the stress, and potential guilt, your loved ones will deal with during a difficult time.
Another thing you want to make sure you take care of is updating your beneficiary forms for all of your accounts.
One common misconception people have is that if they update their Will they don’t have to worry about their beneficiary forms.
The truth is, your beneficiary designations OVERRIDE a Will or a Trust. This is true for life insurance, annuities, and retirement accounts (IRA or 401(k) Plan).
If you fail to prepare for your own passing, there are many negative repercussions that could take place.
At best, it could cause bickering between family members who are disputing who should receive parts of your estate.
At worst, individuals you truly care about, and who are relying on part of your estate, could be left without.
I’ve heard of instances where a person remarries after a horrible past relationship that they were fortunate enough to get out of. But, they never updated their beneficiary forms to reflect their new family.
When they passed away, all of their assets (Life Insurance, retirement accounts, etc.) was legally mandated to pass to their former spouse, leaving their current family with nothing.
A FINAL PLEA
For many reading this, you are more than likely dreading the idea of discussing your own mortality with those you love and care about.
This is a very uncomfortable and nerve-wracking conversation to have, but it is one that is necessary if you want to spare your family additional stress and anxiety during an already difficult time.
Fortunately, it isn’t a conversation you have to have more than once.
So, take some time to plan ahead. Create the documents we mentioned earlier, and set up a time to discuss everything with the important parties.
This might not be a conversation people will be thanking you for having with them, but it is one that you can feel good about – knowing that you did your part to protect your loved ones.