Apr 21, 2023

Outliving a Life Partner: Early Preparation Provides Comfort When You Need it Most

Apr 21, 2023
Jacky Lares – CFP®
Wealth Architect
The death of a loved one is a subject many of us avoid thinking about until we must. However unpalatable it may feel for you and your partner to get your affairs in order now, prior to an unexpected death or terminal illness, it becomes significantly more difficult after the fact. By preparing in advance, you and your partner are doing the ultimate favor for your future selves. You are offering each other some relief and an improved state of mind during what will likely be a painful and overwhelming time.

I was inspired to write this piece after several clients opened up to me about their experiences with the death of a loved one. While every story was different, there was a common theme: they all encountered unexpected emotional challenges that they wished hadn’t caught them by surprise.

Below are insights gleaned from these conversations that will hopefully help set you and your family up for success and well-being down the road.

Technology & Passwords

When you are grieving, a tech issue is the last thing you want to think about. But this may be a critical time to be able to access your loved one’s devices and online accounts. Why? Here are some things you may want to do:

          • Save precious photos and videos stored on their phone.
          • Log into online billing accounts and transfer bills from their name to yours. (Tip: It will save you a lot of headache later on if you put both of your names on shared accounts, such as utilities, from the start. The last thing you need during this time is for your water to be shut off because you couldn’t get access to a utilities account.)
          • Take over property management tasks. Do you know how to work your house alarm or sprinkler system? The location of your circuit breaker? The password to your safe or lockbox? Did your partner keep this information on their phone or computer?
          • Access their contacts and calendar, particularly if you have children together and your partner was the one who kept their records or oversaw their schedules (e.g., school, extracurriculars, doctors appointments). The same applies if your partner managed the shared business contacts (your go-to handyman, landscaper, babysitter, tax advisor, and so on).
          • Some people choose to sign into their partner’s social media account to share funeral or donation details with their network or invite people to use their page as a guestbook to share nice messages. Facebook has an option to appoint someone as a successor to your account to manage or deactivate it as they so choose.
          • Cancel their subscriptions so you don’t have to receive magazines, medications or other deliveries on their behalf for months to come.

These are the unforeseen, so-called “little things” that can come up and be frustrating and triggering to navigate while in mourning. You can make it easier on yourself to manage your loved one’s digital presence posthumously by finding a trusted password-management tool.

Preserving Memories

Sometimes, in the wake of a death, it can bring us comfort to hear a loved one’s voice or watch videos of them. You might want to remember to save a voicemail they left you before it expires or recover photos they’ve taken. You can also take action before that, while they are alive and well.

Consider making a video (or multiple over the years) for your partner and other loved ones and requesting that they do the same. You might self-tape these videos in private or it could be a couple or family activity in which you interview each other (e.g., How would you describe the first time we met? Favorite childhood memory? Favorite memory with me/our kids? How do you hope people will remember you? What advice do you have? What is your all-time favorite song?). It can take whatever form feels right to you.

When people are anticipating their death, such as with illness, it’s common to write cherished “goodbye letters” to family members. However, death is often unpredictable, so it can be beneficial to create these special messages sooner rather than later. This doesn’t have to be a somber activity centered around mortality, though. Creating a letter or video for a loved one can be fun and serve as a special keepsake for them to enjoy and revisit throughout the years, as you might a time capsule or any other home movie.

Getting the Obituary Right

Writing can be difficult as is, but even more so when grieving, on a deadline and feeling pressure to perfectly encapsulate the life, legacy and essence of this person who means so much to you. Consider writing your obituaries (or bullet points) together with your partner before that day comes.

Things to discuss: what you most want to highlight, your proudest achievements, your passions, what you hope your legacy to be, people to mention, if you’d like donations to a cause in your memory and which photo of yourself you’d like to be used. This exercise is most effective when done semi-regularly as your lives continue to evolve. To establish a cadence, it might be helpful to revisit your obituary notes roughly every five years, in conjunction with the regular review of your estate plan.

Quality of Life & Funeral Preferences

If your loved one went into a coma tomorrow, would you feel confident that you understand their health care preferences? If married, you will be responsible for making medical decisions for your spouse. Communicate your wishes with each other as early as possible and formalize it through an advance health care directive (AHCD) as part of your estate plans.

Expressing clear-cut instructions to your partner ahead of time is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. An AHCD will help alleviate the emotional toll. For instance, if you’ve made it known that you do not wish to remain in a persistent vegetative state, should that situation occur, then they won’t have the terrible burden making that decision themselves – you’ve already made it for them.

You and your loved ones will also benefit from discussing funeral and burial preferences in advance. Elements to consider include selecting cemetery plots, burial versus cremation, what to do with ashes, religious arrangements, funeral/wake preferences and so on. As with medical care, providing explicit instructions about your funeral preferences well before they’re needed will grant greater peace of mind to your surviving loved ones.

After a partner or close relative passes, there is a checklist of protocols and paperwork that must be sorted out. We will address that list in a forthcoming blog post.

If you would like to speak with an advisor about these topics, we would love to connect with you. Contact us here.

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