My colleague and I were emailing each other about a recent video product we created together. He had just done some edits and the video was great. Bruce was the best video producer I’ve ever met. He was an original founder of AgingParents.com, our business. We were on this project for weeks. Four hours after the email, he died of a sudden heart attack. He was my age.
I am sad and feeling the loss very much. And I am struggling to imagine what it would be like for my own spouse and kids if I were the one to go so unexpectedly. I do this blog full of ideas about being prepared for disability or the end of life. And in my work I meet people face to face and help them get ready for their aging parents’ frailties and end of life. Yet I am sure my kids would not be ready to step up and do the job of winding up all our affairs if I left this life without warning, as Bruce just did.
We need to prepare our “exit papers”.
We need a hard copy and zip drive with the essentials our kids would need if we were suddenly no longer with them.
Fortunately, we have practiced what we preach in our work. We have let them know what we have, where our investments are and where we keep all records. We have introduced them to our financial advisor and our tax preparer and they have relationships with both. We’ve taught our daughter about how to handle real estate transactions, as she is interested in them. We have our estate plan and a health care directive. They know our wishes. It sounds like a lot.
But that is not enough. They need minutiae: account numbers, passwords, access to a great deal of information and a list of all the managers and professionals upon whom we rely to keep our lives and finances in order. This is detailed stuff. It’s complicated. These are part of the exit papers.
Is this risky, telling them all our business? Yes. If we give them all information, they could possibly take advantage of us if we become infirm and live to be 100. Of they could rip us off if we lost our minds. I’ll take the chance. I am certainly not a perfect mother, but I’ve tried hard to raise kids with integrity and values and they’ve definitely got them. I am willing to trust them to do what is right and to never misuse the trust we place in them. I know my kids are both honorable human beings and I’m very proud of that.
What if you don’t have kids or your kids don’t happen to be so trustworthy? If they have a drug or alcohol problem or they’re not good with money? In that caseI’d give my exit papers to a licensed professional fiduciary or appointed successor trustee and be sure everything that person or institution would need is in the exit papers. I would teach them while I could.
This goes a lot farther than standard estate planning. It is about the minute details of daily life that our friend Bruce’s widow must now deal with in the midst of her profound grief. Can she get into the email accounts? Can she transfer the projects he was working on to the next person in charge? When it’s my turn to go, I don’t want it to be any harder on my loved ones than it needs to be. I can at least give them information in advance so they will not struggle to take care of business.
So, my husband, Mikol and I embark upon the Exit Papers Project. It will take the next two weeks or so to get it done. It’s a matter of copying contacts, things and numbers into a document with explanations about what and where and why. Then we sit down with the kids, both in their 20′s, and show them what it all means.
If you are willing to face the reality that we are indeed mortal, consider your own Exit Papers Project. It might be the smartest, most caring and safest thing for your family.
And of course, we’ll have to update it every year.
I’m okay with that. It’s an act of love.
Until next time,
Carolyn Rosenblatt • Contributor, Forbes Magazine