This week my husband lost his life-long friend, causing us to pause and reflect on life: his life, our life, the purpose and meaning of life, all things life.  I pulled up a copy of the popular poem, The Dash.  The words of author, Linda Ellis, pictures the two dates that define each life on planet earth—the birth date and the departure date.  Then the poem lasers in on that tiny punctuation mark—the dash—which separates these two dates and represents the totality of life.

As feelings of sorrow, reflection and celebration danced in my mind, a thought about the poem surfaced:  it’s a “mad dash”!  Humans have one true mission—to grab the vital asset of time and exchange it for eternal assets of love and legacy.  This exchange defines a life well lived.  Follow me, if you will, through my musings from this week.

Planning the memorial service plunged us deep in emotions and thoughts.  My husband wrote and read the obituary, portraying our friend as a simple man.  He was born in Missouri and lived his entire life there.  His wife of over 40 years, his only son and scores of relatives and friends gathered to celebrate his life.  The stage was set.  The script included stories of things he enjoyed:  hunting, fishing, cooking, tennis, entertaining, sports, cars, cruises–all time spent with loved ones.  We highlighted his wonderful attributes:  kindness, generosity, fun.  He was also competitive, fiercely loyal, and faithful.  These qualities made him a connector who created a world where people loved to gather.  And of course, we told of his struggles:  the disappointments of his life and the medical challenges that finally took him from us.  Life was in the spotlight, but I observed that money loomed eerily as the backdrop for every scene.  Hmmm.

For example, my husband mentioned being the best man at his friend’s wedding.  And his friend would have been the best man at our wedding, but we didn’t have one.  When we married, we were in our thirties, each of us were rebounding from hard times and we were both broke!  So, we ran off to a Justice of the Peace.  There was no wedding.  

Other stories were about great times together (spending money) or tough times (hardships requiring money).  The money demon in the background would not be ignored.

Decisions surrounding any memorial service will always involve money and this one was no exception.  The cost difference between cremation and burial is about $10,000.  A burial insurance policy can lower the price significantly, provided it is acquired and paid for in advance and is accessible in hand when needed.  Other insurance policies, bank records, deeds and titles may be required to satisfy financial demands and the scramble to locate these can strain an already stressful situation.

As financial literacy educators, my husband and I know the importance of good planning and record keeping, but we don’t always do what we know. And we must confess to being remiss in assisting family and friends care for personal business.  This week was, yet another, wakeup call and we have set new goals to get on track.  As we commit to take immediate action, I invite you to evaluate your own situation and do what’s necessary for you.

First, we’re going to update our living trust.  Research shows that 97% of the population has no will, no living trust and no file anywhere documenting how they want their assets distributed.  This topic will be expanded in a future discussion.  For now, just note that everyone should have a living trust.  We have one, but it is 30 years old!  Our first priority is to bring it up to date.

Next, we’re going to obtain a burial policy for ourselves and everyone in our family.  No Exceptions.  No excuses.

Then we’re going to secure all important bank and financial websites, passwords and access codes.  These should not be stored in the computer but written in a book.  And the book needs to be kept in a portable, fireproof document file. Some trusted members of our family will have access to it, in addition to the two of us.

Finally, I need to practice taking the wheel and driving our finances.  Although we make financial decisions jointly, my husband generally handles the day-to-day details.  He is very good about telling me and showing me everything, but I don’t learn by just hearing and seeing.  I need “hands on” practice to make it stick in my brain.  So at least once a quarter, I am going to log into all the accounts, make transactions, meet with people who manage our accounts at the banks or brokerage houses, etc.  And I am going to appoint trusted family members or friends to make sure someone is familiar with everything, just in case my husband and I are both gone.

Back to the poem.  The last verse reads:

So, when your eulogy is being read

With your life’s actions to rehash

Would you be proud of the things they said

About how you spent YOUR dash?

Living should always be the focus, but dollars and documentation are necessary details of life.  Once the date following the dash is finally determined, that’s when life’s “business 1.0” (the business of living) becomes life’s “business 2.0” (unfinished business).  Ideally, the unfinished business is smooth and uneventful because of prior planning, clear communication, detailed documentation, and full funding.  Then all the business of life will flow smoothly into “business 3.0” – a legacy of fond memories, love, learning and wealth, passed on to future generations.  

So, I surmised that the days following that final date are generally a “mad dash”!  But as we band together in community to educate and empower ourselves, we can learn to take much of the madness out of the dash for our families.