Hey, remember when I was getting my shit together a few months back? Oh hohohohohohahahahaha …heh. Welp. Things did not go as planned.
My silence here has been because I didn’t know what I wanted to write about it, but here’s the truth: one of my parents passed away suddenly a few months ago. It was awful (and is still awful) and left us all reeling. It’s hard to put into words how I’m doing as it hasn’t been that long and, honestly, I don’t even know. Most of the time, it’s fine. I have been busy at work and in life and I am thankful for a wonderfully supportive partner and group of friends. But some of the time, especially when my mind is quiet at the end of the day, memories and thoughts of coulda/woulda/shoulda come flooding into my brain and it just really, really sucks. But I’m doing ok.
(p.s. Even the tiniest gestures from friends have meant SO MUCH to me in the last few months. I know everyone is different, but a card/note/flowers/I’m thinking of you has just been so kind and reassuring and makes me so thankful for my friends and extended family. I am bad at doing this, but have pledged to be better.)
I decided to start writing about my experiences after seeing some tweets from Fervent Finance and She Picks Up Pennies while back. I think estate planning within your extended family is not something I’ve read from a lot of the PF community. And, unfortunately, it has become glaringly obvious that my parents should have been much more open with me and my sibling about their retirement finances, end-of-life financial plans, wills/other legal documents, etc.
Do you talk to your parents about their finances, and more specifically their retirement plans?
— Fervent Finance (@ferventfinance) August 24, 2017
My dad is sitting in my kitchen with his estate planner on speaker phone. And I'm crying.
Adulting is a bitch sometimes.
— Penny (@picksuppennies) September 6, 2017
Since the parent that passed was the one with the financial knowledge, and my sibling and surviving parent do not have much financial literacy in the way of investments, a lot of it has rolled down to me (and various financial professionals) to make decisions and ensuring my family’s assets are safely invested and accessible for my surviving parent. (For clarity and privacy, I will refer to my deceased parent as DP and my surviving parent as SP in this post.) It has also dawned on me that getting my financial and legal house in order is probably a thing I should do now rather than later.
I’ve been open here that I don’t really have a timeline for FI. I don’t have a plan to increase my passive income, I don’t have a plan for what I would do if I retired in my 40’s (other than “travel”), I don’t have a plan for how I would handle health insurance and other necessities that I would need outside of traditional employment. I felt a twinge of sadness in August when a few blogger friends confessed they “could not wait for FI” so they could go chase the next eclipse. Today, I decided I’m fine with punting on FI (or, at least, the mechanics of it). My mind is cluttered with a whole lotta shit right now, and I am incapable of devoting much emotional energy to planning things that seem very far in the future. But.
I realized one problem my parents faced in retirement was a bit of a “failure to launch.” I think there were a lot of things they wanted to do, but hadn’t contemplated the costs and challenges associated with those ideas in a tangible way that would have allowed them to become reality. There was talk of RVing around the country, but that would have required substantial downsizing and decluttering. There was talk of international travel, but that would have required having a spending plan. And now here we are, with one parent gone, and a wake of obligations to fulfill before we can move forward with our lives. This process that I am going through right now – the decluttering, the organizing, the paperwork – it’s not only an important part of my grief process, but I believe it’s also part of my FI journey. Ultimately, I hope it will help me gain clarity on my long-term financial and life goals.
There Will Be Stuff
The other thing I have been faced with is the physical reality of dealing with a loved one’s STUFF after they are no longer on this earth. My DP was a “neat hoarder” or a collector or whatever you want to call it. I have already spent hours and hours going through clothing and helping to empty out a storage unit. My SP has put in many calls to the accountant trying to understand what to keep and what to purge. My sibling, who lives closer, has spent many more hours organizing paperwork and bills and shredding, shredding, shredding.
The other day, I stumbled upon an article about the “Swedish art of death cleaning” which is basically about getting your physical house in order should you pass away unexpectedly. It’s the same philosophy as all other estate planning – have all of your decisions made and money organized and paperwork sorted so that when the time comes, your loved ones don’t have to spend hours and hours shredding tax returns from 1972. I deeply wish that my DP would have have embraced a single nugget of minimalist philosophy while still on this earth. (Years of encouragement from my SP did not inspire much action.) So, we are going through the process now and helping my SP go through 40 years worth of collective stuff plus childhood stuff (theirs and ours) plus stuff from my deceased grandparents and even great-grandparents. It’s a lot of stuff, and I am trying to be prudent about the items that I bring into my house. This winter, I would like to undertake archiving projects and get precious family photos out of old albums and into acid-free envelopes and boxes (and scanned into the cloud). And continue the process of getting my own physical and financial house in order.
There Might Be Money?
Retirement accounts, business accounts, life insurance policies, proceeds from sales of property – the list goes on. We were in a fortunate situation in that we did not have to worry about having enough money to cover funeral expenses. Even with a very modest memorial service and cremation, the bill to the funeral home was still almost $7000. (DP had discussed funeral arrangements with SP and did NOT want to spend a lot of money on them.) Funeral costs are an insane out-of-pocket expense for a family that doesn’t have much in the way of savings or life insurance. Only about 60% of Americans have life insurance, with about 20% of those who do have insurance having a policy worth less than $25,000. That amount of money could get eaten up quickly by funeral expenses, with little or nothing left over for surviving family members. (As to not turn this into a post about life insurance, I refer you to Half Banked who had a recent and very good post on the subject.)
I was also not expecting to receive any inheritance at this point, with the assumption that all of the assets would go to my SP. However, DP’s will did include a provision that split some assets between me, my sibling and my SP. As a person who has worked very hard to put herself through college and grad school without taking on much education debt, and scoffed at my peers who had everything paid for by their parents, I’ll admit that I had complicated feelings about being the recipient of an inheritance. I also felt guilty about inheriting money that my parents worked very hard for and now my DP would not be able to spend in retirement. However, it is what it is. The paperwork says it’s my money, and my DP would certainly want me to be prudent with it. It’s not enough money to drastically change my life trajectory, but it is enough to achieve some of my savings goals much more quickly (namely, fully funding my emergency and house down payment funds). I have spent a little money replacing some household items that I’ve been saying “wouldn’t it be nice to have a new _______” for several years now, I bought a plane ticket to visit some friends, and I put the rest in a high interest savings account and Vanguard. No Maserati, no lavish jewelry, no year-long backpacking reflection journey through Europe – just a new vacuum cleaner and a savings account. Anticlimactic!
Grief Is Weird
One thing I’ve learned in the last few months is that grief is weird and deeply personal. Even in my immediate family, we are all dealing with our grief in drastically different ways. Having lived away from my hometown for almost half my life, at times I feel very removed from the sharp and immediate grief that my SP and sibling experience on a daily basis. For me, grief comes in waves of varying intensity – it punches me in the gut, it whispers in my ear as I’m falling asleep, it taps me on the shoulder when I’m laughing with friends, and it washes over me when I visit my hometown. But I’m doing ok.
Thanks for listening, friends.
p.s. I’ve alluded to my struggles with mental health in the past, and on this #worldmentalhealthday, I just want you to know that I got help, and it’s ok if you need help. And I’m always here if you need to talk.