Finance After Death: Preparing for the Eventual and Inevitable
In the past, I’ve written about a number of Money Milestones that are usually pretty exciting ones to reach. Today… not so much. Instead, let’s talk about a different kind of Money Milestone: dying. Yes, dying — that thing none of us wants to talk about but that all of us (barring any major scientific breakthroughs) will do. More specifically, I want to discuss how Millennials like myself can prepare for our untimely demise and ensure that we don’t leave our loved ones in a lurch when we do go. So, strap in, and let’s go there.
3 Ways to Prepare Your Finances for Death
The first tip I have is simple: be organized. In other words, think through what kinds of things your spouse, children, friends, or parents might need to know or have access to if you should die. This info could be as basic as your phone’s PIN or could be slightly more complicated (I won’t even try to posit a scenario here). Heck, if you’re the one who normally goes through the process of paying all the bills in your relationship, what does your spouse need to know in order to take over the task if you’re not there? These are the types of questions you’ll want to consider and find a way to answer them while you still can.
One tool I recently discovered that is made explicitly for this purpose is Everplans. Not only will the platform allow you to store digital copies of important documents, information, and notes, but will also prompt you to enter useful info you might not have thought about. Personally, seeing as I have a lot of bank accounts that I would want my wife to be able to access should anything happen to me, I was excited to see that I could link (or manually enter) those accounts into Everplans, making my wife’s job of hunting them all down a bit easier.
On that note, the way Everplans works is that you can set Deputies, select what information they’ll have access to, and when they’ll have access to it. These Deputies will then be able to inform Everplans of you’re passing and, if you don’t respond to their inquiry within a certain timeframe, your account will be unlocked. Currently, Everplans does come at a cost of $75 a year but there is a 60-day free trial. So, if you’re like me and could use some organization, I think it’s at least worth checking out.
Consider life insurance
If you were to die, would your loved ones’ finances be impacted? Chances are they will. Not only could your death mean a lack of income but funeral expenses and potential medical bills themselves can be quite high. That’s why having a life insurance policy might not be as excessive as younger people might assume it to be.
First, I should mention that there are two main types of life insurance: whole life insurance and term life insurance. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to be talking only about the latter because 1) it typically makes more sense for younger adults and 2) it’s far less complicated. Simply put, with term life insurance, you purchase a policy that will pay out a set amount should you die. Should the policy expire and you’re still kicking, there’s no pay out — a net positive outcome overall. However, should you pass away during the policy’s term (and without running afoul of any of the exceptions), your designated recipients will receive the payment you selected when buying your policy. Basically, term life insurance can help fill in financial gaps for your family should something unexpected happen to you.
These days, buying a term life insurance policy is easier than ever and can also be relatively affordable. Companies such as Bestow, Lemonade, and others allow you to apply for policies online and without a health exam. Typically, after answering some questions entering the amount of coverage you want, and selecting a term length, you’ll be able to receive a free quote to get an idea of how much such a policy will cost you. In my experience, I could get a 20-year, $1 million policy for about $50 a month while a two-year, $50,000 policy was less than $5 a month.
On the topic of policy size, while you may be motivated to go for the largest number just because or select a smaller one in hopes of lowering your monthly cost, I’d encourage you to think more carefully about how much coverage you really need. In addition to considering things such as funeral costs, it may be helpful to think about much income your family would be missing out on in your absence and how long they’d reasonably need to replace that income. Hopefully this will get you in the ballpark of what a reasonable coverage number would be, allowing you to select the best policy option for your situation.
Have a will
Finally, when is the right time to write a will? Honestly, the answer is probably “sooner than you think.” Yet, I’ll admit that I do not yet have a will myself. Nevertheless, let’s talk about why you might want one ASAP and how to go about getting one.
If you’re somehow unfamiliar, a will essentially states how you’d like your possessions doled out after you die. Well, there may be more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it. You’ve assuredly seen movies or real-life dramas involving wills (or lack thereof), usually featuring wealthy families fighting over their deceased relative’s riches. Of course, for most of us, the content of your will and the prescriptions it dictates will be far less exciting.
As for how to go about writing a will, technically, you’ll want to get a lawyer involved to help you draw it up and ensure it’s iron clad. That said, since that’s really far more adulting than many of us are likely to do, there are now online options that could serve as a good — but perhaps not great — solution. Among them, Legalzoom offers last-will services starting at $89, while a site called Freewill allows you to create a will for, uh, free. Elsewhere, Quicken (the company that owns Mint, TurboTax, and Quickbooks) also has something called WillMaker.
The bottom line is that, while I may not have gotten around to creating a will yet, there are now plenty of ways to do so. And although the free options may not give you 100% airtight, non-contestable results, I have a feeling they’d do fine enough for most people. On the other hand, if you can afford to and have situations that make a will more important, it’s definitely better to speak to an attorney.
For most people, death is a scary topic and one that’s unfortunately loomed even larger over our lives in recent years. But, while it may not be pleasant to think about, it’s a reality that we cannot afford to ignore. For the sake of your loved ones, it’s important to consider how post-death finances and take steps today just in case. Whether that means taking out a life insurance policy, penning a will, or just being a bit more organized when it comes to drawing out a contingency plan — while I hope they won’t have to anytime soon — your family will ultimately thank you.
Also published on Medium.