Here’s an awkward question: Do you have end-of-life plans? Most people avoid thinking about life after they pass to avoid having difficult conversations or getting overwhelmed by the logistics.
But you wouldn’t want to leave your loved ones with a lifetime of belongings and information to sort through, so how can you unburden your family members before it’s too late?
Why did Jonathan Braddock decide to write a book on end of life plans?
It was four years ago, a beautiful Monday morning. My wife and I were actually playing golf and on the fourth hole, when her cellphone started ringing. We found out that Michelle’s father had just passed away at home on the bedroom floor. Naturally, we left the balls where they lay and headed home.
My father-in-law, Ted was still on his bedroom floor when we arrived, the police obviously were there, the paramedics were there and you’re in a state of total shock and it was the first time I had experienced this or my wife with a close family member.
The questions started to flow. Such as, what funeral home should we take them to? We don’t know, there are several in town and we’re forced into making decisions from that point forward.
Within 24 hours, we’re sitting at a funeral home, getting marching orders from the funeral director, obituaries have to be written. Is it going to be cremation or a burial? Is it going to be a religious or a traditional ceremony?
What about flowers? How many papers should we put the obituaries in, what places has he lived throughout his life that we might want to put an obituary in and on and on. Such a completely overwhelming and stressful time and trying to think through and come up with all the answers and hope that we’re doing what my father in law would have wanted.
Because you see, he never really ever had the conversation with his daughter, my wife, with his own wife as to what happens when he leaves. To flash forward to the end of that story, it took us an excess of 10 months to locate everything, close out all the details of his life.
“During that process, it occurred to me that if something were to happen to Michelle and me, our children would have no clue.
“They would have no idea where to locate documents, where we bank, what kind of accounts we have, proof of ownership.”
Do we have life insurance, do my children just going through college really understand what life insurance is really all about even, how are they going to locate it? They don’t know who our attorney is or accountant.
Much less, are they going to be able to log in to my technology, close down everything that’s setup on auto pay or recurring payments, try and figure out the two newspapers that I read every day which aren’t delivered to the driveway, they’re delivered to my iPad.
Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon Prime, Netflix, there’s going to be a stinking mess on the front porch if they don’t stop the subscription to the Blue Apron account because meals will continue to stack up.
I thought, “Something has to be done” and as I talked with people, going through this process and explaining what we were going through, everyone wanted to share their stories with me.
They said “jeez, when my mom passed” or “when I lost my brother…” Everyone seems to experience the same thing.
As close as I can figure, people have been here for 300,000 years. One thing remains true:
“No one gets out of here alive.
“1 out of 1 of us will, in fact, die.”
I think they might have a cure for that someday but you know, probably not within my lifetime.
If we can get our heads around the fact that we’re all going to die at some point, why don’t people talk about these things or plan for it? It’s interesting, speaking with a person a week or so ago, it kind of made me think back to my childhood, when I grew up which was in the 60’s and the 70’s.
I grew up in a small town called Medford New Jersey outside of Philadelphia. You know, life was simple then, with spring doors, we didn’t lock the house, you know, if mom and dad weren’t home, you know, we came home from school, just walked right in, it was just a screen door you know?
Very simple time, there was one bank in town where everyone banked up the street. There was one attorney in town where most people worked with that individual. There was one funeral in town and most people were buried and one of two cemeteries that were in town at that time.
And, if someone died, pretty much all aspects of their life could be found either in the desk drawer in their home office and any bills or obligations that these individuals had or where they banked, et cetera, would show up in the mail box.
For younger listeners, that’s not the thing you’re looking at on your computer, it’s the thing that sits out front of the house and you know, that’s where all the mail came. Bills, credit card statements, bank statements, any obligations a person has.
Today, that’s not the case, you know, I’m 55, the only thing I get in the physical mailbox out front in the house are you know, coupons, pizza fliers and birthday cards from my mother.
Nothing else shows up there. Everything is online and so, while back in the 60’s, 70’s, maybe even the 80’s. When someone died, you could pretty much within a shorter period of time get through everything and figure it out.
But technology, while making our lives so simple, has made our departure so much more complicated because people have to be able to find, locate and access all this information.
What was that period like after his death?
Ted was a saver. I wouldn’t say he was a hoarder, but he was a saver plus shall we say. He had a home office and there were file cabinets just jam full. There were boxes stacked on boxes and paper. The man saved everything.
Going through that process, we had to try and track down, you know, for the last 40 years of everything he saved, what was still active, what wasn’t. In terms of life insurance, we found ourselves on the telephone, contacting insurance companies for policies that were 20 years older.
Are these insurance policies still enforced? You know, to find that and know, to find that no, that policy had been cashed in, whatever. It starts this massive scavenger hunt for things. We found a safe deposit box key but had no idea as to what financial institution it was located.
Naturally, we went to the bank where he had his checking and savings, home owner’s line of credit, went in and said “No, he doesn’t have a savings account or a safety deposit box with us.”
That took us about a week to identify where the safe deposit box was located, turns out, it was in a bank on the other side of town where he had no other accounts. It’s like wow, where’s the will, is there a will? And that took several weeks to locate within the papers and you know, then shockingly after reading through it, you know, I said to my wife, I said, “You know what? I have some really bad news.”
“You’re going to have to go to Milwaukee and live with Aunt Gene and uncle Ed,” because that’s what the will stated. Now, if people pickup on my sense of humor there, then that means his will hadn’t been updated since the early 1960’s.
Things have changed but that wasn’t updated. Now, Ted was fairly computer savvy, he was an old IBM guy from back in the day and so he did a lot of stuff online. However, trying to make sense of his login, credentials, his usernames, his passwords that he kept just on a legal sheet and crossed out when he changed things.
And his handwriting was extremely small. And trying to log in. But then, the problem was, once we did identify where some of these accounts were and what was autopay, we’d go to log in, but it didn’t recognize the IP address, we’re logging in from somewhere different. Now it starts spitting challenge questions.
You know, who knew that Cliff was his best friend in Junior high, back in the late 30’s, right? That was another process that we had to go through. It was just overwhelming. I can only imagine if they lived in another state.
How much time did this take up each day?
For people, they need to understand, you know, our employers are wonderful, they give us some bereavement leave. Usually for an immediate family member like that, it could be three days, maybe as much as five.
When you have to start tracking this stuff down, you know, I’m talking about all the banks and insurance companies et cetera. That’s a 9-to-5 proposition when you’re trying to speak with people.
The challenge now is, if I come back to work, you know, my employer is not going to be too thrilled, you know, they’re going to have a little empathy but they’re not going to be too excited about me spending an hour or two of the day when I’m supposed to be doing company business and I’m doing personal business.
To close things off. I don’t know, you know, I told, Mike, et cetera, I stopped to think about all the online or digital identities that I have out there. You know, places that I purchase from, places that have my login information and accounts and all those kinds of things. I have over 50 and I’m 55.
Can you imagine for the people. It happens because you know, we talk about death and you know, news flash, it’s not just for old people.
What is their family going to do, what’s their spouse going to do? You know, I still have – it was funny and I actually included in my book, when I was going to final publication of the book and I’m talking with my editors I had that morning gotten notification from LinkedIn.
Because I’ve got a fairly active LinkedIn account and so I go through my notifications and it’s telling me to wish my friend Peter a happy birthday. All I could do is just shake my head and go, I hope his other 500 plus connections know that he’s no longer responding, “Hey, thanks for the birthday wishes.”
I have seven friends on Facebook who are deceased, that still have active accounts out there.
It took another person in our story Caesar, it took him a year to close down his mother in law’s Facebook account because she hadn’t assigned legacy contact into it.
Why don’t people prepare for death?
The answers are crazy. When I ask that, they say, “Well I don’t have time.”
My response to that is – Man, I wish I was you, because apparently you know when you’re going to die.
This is not taxes, you know? I can wait till April 15th without too much consequence. Probably a lot of stress, but without too much consequence to do my taxes and get them done because it’s a day that’s certain. I know that date, but I don’t know when I’m going to die.
This morning, just in the United States alone, over 7,600 people woke up, those 7,600 people expect they’ll do the same thing tomorrow but they won’t. We just don’t know who to be.
The other one, I find humor in, it’s bad luck to talk about that. Because I always try and have an answer for everything, right? My answer to that is, we talk about sex, but that does not make us pregnant.
Talking about death isn’t going to make us dead and as I say, 40 years ago, maybe you didn’t have to talk about it so much but today, it’s imperative. When someone dies, there are normal emotions, not normal, or unnecessary emotions.
The normal emotions are sadness and grief, we can’t do anything about those and we really don’t want to do anything about those because those are part of the natural healing process that we all have to go through.
Now, the emotions that are not normal are confusion, frustration, stress and anger.
What can we do this week to help our spouse or family when we do pass away?
Well, I always start with one question. I want the listener to think about this for themselves. What do you want the experience to be like for your family or fill in the blank spouse, kids, et cetera, when you’re gone? What do you want the experience to be like?
Now, albeit, there could be people out there who say, “I’m gone, I don’t care,” fine, we’re not going to change their minds but those that do truly care and want their family to be able to grieve properly without the anger, stress and frustration. They need to start planning and it’s a process. A lot of people say, “Oh it’s so overwhelming. I’ll never get through it.” It’s like look at planning or being thoughtfully prepared much like any weight loss program that we embark on. We see this all the time and we all know the big names of the exercise gurus out there.
Nobody is going to tell you that tomorrow morning you are going to wake up 20 pounds lighter but they will tell you that if you do this, this and this in 12 weeks you will be 20 pounds lighter. So think of planning more as a marathon, it’s not a sprint. Do things a step at a time. My first suggestion is have you clearly expressed your wishes to your family as to whether or not you wanted to be cremated or buried? Because a very good friend of mine, Nick, when we had a conversation a couple of years ago he said, “I wish I had known mom wanted to be cremated before I buried her.”
Now he lives with the memory of knowing that he didn’t honor his mom’s final wishes because he didn’t have a conversation about it. So start with that because there is nothing – I can imagine worse in my life than I die I haven’t clearly spelled things out and my kids already fight with one another are really come to blows because family is never going to agree. We can’t agree what movie to go see as a family, let alone should dad be buried or cremated, what would he have wanted?
Why do you recommend discussing burying versus cremation first?
It’s the first decision that you’ll have to make or your family will have to make.
The next piece of that is because you know funeral homes are great and funeral directors, God love them. I could never do that kind of business and they’re wonderful, but while you are sitting there and at one moment while they’re expressing just how sorry they are for your loss, the other hand is slipping the bill. So it has to be paid for.
Statistically, over 50% of family tend to have to put out money upfront to cover cost. Many times they never recoup that back.
So do you have life insurance? Because life insurance is wonderful but only if people know you have it.
“There’s been over a billion dollars in life insurance that has gone unpaid in the United States. That’s because beneficiaries didn’t know the policy existed.”
So what do you want, burial or cremation? Great, how is that going to be paid for? Hey, I’ve got this life insurance policy. Great, where are your life insurance policies?
Don’t send me on a scavenger hunt, just tell me you have a life insurance policy with this company and this company and then be done with it.
Life insurance is paid tax free to a beneficiary. So if you have it, now granted if the funeral home needs to be paid tomorrow or in the next 30 days, you may not have that money but I feel much better about handing my credit card or writing a check or going into my savings to pay for it knowing that life insurance is coming and it’s going to cover that cost and we get my money back. Then after that first week and the other thing too, this is what I think is funny.
Your listener may not but make some eulogy notes and obituary notes. Within 24 hours the family starts scrambling to write an obituary and you struggle because you’re trying to think of all the things the person has accomplished or done in their life that you want to include in the paper. My mother in law, Marie, still usually about every other month says to Michelle, my wife, “I want to do the obituary again. Can we write the obituary again because we didn’t include this, this and this.”
She’s like, “No mom, we are not doing the obituary again,” so put down notes. Are there people that you would want notified? It might be an old college roommate, someone who is in another state who may not find out about it or see an obituary and then I’d like to write my own eulogy notes because for God’s sakes if you are going to say something about me, I want it to be nice. But then after you get passed that whole first week and you’ve got that stuff done, then the important things that people need to know are let people know about your financial life.
Where are your bank accounts? What do you have there? Where are your credit cards? Any other documents? Make sure if there is a will people know where it’s located. Make sure it’s in the safe deposit box that people know there’s a key and it’s in your upper desk drawer and it’s in this financial institution. Write the blueprint for your family so they don’t go on this massive scavenger hunt to try and locate everything. Make it simple for them.
Where might we find a blueprint template?
At my website which at mylifeandwishes.com. People could connect with a checklist, download a checklist. We also have an ebook that’s there which is called The 10 Things You Need To Know which is a wonderful guide to get people started. It talks about things like funeral, important papers and documents, social media certainly, even pets. Many people don’t think about that and what’s going to happen to fluffy when you are no longer here.
And so, there’s some really good resources to get people started down that path. My book is a quick read. We’ve taken a fairly serious topic but made it light, hopefully your listeners could pick up, I do have a sense of humor. When we are talking about death you have to.
“It’s not doom and gloom. It’s going to happen to all of us, so why not talk about it?”
I am not going to tell my college age kids everything today, but I have everything organized in such a way and I hope I don’t die for 50 years and I have everything organized in such a way that it’s an awesome tool for me.
Right now because I have everything in one place and everything is stored and I keep it up to date and it makes my life so much easier to manage right now. I have taken all the chaos and for my kids, the conversation doesn’t have to list everything out. It can be, “Look here’s the deal guys, we’re all going to die I am going to die someday. When that happens, in my upper dresser drawer the righthand side under the socks there is an envelope. You can go in at that time, it is going to provide you the roadmap to everything that you’re going to need.”
I tell people all the time: we have a platform which is at mylifeandwishes.com that people can utilize. It is very intuitive, guides people step by step, we look at it as our virtual vault especially on the heels of natural disasters a couple of which we have just experienced with Harvey and Irma. So people say, “Yeah, I have everything in desk drawers. It’s all good to go.” It’s like, “Oh God, let’s just hope there’s not a fire, or a flood.”
In my virtual vault, I have everything. I have the ability to upload my documents, I have uploaded my will, I have uploaded my insurance pass. So wherever I am my stuff is and it’s protected from natural disaster and again, I don’t care whether people use my platform or not, what I care about when this happened to me, I said “I want to help at least one million people in the United States alone to avoid the pain that we went through.”
That’s all I want to do because it’s totally avoidable. So whether you created a Google Doc whether you write it down on a legal pad just make sure you put that somewhere really safe and secure but get it done, plan. You are doing it for love and then just make sure somebody knows about it because you don’t want to go through all that effort and then no one knows about it and then people make all of these decisions for you and a year later they find it and they say, “Oh crap we did this part wrong.”
How has Click Here When I Die impacted the people that have made these changes?
The feedback has been nothing short of phenomenal. There was a woman who contacted us after reading the book. A friend gave her a copy, saying to her, “You need to read this” and she sat down and she read through the book. Ellen’s husband was going in for surgery later that week, and they’re in their 80’s. After reading the book, she realized that her husband took care of everything because they’re of that generation. She didn’t know where things were or anything else, so she went to her husband and literally tossed the book at him and said, “You need to read this.”
That night, he was having some difficulty sleeping because he was thinking about the surgery coming up, and so he got up and started reading the book. Now the book is about an hour and a half, two hours, it’s a short read. It took him over four hours to go through the book, because he was making notes for his wife.
The positive side of the story is he did in fact made it through the surgery, he’s great and now they’re prepared and they’re organized which is wonderful. The thing is, people don’t realize they are going to have this problem until the problem hits them right in the face. So that’s why I say read the book. It will cause you to act.
We have a contact from another fellow who is actually an attorney. Who thought he had all of his ducks in a row if you will and after reading the book and his name is Rick, Rick came back and said, “Never thought about life insurance, never thought about how to connect my kids with the pension,” that he has.
Never thought about providing the access to his technology, his iPad, his computer, where the other documents are stored and he actually then got all of his stuff organized and put together and he called his daughter and had his daughter come to town for the weekend and went through everything with her later on, at 72, 73 and he finally felt good. Even an attorney, he thought he had everything and hadn’t thought about all the little things. Even the social media accounts.
Our lives, they’re so complicated but if we stop and think about all the pieces and as you say just lay them out, put them together, it’s not that hard. You don’t have to have it done by tomorrow morning but my challenge to the listener is within 90 days makes a commitment to yourself.
Because effectively, you’re making that commitment to your family. Within 90 days make that commitment to have all these tentacles of your life reeled in, put in one easy to use place so that your family can properly grieve when that time comes and they don’t have to go through the stress and the pain.
Hopefully it doesn’t happen for a long time and the good news is, you’ve got all that stuff organized for you. You’ll feel free.
How can people follow you and connect with you?
Several ways. First, if anyone ever wants to reach out to me, I am one of those people that I respond to all my own emails, usually within 24 hours, my email address is email@example.com. You can connect with us on Facebook and from our website, my life and wishes, subscribe to our newsletter, read our blogs, ton of resources and again, connect with us there on Facebook and Twitter and just stay in contact and, for people who will read our book. I just would be so honored if people would just email me their thoughts on the book.