My first real encounter with death occurred while I was in Manila many years ago. I was riding a cab on my way to the City Hall when I was awakened from my short nap by the driver who was frantically exclaiming in Tagalog, “May tao, nasagasaan ng trak!” A man got run over by a truck!
Not satisfied with what he saw from afar, he curiously inched his way along the scene. Startled, I quickly rolled down the window to the sight of the gruesome accident scene. This was before a large crowd had gathered, so the poor man’s motionless and lifeless body was literally only a few feet away from me.
Surprisingly, there was little blood— clear fluid was oozing out from the poor pedestrian’s brain which horrifically popped out in plain view. Apparently, one of the truck’s wheels flattened the man’s head against the rough concrete road to only about two inches.
“Aren’t we supposed to call the ambulance??” I frantically asked in Tagalog.
“No, he’s obviously dead.” The driver quipped sarcastically in the same mother tongue.
After realizing that I blurted out a stupid question, my mind quickly turned from a state of shock to feelings of sympathy, and empathy. I felt sorry for the man and his family. Did he have kids? Who will support them now? What if that was me? Are my finances in order??
Thoughts about my own mortality, including writing a will, occupied my mind for the remainder of the ride.
“Death is a debt we all must pay.” – Euripides
Have you ever thought about what happens if you die without a will?
I won’t blame you if you haven’t. Thoughts about one’s own demise are probably the last thing anyone would want to obsess about. But keep in mind that your journey to Financial Independence includes ensuring that your loved ones are taken cared for when you die.
It’s hard enough for them to bear the grief of your terrible death or illness. Don’t give them the additional burden of cleaning up the mess that you yourself should have taken care of while you were alive or healthy.
You may be saving and investing diligently and wisely for decades and have amassed substantial assets. But if you die intestate, i.e., without a will, your assets could fall into the wrong hands effectively turning your dependents into your ultimate victim.
And if you give them a very difficult time navigating through your estate after you’re dead, they might end up wishing they have killed you themselves.
Consider the following horror stories…
Real-life horror stories
A man with significant assets dies. He had two kids from a previous marriage. Just a few years ago, he remarried a woman who also had two children. When the second wife inherited the bulk of his assets, the greedy woman put the money solely in her name with her two biological kids as her beneficiaries. The man’s own children got nothing.
A man dies with several millions of assets. Nine of his kids were left to fight over his assets. He had invested and saved religiously but had no legal or estate planning whatsoever. Much of his estate went to taxes and lawyers.
A woman with children from a previous marriage bought a home for herself years before she met her life partner who happens to be a contractor. Her life partner made several home improvements that boosted the market value of the home significantly. The couple eventually married, but she assumed that the house automatically goes to her new husband upon her demise. When the woman gets ill, the husband spent their life savings caring for her. After she dies, the husband discovers that he only has “life estate”, i.e., the right to stay in the property— he is unable to sell the property should it become expensive to stay there.
Man dies in a car wreck. His life insurance named “spouse” as the beneficiary, but he was no longer married to the mother of his three young children because they divorced a few years prior. The next of kin was his children, but since they were minors and no will that established a trust, his estate went on expensive probate which took more than two years. Meanwhile, the mother struggled to support the minor children.
How to avoid having your own horror story
Obviously, this post wasn’t meant to be as a guide on how to create a will. Rather it was meant to scare you to the realization that you really need to create a will especially if you own a home or have young children. Get a lawyer if you can afford it, but depending on your personal situation, it’s really not as complicated and expensive process as some people would have you to believe. In my case, I wrote my own Last Will and Testament that I customized from a template.
Note that the rules for making a will vary from state to state, certain formalities must be met. You must understand the requirements of your specific jurisdiction to ensure that your will is valid.
Besides writing a will, here are a few tips.
- First things first. Ensure that all accounts (life insurance, retirement accounts etc.) have the correct beneficiary designations. They’re easy and probate proof– the designations supersede will and trust instructions!
- Make sure they’re always up-to-date when a life event happens such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, etc. The death of a spouse should prompt you to change your beneficiary designations, for example.
- If you move your money to another financial institution, you need to specify them again. They don’t transfer automatically.
- If you’re married, consider sharing a spreadsheet over the cloud, e.g., Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive, containing all financial institutions that you are currently dealing with. This will help your spouse tremendously when you’re no longer around.
Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to die with dignity and free from worry knowing that you’ve prepared for everything in the best way possible.