By Mike DuBose
None of us are guaranteed another day on Earth. About 325,000 Americans die annually of sudden heart attacks, including 10,000 young people, according to the American Heart Association. Though it may sound eerie, I have been planning to die for 30 years by working with knowledgeable experts to build security for my wife, children, and employees in the event of my passing. Ask yourself frequently as I have: “What happens if I died today? Am I prepared?”
Develop and update wills: As Saabira Chaudhuri wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Dying without a will means losing control of how your assets are distributed” (and who becomes the guardian of underage children). Employ experienced estate attorneys to craft your wills, healthcare and other Powers of Attorney, and organ donor directives. Review them periodically and update them when needed to ensure they are accurate.
Designate beneficiaries: Examine your assets to ensure primary (your spouse) and secondary beneficiaries (your children or trusts) are listed in case both spouses die simultaneously. Sign beneficiary forms with employers, banks, credit organizations, insurance and retirement companies, etc. to make recipients legal. To reduce the IRS or probate court’s involvement, title your assets in proper names and beneficiaries. Ownership of cars, homes, boats, businesses, and real estate; checking, savings, retirement, and stock accounts; and anything of value should be in both spouses’ names, or ideally in Living Trusts where personal assets are shielded from painful probate. If you have business interests, develop operating agreements outlining what happens if you die. According to Frank Thomas, CPA, “Working with professionals who are credentialed in estate law and appraising property or businesses can reduce IRS challenges.” We hired Thomas and attorney Alex Weatherly, CPA to develop trusts protecting our assets.
Store valuable documents in bank deposit boxes or fireproof safes: Add notes detailing physical addresses of assets and current lists of accounts with on-line usernames and passwords. A spouse, trusted friend, and/or adult child should cosign with you on the box and know key locations or safe combinations. Videotape personal, home, and business assets stored on secure online locations or zip drives. My home burned down when I was 12 years old and we lost everything.
Plan your funeral and days after: Shield your family from the hardship of planning burial services. Obtain funeral planning forms and purchase family cemetery plots. Avoid leaving junk behind for children to deal with after the burial. What’s lurking in your home, attic, or garage?
The bottom line: Everyone, no matter how well-prepared, experiences an emotional roller coaster when loved ones die, especially when unexpectedly. If you suffer a loss, take grief recovery classes, or seek counseling to protect your emotional health. You never get over death, but you can get through it. Life isn’t always fair, and can be unpredictable. We may be unable to designate when and how we die, but we can plan what happens afterwards. Lead a peaceful, loving, and forgiving life so you can die without any regrets, unresolved conflicts, or bitterness left behind. And, most of all, ensure you are headed to Heaven. Hope for the best and plan for the worst—unexpected, sudden death could visit your family next.
Mike DuBose has been an instructor for the USC’s graduate school since 1985, when he began his family of companies, and author of The Art of Building a Great Business. Visit his nonprofit website www.mikedubose.com for a free copy of his book and additional published business, travel, and personal articles, as well as health articles written with Surb Guram, MD.