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If Something Happens to Me, Part 1

with Joe Hearn, Niel Nielsen | September 22, 2008

Sooner or later, many of the deceased are going to leave loved ones with big questions ... questions like "Where's the will?" or "What would they have wanted us to do?" On today's broadcast, Dennis and Bob talk with financial planner Joe Hearn and attorney Niel Nielsen about practically loving your family by organizing vital life documents.

Sooner or later, many of the deceased are going to leave loved ones with big questions ... questions like "Where's the will?" or "What would they have wanted us to do?" On today's broadcast, Dennis and Bob talk with financial planner Joe Hearn and attorney Niel Nielsen about practically loving your family by organizing vital life documents.

If Something Happens to Me, Part 1

With Joe Hearn, Niel Nielsen
|
September 22, 2008
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: So what happens if you die, and you don't have a will?  Is it really that big a deal?  Here is attorney Neil Neilson.

Neil: You are leaving a lot of questions up to the law to fill in the blanks for you – who receives custody of your children, who receives your property, who manages your property for you – if you fail to plan, you are leaving question marks that are going to get filled in by the law not by a document or a choice that you've consciously made yourself.

[musical transition]

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, September 22nd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Is your house in order, and would anyone know where to find what they needed to find if something was to happen to you today?

[musical transition]

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  Your father died back in 1976, right?

Dennis: He did.

Bob: How old was he when he died?

Dennis: My dad was 66.

Bob: And it was unexpected, right?

Dennis: Very.

Bob: You got a call – was it in the middle of the night that the call came?

Dennis: No, I got a phone call on a Sunday morning.  He had gotten up to go to church, and in the length of time it took for my mom to boil some water for some coffee, he had asked for a cup of coffee but complained of some heartburn and went back and laid down in his bed and in the five minutes it took my mom to make instant coffee and take it back to him, he was gone.

And in the weeks that followed, it was clear my dad had – well, he'd taken care of my mom, but he hadn't left his financial matters in a good, clear, concise package.  And so what he left was – he left my mom a bit confused to know how to deal with it all.

Bob: And I'm sure in his 60's, even, he thought there were still years ahead where those kinds of details could be taken care of but, the truth is, none of us knows when our time to go home is.

Dennis: That's exactly right, and, you know, that's why when I saw this resource that we're going to talk about today I thought, you know, this is something I need and, Bob, you need, too.  We're going to set a deadline, Bob …

Bob: Oh, man.

Dennis: Here on FamilyLife Today …

Bob: I hate your deadlines.

Dennis: Several million listeners for when you're going to have this filled out, because this is a – well, we'll explain what we're all about here.  We have with us in the studio Joe Hearn and Neil Neilson.  Neil, Joe, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Joe: Thank you for having us.

Neil: Thank you so much.

Dennis: You guys work in the area of, well, financial planning.  That's what you do, Joe, and, Neil, you're an estate attorney.  And you guys have written a book.  I'm real excited about this, I mean this – "If Something Happens to Me" – it's a workbook to help you organize your financial and legal affairs, and the thing I like about the workbook, Bob, is it comes with a vinyl binder.

Bob: You're into the gadget side of this or what?

Dennis: Not the gadget, but it comes with a binder that is a document organizer.  So they don't just make you feel guilty with a book, but they give you a tool to know where to put your papers.  Your financial papers, insurance, your estate plan, miscellaneous, and it's all together in one nice, green – hot green, by the way – you're not going to lose this easily – and it's just a great way to organize your financial matters.

Now, I want to know which one of you guys first thought of this.  Joe, Neil's looking at you.

Joe: That's a good question, yes.  I think probably a little bit of both.  The first time that I had thought about it, my wife, Margy, and I were just married, and because of my job – what I do – I help people with their finances, it was kind of a natural fit that I handle a lot of our financial affairs in our family.  And my wife's family is fairly long-lived, and women have a tendency to live longer than men, to begin with, on average – about seven years longer than men – and so I began to think that there is probably a pretty good possibility that she was going to outlive me.  And if something did ever happen to me, I wanted all of these different things to be, as much as possible, on autopilot so that she wouldn't have to go through and kind of have a crash course on how to deal with all of this stuff now that I had passed away – at a time when she was already grieving and …

Dennis: You're talking about the financial stuff like where is the insurance papers, where is the title to the house, different matters concerning your estate.

Joe: Different investments, all those sort of things, and so I put together kind of a notebook that had all those things in it that just basically said, "If anything ever happens to me, go to this notebook.  Here is a list of who all of our advisors are, here is a list of people to contact that can help you through all this, here is where the insurance policies are," and all these sorts of different things in the book.

Bob: Were you thinking about this because in your practice you had seen people who hadn’t thought about it?

Joe: You know, at that stage in our life, we were still fairly young.  I was still fairly early in my practice, and so I hadn't had a ton of experience yet with this, but it was just kind of on a personal level, just wanting to make sure that she was taken care of.  And, over the years, that's where we really began to see it in the practice, and Neil and I were friends and really began to see people that we were working with on a professional level where this happens – something happened unexpectedly, and everything was left kind of as a disorganized mess and really began to make me continue to go back to that and think about that – that there should be a resource there and began to talk with Neil about it and found out that he had done something similar with his family.  He also saw that happen a lot in his practice, and so we just began to talk about it, and it grew out of that.

Dennis: You know, the interesting thing is, Bob Lepine doesn't need one of these – he's had this done for years.

Bob: The reality is – and you guys know the reality – I got a will done in the last 12 months, all right?  I've been married now for more than a quarter of a century, and …

Dennis: It took you how long to do that will, Bob?

Bob: It took more than a quarter of a century to get that will done, and the truth is, when we first sat down with an attorney to talk about our will, one of the questions he asked us was in the event that both of you should die, what do you want done with the kids?  Well, we had five children.  They were 15 and under.  We looked at each other, and we talked later, and we said, "Well, we wouldn't want them split up."  Ideally, you'd like to keep them together.  Now, which of your friends are you going to will your kids to, you know?  Who do you have that will stand up and say, "I'll take all five of them and raise them."

And that paralyzed us, and we went for years without a will because I didn't know how to answer that question.  People get paralysis when they're dealing with these kinds of end-of-life issues, don't they?

Neil: That's one of the toughest questions that a lot of couples deal with, and, like you said, when you reach a question that you can't answer, that doesn't have an easy answer, a lot of the time that just becomes a dead end with people's planning, and that's a tough one.  That's probably the one that Julie and I struggled with the most as we began to put our estate plan in place, too.

Bob: What are some of the others?  As you talk with folks, and you see them get stumped or paralyzed, and they can't get past it and get the will drafted, what stumps them?

Neil: Well, I think, probably, one of the toughest things is that – and we mentioned this earlier with your dad, Dennis – people recognize that this type of planning is important, but they don't see it as very urgent.  And so it's one of those things that always gets put on the back burner that you don't want to tackle, and it's a tough thing to talk about.  We don't like to recognize our mortality, think about death, it can be depressing to people and hard to talk about.

Dennis: So we procrastinate.

Neil: Sure, we do.  We always think there will be more time to do this later when we're really ready to tackle it, and so we put it off.

Dennis: And, really, what Bob and Mary Ann have done in terms of doing their will, as I look at this entire package you're putting together, that's really a beginning step.

Neil: It is.

Dennis: It's an important one, but it's not the whole package.

Neil: When Joe and I started first thinking about this process, and you asked whose idea this was, one of my frustrations, as an estate planning attorney, is that often I'll try and help people put their documents in place; people recognize that they need a will, and they might need a trust, they might need some power-of-attorney documents, and an attorney can help you get those documents in place.  But I also recognize that when I see a family who had lost a loved one, a lot of times those documents that have been prepared well by an attorney are not accessible, people don't know where they are, and so at that time in my practice, I wasn't really helping people be organized.  I was just making sure that they had the right documents, and now this is an additional step.  You've got to make sure that not only do you have the right planning in place, but that you have arranged it in a way so that it can easily transition to your spouse or to your children or whoever you have designated to handle your affairs for you.

Dennis: I just want Bob to feel good that he got his will –

Neil: Baby steps.

Dennis: – that's right, it took him 10 years –

Bob: – twenty-five –

Dennis: So I look at the steps that are included here, and it will just take another 100 years.

Bob: There's still a ways to go, isn't there?  Well, Mr. Smarty, have you got all this taken care of at your house?

Dennis: You know – no.

Bob: Mr. 32-years-of-marriage?

Dennis: I'll tell you what, I do have a will, and we got that settled early because of the amount of travel that we did together.  We decided, you know what?  We needed to decide what would happen to our six, and it was a pretty convoluted formula, because how are you going to disperse out a family of six?  Who is going to absorb that – just like you.  But I've known I've needed to do this for about two years.  I taught a men's class with a friend of mine locally, who is a CPA.  His name is Mike Bochetti [ph], and he actually did what you guys have done here, except he took an old briefcase and created a briefcase that was designated with final instructions and all the same stuff you guys have created in this vinyl binder, and that's why, when I saw this, I said, "Finally, I'm going to do it."  And so within 12 months, I’m going on the record, Bob …

Bob: Twelve months from today …

Dennis: Twelve months from today – I'm going on the record – I will have this finished.  Now, the reason I'm not saying it will be done in a week is because it does take some process to put together, right, guys?

Joe: It takes some time, but it's not as difficult as some people make out.

Dennis: Now, wait a second, I was trying to give myself some room here.

Bob: It shouldn't take anybody a year, is that what you're saying?

Joe: The problem – back to what kind of prevents people from doing it sometimes, I think they have this thought in their mind that it's either going to take them a ton of time, or when you talk to them about it, they say something like, "Well, I have a will, so I have that all taken care of." 

Well, the will is three pages in the book out of over 100 pages of things that they need to do.  So there's a ton of things that you need to get organized, and the book really kind of boils it down and gives you a track to run on in terms of listing out, okay, from a professional advisor standpoint, here are all the things that you need to get taken care of and allows you to kind of walk through that, step by step by step, and if you don't have some of those things in place, you know, we were talking about who is going to take your kids?  Well, you have six kids.  That is – my wife and I, we have one child, and so that's a little bit easier of a decision to make, but the decisions that go along with six children, you not only want to say who gets the children, but you want to say I want to make sure that there's enough money there to provide that whoever loses, so to speak, in getting the six kids, to pay for the expenses of those children, whether that's just day-to-day living expenses or whether that's college expenses or whatever that is.

Dennis: I covered that.  I said that Bob Lepine would –

Joe: Bob's going to pick it up, okay, there you go.  So you want to make sure, again, and there's a big section in the book on life insurance, and it will talk about – take you through formulas in terms of for your family specifically how much insurance you should have and all those sort of different things to help you out with that.

Bob: You look at a folder like you've created with the book – I have, as a husband, tried to manage most of these financial affairs for our family.  And I've done that because I have a sense of responsibility, and it seems to be a loving thing for me not to burden my wife with all of this.

Well, my dad died back in 1988, and he had done that same thing for my mom.  When he died, however, she now assumed a burden with no experience, training, or background on how to manage that burden.  Gathering all our stuff together in one place is one thing, going through the book and making sure we know that we've got it settled is one thing, but it is incumbent upon us, as couples, to have some shared interaction around this information so that whoever the surviving partner is doesn't hit a point where they go, "I have no idea not only where the stuff is but what it means or how to manage it."

Neil: Yeah, that's absolutely correct, and I think that's changing somewhat.  I see a lot of my older clients that fall into that scenario exactly – that a husband and wife have been married for maybe 50 years, and the husband always handled everything, and now the wife has to step into that role.  But I think that's changing a lot, and it's something that should be a shared burden that we ought to make our financial decisions together and not have kind of a spirit of independence where I handle this, and I make these decisions. 

So, hopefully, couples are sharing these decisions and keeping each other well informed.

Dennis: Neil, we're talking about what some would assume, perhaps, is one of the biggest errors people make as they look out toward death and passing on whatever belongings they have accumulated in their lifetimes.  You're an estate attorney.  What would you say is the number-one error or mistake that people are making today?

Neil: The number-one mistake is that people just fail to plan.  I think studies show that about 70 percent of people do not do any formal estate planning, and so most people just default upon their responsibility to plan for their families.

Dennis: And so what's going to happen at that point?

Neil: Well, a combination of things might happen.  Certain property passes, based on the way that we have it titled or because of beneficiary designation so, in a lot of ways, the system is designed to work for us and kind of takes into account that some people are not going to plan for themselves, and so it's not necessarily catastrophic failure.

But you are leaving a lot of questions up to the law to fill in the blanks for you and who receives custody of your children, who receives your property, who manages your property for you – if you fail to plan, you are leaving question marks that are going to get filled in by the law not by a document or a choice that you've consciously made yourself.

Bob: What have you seen as the consequences?  Neil, can you think of a family you've worked with where because they didn't have things in order, they paid a price.

Neil: I recently worked with a client, and they had done some planning, but their plan had not been brought up to date.  And if they had brought it up to date, I think they would have designated some individuals to be the managers or in charge of the handling of their estate.  And because it hadn't been updated, it allowed another individual to step in and handle things for them, and that individual was allowed to manage things, distribute property in amounts and at times when the beneficiaries weren't equipped to handle it.  And so you had beneficiaries, kind of the inmates running the asylum, where the family's estate that was left for the benefit of these children was being just frittered away and spent down that could have really been a lasting legacy for their children – to provide for them, to help them through it, if they only would have updated their plan, kept everything so that the right people are handling things.

Joe: I can think of another one that – a person that we actually quote in the book.  He is one of three siblings, I believe, and his parents were out driving.  They live out in western Nebraska, and he lives in Omaha, which is further on the east side of the state.

His parents were out driving, the father fell asleep at the wheel of the car, and the car crossed the center lane, and he was killed instantly.  His wife was very badly injured, and was life-flighted to the hospital, and she was in a coma.  And so the kids, who all lived in separate cities that were hours away, had to commute back and forth to the city where their parents were, both to visit their mom in the hospital as they were dealing with some of her different medical issues but also to plan the father's funeral and to deal with all of that.  And a lot of that stuff hadn't been taken care of, and so when we started talking to him about our resource and what we were writing, you saw him just light up and start talking to us about things that we needed to tell people just because of the importance of having it organized.

He saw the consequences in his family where – there weren't any arguments, necessarily, with the siblings, but it was just so difficult to go through, sort through everything that was disorganized – it's in the filing cabinet at home, it's in the filing cabinet at work, you know, some of the documents they never put together and all that sort of stuff, and having to deal with that at a time when you're completely stressed, you're completely just mourning the loss in your family, it just leaves you ripe to make poor decisions.

Neil and I have seen instances where maybe people get taken advantage of by an unscrupulous advisor because you're susceptible at that point.  When they're going through one of the worst periods in their life having to make these huge decisions that impact their life, going forward.

Bob: You know, I think of the full-page ads that get put in the paper – legal notices every once in a while that talk about sums of money that are in bank accounts somewhere, and I think some relative died, nobody knew that account was there, and it's still there …

Joe: Sure.

Bob: … and the family isn't benefiting from that because nobody left a note.  Nobody had a document holder or a planning book like this worked out.

I think of what 1 Timothy, chapter 5, verse 8 says.  It says that the man who fails to provide for his household is worse than an unbeliever.  He's denied the faith.  That's pretty strong language.

Dennis: It is, and, you know, the Bible speaks about stewardship.  We are stewards, and you really don't want what Neil was talking about, where a lifetime's work can either be just given to the federal government because you didn't do a good job planning, or perhaps given too soon and ruin a child's life or have it frittered away and not end up ultimately investing in the Kingdom's work.

The thing that I like about their workbook, "If Something Happens To Me," is it talks about all of the basic issues that need to be gathered together in one file – all my personal information, all my financial information, which includes my assets, my liabilities, it talks about insurance, estate planning, government benefits, and then what to do after losing a spouse or a loved one, which includes funeral arrangements, administering the estate and applying for government benefits all the way down to locating the safety deposit box and locating documents.

Bob: Yeah, the great thing here is these guys have done the thinking for you, and so you don't have to stop and go, "Okay, what all needs to be pulled together?"  They've told you what needs to be pulled together.

Dennis: I can tell you where my documents are.

Bob: Yeah?  Where?

Dennis: They're in a drawer in my desk at home.

Bob: But a year from now, they're going to be in a better position, right?

Dennis: They're going to be in a better position in a year, because I'm going to be able to tell you where they're located and what files they're located in.

You know, if I was to die today, they could ultimately find all the information, and they'll find it.  The issue is are you making it easy or more difficult for those who are left behind grieving to be able to take care of financial matters and the funeral arrangements because you took a little bit of time and invested in them.

Bob: And you guys have put together what we need to make that happen with the book, "If Something Happens to Me," a workbook that allows families to organize their financial and their legal and their insurance information and that gives them step-by-step guidance on what to do when they've lost a loved one.

In fact now, along with the book, there is a Forms CD so that those of us who prefer to fill out this kind of information electronically can do it right on our computers.  You can get more information about the workbook and the Forms CD and the organizer kit that you make available as well.  We've got all of this in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can go to our website, which is FamilyLife.com.  On the right side of the home page, you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast."  If you click where it says "Learn More," that will take you to an area of the site where you can get more information about all the resources that we have available here.

Or, if it's easier, you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team will make arrangements to have the resources you need sent out to you.

And do us a favor, if you will – when you contact us here at FamilyLife keep in mind that we are listener-supported, which means we depend on folks like you to help with the financial needs of this ministry.  We want to make sure that when you do give to FamilyLife Today, you're not, in any way, taking away from the giving that ought to be going to your local church.  We think that needs to be your first priority when it comes to giving.

But, beyond that, if you are able to help us with our financial needs, we would appreciate your support, this month when you make a donation of any amount, we'd like to send you, as a way of saying thank you, a two-CD set that features a conversation we had not long ago with Dr. Emerson Eggerich about communication in marriage.  Because husbands and wives tend to think differently, our communication can get garbled in the process and in this conversation we talk about what we can do to improve our marital communication.

The two CDs are our way of saying thank you when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.  If you're making your donation online at FamilyLife.com, when you come to the keycode box on the donation form, type in the word "code," or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone.  Just mention that you'd like the CDs on communication, and our team will be happy to send those out to you.  We really do appreciate your financial support of this ministry and your partnership with us.

Tomorrow we're going to talk more with Joe Hearn and Neil Neilson about what we can do to make sure that our loved ones are ready for the inevitable.  We'll have that conversation tomorrow, and I hope you can be back with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 

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