From Ashes to Diamonds

Where would you want to be buried?

This simple yet important question led to one of the most important discussions in my life. Steve and I would use time travelling in the car to talk about anything that was on our mind – I’m so glad this conversation happened.

There was a reason I asked the question – I had no idea what I wanted! Anytime I didn’t know the answer to a question, I’d talk ask Steve. There isn’t a perfect way to navigate this conversation, but here are the things we talked about that day.

1. Location

Steve wanted to be buried in Valley City. This made perfect sense, because he lived his whole life in that community. For me, the answer wasn’t so simple. If I died the next day, did I really want to be buried in Valley City?

The answer for me was no. I wanted to be buried by Steve, but I also wanted to be where my friends and family were. As the world becomes more global and families more mobile, the question of location becomes harder and harder to answer.

2. Cremation or Burial

The discussion of location led me to believe that cremation may be the answer for us. Steve wasn’t a fan of this originally, but once we talked through it we came to realize that this would be the best option for us and you’ll understand why in the next sections.

Steve’s only request with the cremation was that he have a headstone. He wanted a place that people could go to remember and he wanted a final resting place.

3. From Ashes to Diamonds

A few weeks prior to this discussion I had read an article about LifeGem, a company that developed technology that would take the person’s ashes and compress the carbon in the ashes into a diamond. In my heart this is what I wanted. I knew that life was never guaranteed and I knew I wanted to be close to my loved ones.

If I was made into a diamond, then Steve could mount that into something that he could take with him everywhere. A part of me would always be with him. As life would have it, I’m the one with the diamond. When Steve and I got home from our trip we looked up the article together and decided that this was what we both wanted for the other person. We had a plan.

4. Creating a Family Heirloom

Technology had changed and the company that creates the diamonds from ashes could now make diamonds from hair as well. I immediately knew that I wanted a family stone.

I asked the funeral director to cut a lock of Steve’s hair and I cut a lock of hair from me, Reanna and Kaelyn. We added the hair to Steve’s ashes and that made my diamond.

The stone didn’t require all of Steve’s ashes. His mom asked if she could have a stone along with one for his sister and brother. I wanted one for Reanna and Kaelyn too. Steve’s ashes made six diamonds in all and I still had enough to bury half of what was left in his final resting place and keep the other half with me.

5. A Gift from Dad

The girls are too young to understand or appreciate the diamonds that were made with their Dad’s ashes. I decided to place their stones in our safety deposit box to give to them as a graduation gift from their Dad.

My portion of the gift will be the setting of their choice. Their dad will always watch over them and they will have a piece of their Dad to take with them as they go off into the world. I think he would have approved.

The conversations around death and planning made my decisions after Steve died much easier. I know I couldn’t have chosen cremation had I not discussed this with him. I felt some measure of peace with my decisions as I knew I was fulfilling my end of the wishes and expectations we had of each other. Every time I look at my family stone, I know that I fulfilled his wishes. He is with me no matter where I go in this world.

Having conversations about death and what you want for yourself and your significant other can seem scary and overwhelming. I’m so glad that we took the time to have these conversations before it was too late. If you haven’t had a conversation like this with your significant other or close family, I urge you to take some time to do so this holiday season. Don’t wait until it’s too late!

Would you choose burial or cremation? Why?

Photo Credit: Giovanni ‘jjjohn’ Orlando via Compfight cc

3 Tips to Conduct Your Family Budget Meetings

Family Budget MeetingDo you know that couples fight about money in marriage more than anything else? Let’s figure out how to squash that together!

Usually one person in the relationship tends to be the “money person.” And that’s okay! Opposites attract and all that – it’s easier to divide and conquer in many cases, and if one of you has a natural strength or affinity to handling the finances, so be it.

As Erin has shared with us though, it’s vital that both spouses know what’s going on financially. If one of you does handle the money, the other person should be kept in the loop from time to time. I suggest having at least a monthly family budget meeting, so everyone can get on the same page.

You can also (as a team) make necessary changes to stay on track for your various financial goals. Here are three tips to ensure your meetings take place and do so without the aid of a referee!

1. Set a Non-negotiable Date on the Calendar

It’s important to be consistent and make sure these meetings happen. Treat this time like any other important appointment or scheduled activity that you would make sure to keep.

Since it doesn’t feel vital, it’s easy to be tempted to put it off or reschedule, but don’t let that happen! It is important and you’ll be happy in the long run that you made it a priority.

2. Make It Fun

A good way to make sure that these dates are kept, is to make them something that you look forward to. Maybe you hire a sitter (if you have young kids) and go out for coffee, dinner or ice cream to have you budget meeting. Or just sit at home, open a bottle of wine, turn the television off and the radio on and dig into the numbers together.

Get business out of the way first and then have the second part of your night be an actual date night. Connect with your spouse, let your hair down and have a little fun!

3. Celebrate Hitting Your Goals

Let’s say that you’re trying to pay down debt or save up for a big purchase to be paid for in cash. It’s likely to happen faster, if you’re both working towards said goal together. Keep it top of mind by creating a goal progress chart and taping it to the fridge.

When you are making the last payment or reached the funds needed for your purchase, make the next step together. Sit on the couch together, fire up your laptop and hit “submit payment” together to pay off that credit card or auto note. Go to the car dealership or furniture store to buy that new love seat together. Notice a theme?

It’s What You Make of It

Like anything in life, a family budget meeting can be as exciting, fun, dull or boring as you want it to be. Be creative, be consistent and treat this time talking about your money as sacred, because it really is.

It doesn’t have to take long, it doesn’t have to be full of conflict or blame. Make some rules (including one for no arguing or sarcasm if that’s what you’re prone to) and remember to respect each other. Most of all, work together as a team!

In your family who usually handles the finances? 

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8 Years Later: Our Story & My Loss

Today we have a guest post from Holly Hrywnak, who blogs regularly at The Common Queen. Even though Holly isn’t a widow in the technical sense, she does know what it’s like to love deeply and lose the person she thought she’d marry. Holly has an authentic and engaging voice that tells beautiful and insightful stories. Here’s one that she wrote just for us based on her real life experience of love and loss.

Photo Credit: Aih. via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Aih. via Compfight cc

His 35th birthday is this month.

It’ll be his 8th birthday in Heaven.

For JD’s 26th birthday, I surprised him. It was a beautiful Sunday morning in Autumn, which made the four hour commute much more enjoyable. My plan had been to show up at his church and spend the day with him.

In the end, it was he who surprised me.

Arriving at the church, I saw his mom greeting people at the door, which is where he was supposed to be. We hugged and she told me he left the house early, but that he’d be there soon. I’ll admit, I was a little bit disappointed. I spent four hours dreaming up the look on his face when I entered the building, but now the moment was lost. Or so I thought.

I began helping his mom hand out bulletins, and greet people as they entered. I knew no one, but they all hugged me and smiled. I was distracted though – my eyes darting to the door whenever someone entered. Finally, I saw those familiar blue eyes. They met mine and his face lit up with such joy and love and it was better than I had dreamed up during my drive.

JD and I hadn’t been dating. We had known each other for a few years, but I could never accept that someone like him could like someone like me. Three years earlier, our eyes had met across a crowded room. We became friends – much closer than any of our classmates had known. We’d spend hours talking on the phone. I’d write him letters. He’d take me out for coffee. I’d find excuses to talk to him. He’d steal my friend’s seats in class to be near me.

It went on like this until graduation. He went back to his hometown and I prepared to move halfway across the US to work in full time ministry. Surprising him for his birthday would be the last time I’d see him before I moved, which is why it was so important to me.

After the hugs and line of questioning, we sat down as church began. I couldn’t tell you a song that was sung that morning, or the theme for the sermon. All I knew is that I was where I should be – next to him. During the message, he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I want to take you up to grandma’s.” I looked at him and smiled.

JD’s grandparents had been very important to him. He’d spent hours on their farm as a boy and it was one of his favorite places. Now that his grandparents had passed away, the house was empty, but JD had hoped to make it his own. As we walked through each room, he’d share a special memory or renovations he’d like to make. In one of the side rooms, he pointed out the window to the apple orchard and the vineyards. He continued on to the next room, not noticing I hadn’t moved.

It was there that I knew his dreams were also my dreams.

The fact that JD was dreaming at all was hopeful to me. About a year after we met, he told me he had a terminal illness. He’d had it since he was a little boy and it had him in and out of the hospital. I still remember the night he told me. We were sitting across from one another in the noisy cafeteria eating dinner, but I was focused solely on him. There were lots of questions and he answered them all – I remained calm and collected, but told him I’d be praying and standing with him.

From that night on, I’d spend hours praying for him. Begging Jesus to heal the man I loved.

“Even if he never loves me. Please, God. Please.”

I was more diligent praying for him than for anything or anyone else. It was the fight of my life.

A few months after his birthday, I moved 1,300 miles away from him like I had planned. Each month, I’d send him a letter full of scriptures God had given me, quotes from songs I had heard and prayers that I had been praying for him. We’d talk on the phone when we could and I’d soak in the sound of his voice.

In May 2006, JD was back in the hospital and because of the nature of his disease, it would make it difficult for him to talk – he was on the lung transplant list waiting for a donor match. I received a text message from him that read, “I love you.” He’d never said that to me before. Things had been unspoken between us. I knew where I stood, but my insecurities kept telling me that JD would never love me.

But he did.

I called my best friend that night asking her what she thought it meant. She laughed and said, “It means he loves you, Holly.”

In August, I was able to fly back to visit him. He had been out of the hospital for a few months and I was excited to get time with him and feel his arms wrap around me. The night before my visit, his mom called me and said they had to go back to the hospital, but I was determined to get to him regardless of where he was. I spent the day by his side. In between doctors visits, he’d share the hopes of our future together. After all that time of waiting, he was finally telling me everything I had wanted to hear!

The tears rolled down his face as he told me how tired and discouraged he had become and how he felt like he couldn’t even pray for himself anymore. I reassured him that it didn’t matter because I’d continue to pray for him and that I wouldn’t be giving up.

That was the last day I’d see JD alive.

A few days later, I was sitting in a church, his open casket a few feet away from me. I watched his chest hoping to see it begin to rise and fall.

I thought you were going to heal him, God. Why did you take him from me?! This can’t be real.

The day his mother told me he died, life left me. All of my dreams and hopes for a future were buried six feet under. I just couldn’t figure it out – why would God give me such an amazing man only to take him away before we could enjoy life together? I still ask God that question. I’m not sure He ever plans on answering it.

It’s been eight years without JD and the loss has not gotten any easier. My grief has gotten easier to hide since most people have stopped asking about it. Everyone seems to think that eight years is enough time to “get over it”. They’ve forgotten it – why can’t I? The thing is, I don’t want to get over it or beyond it. I want to experience its depths even when it comes in waves. Waves so fierce they take the air out of me and my heart feels like it’s going to collapse from the weight of the loss.

Each day that goes by, is one more without him. The gap between us ever widening. I’m afraid the details of our time together will become more and more hazy – that I’ll forget the sound of his voice, the blueness of his eyes, or what it felt like to have my hand in his. I grasp on to the memories in an attempt to keep them from slipping away.

Within the past year, I’ve started dreaming again instead of just merely surviving from day to day. The dreams have many more question marks and blanks, but they are beginning to take shape. I’m no longer dreaming with a partner for the adventure, which makes the process that much harder and slower. I didn’t think it would be this way.

I never regretted loving him. I only regret not loving him even more fiercely. For far too long, I had kept myself at an arms length afraid to have my heart broken from rejection. I’ve stopped loving carefully. If I learned anything through losing him, it was that.

Holly H.Thank you Holly for sharing your beautiful and touching story! Feel free to connect with Holly further by visiting her blog, Twitter, her FB page or via Google+.

Holly is a 30-year-old writer who strives to share honestly and transparently in hopes that it will encourage others to be open about their own struggles and lessons learned. She’s been accused of being sassy, which she finds to be an admirable attribute. Her favorite things include: making people laugh, chocolate, sweatshirt weather and authentic conversations over coffee.

Building a Bucket List – Part 2

Photo Credit: tubblesnap via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: tubblesnap via Compfight cc

Last week I started writing about my bucket list and why I think everyone should have one. I shared some of the locations that we wanted to visit and some different events that we wanted to attend too!

One of them was New York and somewhere that Steve and I actually got to experience together before he passed. Here are a few additional categories you should consider when putting together your own list.

Service to Others

Steve and I worked hard for what we had in life, but we also realized that we had a lot to be thankful for. We talked about ways we could help keep our children humble in a world that can be very materialistic.

One opportunity that we were pursuing was the chance to participate in a mission trip. We had been looking at Africa, since an African safari was also on our list. I reached out to my company’s corporate citizenship office to see what organizations they supported. We started investigating and found that there were opportunities to teach children and adults how to do anything from starting a small business, to reading and farming.

These opportunities seemed to be a good fit with our passions in life. We wanted to make sure we stayed grounded and gave back by sharing our gifts with other parts of the world. We also had planned on having our kids participate with us once they reached their pre-teen and teenage years. We didn’t get a chance to pursue it before Steve died, but it’s still on my list!

Another item on Steve’s list was to start a nursing scholarship at VCSU in his mom’s name. He thought it would be a great way to honor her service, compassion and knowledge of the nursing profession. He never got the chance to fulfill that dream, but it’s how I got the idea to start a scholarship in his name.

I did not directly fulfill his bucket list item, but I was able to share his idea with his mom who was honored that he had even thought about taking that action. His scholarship does fulfill his dream of educating others even though he isn’t physically teaching people himself anymore.

He wanted to make a difference and anyone that knew him, knew he did. The scholarship enables him to make a difference in the lives of VCSU students forever. Next week I get to meet the first three scholarship recipients – I can’t wait. I’ll be sure to recap this experience soon!

Showing Love 

The bucket list activity that I was most excited for was our decision to renew our vows every 5 years. Our first time was going to be in St.Lucia in January of 2014. The trip was booked and we were excited to write our own vows to each other. We planned to have pictures taken and build on those memories as we continued to grow older together. The first trip was going to be just the two of us, but we had planned to include our children on each trip after.

Steve melted my heart when he shared that one of his dreams was to kiss me under a waterfall – and he didn’t think he was romantic! After learning this we decided to make sure we took the opportunity to visit a waterfall in St. Lucia. In fact, it was one of the reasons we chose that island.

While this is a bucket list item I cannot fulfill without Steve, the premise of showing our girls what love is is certainly something that I can do. I can show them how to love with their full heart, knowing full well that they may get hurt. Through the pain comes growth – no matter what stage in life you are in – and that growth is an opportunity to move forward with confidence. I hope I show them not only how to love, but how to live through adversity and continually grow as an individual.

An Ever-Changing List

The beauty of the list is that it is dynamic and fluid. Just as life changes, so does my list. Every time I go on Pinterest I seem to find more beautiful places in the world that I want to see with my own eyes. Someday, I will ask my kids to make their own list and those items will become part of my list.

A new relationship also brings a new opportunity to add to the list. I’m now dating someone named Jon. He and I reviewed the list I had with Steve and added his to dreams to it. Now we have a list that holds the dreams and desires of all three of us.

This process made me appreciate how truly special Jon is to be willing to help me live out Steve’s dreams, as well as my own. Jon’s 40th birthday is coming up and originally he didn’t want to do anything special. Steve never made it to 40 and I really wanted to celebrate this milestone.

We went through our list and narrowed down the options before finally settling on Macchu Picchu. I would have been excited to go, but that excitement is magnified knowing that I get to live out one of Jon’s dreams with him as he reaches a point in life that Steve did not live to see. Together, we get to LIVE his day.

Dreams Can Come True

Dreaming about how to live life made me excited to live it. Every day was one day closer to our next adventure and I became excited to explore the world. The list made me understand what I could do to fulfill Steve’s dreams and gave me motivation to save for the experiences.

Our bucket list will continue to grow and change. I cannot wait to add the girls’ dreams to it too and start making those special memories together. Over time, this list will help me show the girls the things their dad loved and share with them why each item was on the list.

We didn’t just write things things down, we took the time to understand and the reasons behind each item will be fun to share with our girls. This list will help the girls understand who their father was, what he enjoyed, and where we had dreamed of taking them together. The list brings direction and purpose to our lives, in a way that also honors their father. It’s a beautiful thing.

Have you started your list? What other category would you add to these bucket list ideas?

6 Ways to Keep Living While Grieving

Photo Credit: Helga Weber via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Helga Weber via Compfight cc

Life is hard.

Living through loss makes it even harder. There is a period of time where you feel dead. Your soul has been ripped out and you just feel numb. When you’re not numb, you hurt. Sometimes numb is better than feeling pain. I used all of my energy each day to just make it through – the paperwork, the processes, paying the bills and making sure my kids had food.

As I was battling to survive each day, I started to remember what Steve and I had promised each other. We promised that no matter what happened to us we would always put our children first. I also promised Steve that I would LIVE life and take care of our children if anything happened to him. Everyday that I spent feeling dead was a day that I was breaking my promise to him.

That broken promise began to become fuel for change. I gave him my word – I became determined to keep it.  It wasn’t easy – I can assure you it was not. However, the story you tell yourself is POWERFUL. You have the choice to be a victim or the champion in your life. As I thought about our children, I wondered what type of role model did I want to be for them?  What did I want them to see when they looked back at this period in their life? I answered these questions for myself. Here are some ways I moved myself from death to life. You can do it too!

1. Identify What’s Most Important

For me, it was showing my girls that they were safe, loved and cared for. They were going through a situation in life that no child should ever have to endure and it was my job to show them that we would make it through this together.

They needed to know that being sad was okay and we could talk about it together – but it was also okay to play.  If I couldn’t pull it together, then my children would have essentially lost two parents in a time that they needed one the most.

2. Focus on What’s in Your Control

I would have given anything to go back to that day and somehow change the outcome – anything! Unfortunately, no amount of tears, focus, guilt, or pleading with God would change the outcome. There was no redo or rewind button.

What I could control was how I engaged with my children. I could choose how I wanted my children to remember their father and I could choose to show my children how to deal with significant life challenges.

3. Ask for Help

Why is it SO hard to ask for help? This is what I am the worst at – even today. After Steve died, I had a crew come out and help me finish the barn which was one of his goals. They did what I could not do alone.

I had to get a tax advisor because I had never done taxes before and had no clue where to start. I sought advice from a friend knew a lawyer to deal with the beneficiary issues.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help with non-critical or technical tasks. People want to help and don’t know how – they’ll be happy to help if you give them something specific to do!

4. Write Down Goals That You Had Together

The one that stands out the most for me is taking our girls to Disney World. We had planned to do this in 2-3 years and were really looking forward to it. In my mind I questioned whether I would be able to give our girls this opportunity without a dual income household. I also had immense guilt in thinking that our girls wouldn’t get to experience life the way we had planned as a family, because I couldn’t afford it.

We may not be able to do everything – it may take a few extra years, but I know we will have these adventures together.  Disney became a priority to me and I opted to put a portion of Steve’s savings into a CD, so that the money would be there when we were ready. I’ll find money for bills in another place or another way. Daddy will make our Disney dreams come true after all!

5. Find Your New Life Balance

I realized that I struggle a lot on days that I don’t get enough sleep. Cleaning the house and doing other activities have to wait if sleep is needed instead. Sleep is essential for me to execute on #1 above.

Going for a run also helped immensely. At first, I ended up hyperventilating and really struggled through a lot of workouts – in the end I felt like I accomplished something. Running became my outlet and by the time I finish a run my head is clearer – I feel like I’m back in control of my life – at least for a moment!

6. Lean on a Buzz Word or a Theme Song

I have both. Steve had a wall hanging that I had given him as a father’s day gift one year that hung in his office. It was titled “Perseverance” and for me that word fit. I kept that picture where I could see it and it reminded me that I needed to persevere through this.

Steve also had a love of music and we connected often through the words in a song. There was one song in particular that he played for me when we felt like we were struggling with life – Faith When I Fall. After Steve died, my mind kept repeating the lyrics, “Give me strength when I am standing and faith when I fall.” I’m not sure if Steve put those words in my mind and heart, but those lyrics have repeated themselves in my head thousands of times in this past year – it’s now my theme song.

Different things will work for different people, but these are six ways I found to keep living while I was grieving. They are still things I do to this day! I hope that they help someone else through their grief.

Is there anything else that helped you keep living while grieving?

Do You Have Enough Life Insurance?

Photo Credit: One Way Stock via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: One Way Stock via Compfight cc

Life insurance – not typically anyone’s favorite topic of conversation.

Even though it’s not fun to think/talk about, it’s oh so necessary – when you don’t have enough of it, you REALLY feel it.

Erin and Steve actually had two new term policies sitting on their desk at home. All they needed to do was finish the underwriting process – but they didn’t. Hopefully Erin’s Story will motivate you to take action – TODAY!

Life insurance is a complex topic. Everyone has an opinion on it – and they are often vastly different from one another. Rather than focus on which types of life insurance are best/most appropriate, let’s focus instead on getting the right amount in place – for your family.

 How Much Is Enough?

Wouldn’t it be easy if you knew the answer to that question with 100% certainty? It seems to be an ever-changing number for most. It’s a number that’s also completely unique to your situation – dependent on your lifestyle, income, number/age of children, level of debt, etc.

It doesn’t help that there are so many theories on how to calculate the right answer either. You could take a human life value approach, debt pay-off, or straight up income replacement. Or some combination of those three.

This CNN Money article talks about someone that makes $50,000 per year should have anywhere from $250-500k in coverage. The New York Times on the other hand claims that the life insurance industry’s rule of thumb is 10x your annual salary. Which is right? Both are generalizations – not specific to your situation. Take some time to think about your individual family’s needs and ask yourself the following questions to get closer to the answer.

Good Questions to Ask

  • Do you have a survivor need? Is anyone depending on you that if you died today would be negatively impacted? Are you depending on anyone else?
  • How much debt to you have? Make a list of your liabilities – mortgage and consumer debt and tally it up. Would your family continue to live in your current home if you passed away today?
  • What are your family’s expenses? How would they change if something happened to you or your spouse? Would you need to hire help for the home or additional childcare?
  • How much are you currently saving? What are your savings goals? Are you wanting to help your children with college tuition costs? Are you on track to fund your retirement goal?
  • Are you making any rate of return or inflation assumptions? Are they realistic?

Figuring It out for Yourself

I think it’s important that you play out the scenario in your head to see how your family would be impacted without you here. If you contribute to the household financially, how much would it cost to sufficiently replace you? Would the goals of your remaining family members still be carried out?

If you’re the primary caregiver, how would your family replace you? Would they have to hire outside help? How much would that cost? Besides caring for the children, are there things that you’re responsible for that would still need to get done (home maintenance, etc)?

What about a grieving period? Would you want to make sure that you could provide for your spouse to not work for a period of time if you could?

More Art Than Science

As you can see calculating your life insurance needs is more of an art than a science in most cases. Personally, I’d rather err on the side of having a little too much than not enough. It may make sense to calculate straight income replacement (like the 10x your annual salary assumption above) AND try to calculate your needs by answering some of the above questions.

Compare the two – are they very far apart? If you’re still unsure (or not wanting to do the math yourself), consult a professional – either a financial planner that can evaluate your entire situation or an insurance professional that can help you to look at your individual life insurance needs.

Take Action

Take a few minutes today to tally up what coverage (if any) you currently have in place. Ask yourself some of the above questions to get an idea if it is in the ballpark of being enough.

Seek help if you’re still unsure. Figure out how much life insurance you need and then make sure to start/complete the application process – TODAY!

Have you been putting off reviewing your life insurance coverage?

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The Importance of Updating Your Beneficiaries

The Importance of Updating Your Beneficiaries

photo credit: Dwonderwall via photopin cc

Not paying attention to how life events can impact your financial affairs can be devastating. Just ask Erin.

Updating beneficiaries after a marriage, divorce or death can be inconvenient and in some cases painful, but it is also oh so important! Any of these life events should trigger the “to do” of reviewing your financial situation as a whole.

We’d like to share a bit of Erin’s story and how a slight oversight can have great effects should something unexpected happen. Hopefully this will motivate you to make any changes you’ve been putting off and/or check with your loved ones to make sure they have recently reviewed their own beneficiary designations.

Inheritance to the Wrong People

Steve, Erin’s deceased husband, had overlooked changing the beneficiary on his employer 401(k) plan after they got married. He had updated the rest of his financial assets and policies, but missed this one. His beneficiary never got changed from his nieces – the three that were alive when he started working for his company in the mid-90’s. He had worked there for 15 years before he unexpectedly passed away in August of 2013.

When Erin went to transfer the account into her own name, she was surprised to find that she wasn’t the beneficiary listed on the plan. Since he and his employer had been contributing to this account for the past decade and a half, it had a significant balance – enough to make a difference in the lives of his wife and two young daughters that were left behind.

If you’re left money you can decide to accept it or disclaim it – meaning that you reject the gift. This is done commonly when mistakes (or oversights) are made or if the beneficiary doesn’t feel that they need the resources. Disclaiming a gift relieves your personal tax burden and passes the burden onto the person that accepts the money.  If the money is disclaimed by the beneficiaries is it allocated into the decedent’s estate for management.

Unfortunately his designated beneficiaries didn’t agree with Erin – that Steve would have left his 401(k) plan to his wife and kids and they decided to keep the money for themselves.

Erin begged and pleaded with them to change their mind. She reminded them of Steve’s passion for education and the fact that he would have wanted his hard earned money to be used to ensure his children could receive a quality education for their future. The request to put even a portion of the money into a 529 for their children was denied.

Since his three nieces were listed, she had little recourse and had to accept the situation as is. Unfortunately people don’t always react the way you thought they would when it comes to money after a death. If you believe people will make the same decisions as you would when you are gone – think again!

Review Beneficiaries Regularly

For most people, there is no need to review beneficiaries annually. As mentioned above any major life event should trigger a review however. Especially marriage, birth of children (or grandchildren), divorce and death should warrant a review and potentially changes.

Old employer retirement plans are often overlooked. So are current 401(k)’s, POD’s (payable on deaths) on bank accounts and TOD’s (transfer on deaths) on non-qualified brokerage accounts. You can also add property beneficiary designations to real estate in many states these days, which you file with your county recorder.

One consideration for beneficiary planning is to have at least one cash account listed as a POD to the person that would help manage your funeral plans. This will ensure that funds are available immediately for initial expenses without putting an undue burden on your trusted person.

Take Action

We’ll expand on estate planning more in future posts, but for now please take a few minutes to compile a spreadsheet of your current assets/accounts and make sure you document who the beneficiary is on each of them. If you are not 100% sure, request a new beneficiary form and complete it immediately. If you don’t have a beneficiary listed, consider adding someone. This will avoid the probate process.

Keeping a spreadsheet of your accounts, the contact information of the account, and the beneficiary will ensure that you have an easy reference document. Once this document is created you can easily review your beneficiaries on an annual basis in 30 minutes or less.  Think of this time as an investment in your family’s future.

Due note that the beneficiary designation on an account will ALWAYS trump what is listed in your will. This is often misunderstood!

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