How Prepared Is Your Family?

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It is one of those television scenes that continue to haunt one long after they watched them. In one episode of the last season of Desperate Housewives, Mike Delfino had just died and Susan’s friends came to visit her. Amidst her mourning, she lamented that Mike used to do ‘something’ to their car periodically to keep them safe. Susan had no idea what Mike used to do to the car or what tool he used. Her friends promised her that their husbands would come over from time to time to help her around the house with the chores Mike used to do.

While nobody likes to think of death, it is unlikely that anybody reading this will be around in the next seventy years. Having lost three former classmates (John, Nonye and Jane – God rest their souls) between 2007 and 2014, I am often reminded of the sad reality of death.

Some years ago, as a youth corps member in Northern Nigeria, I met a young widow, Mama Ndidi (not real name), an Igbo, who had three teenage daughters. She worked as a cook for a boarding school. She earned less than ten thousand naira (about fifty dollars) a month. I used to wonder how she made ends meet with her meager salary especially because she used to pay for okada to commute her to her morning and evening shifts. On an occasion, Mama Ndidi told me (I worked part-time for the school) that she was saddened that her husband died leaving her to take care of their children. I sensed that she was ill-prepared for it. I got the impression that her husband was the sole breadwinner until his death. It was unlikely Mama Ndidi got a higher education. She had a pretty face and a gentle disposition. She was a good woman caught off-guard when life dealt her one of its devastating blows.

Before the end of my youth service year, Mama Ndidi died too. She had taken ill and was admitted to the hospital. I visited her at the hospital. I wondered if the yellowing of her eyes was the result of inadequate nutrition. I wondered if she got ill from the mosquito bites she got from cooking in an unsanitary open space. I used to see her shield herself from the mosquitoes. Upon her death, Ndidi, her first daughter, became the school’s cook. (If there are laws prohibiting child labor in Nigeria, they are not enforced). In fairness to the school, they deemed it a favor to Ndidi and her sisters as the young girls had to learn to fend for themselves. I still remember the look on Ndidi’s face when she told me of her mother’s death, ‘Mama m arapugo’ she said – that her mother had left, an euphemism for death. Death was too heavy a word for a girl so young. While I do not know the entire story, for example how well off their husband and father was, I felt that Mama Ndidi couldn’t shoulder the emotional pain and financial stress that followed her husband’s death. And in some ways, I believe that her death could have been avoided if she had adequate resources to get a good medical attention.

To avoid a similar fate befalling your loved ones in the event of a serious illness or death, here are steps you can take to protect your family:

1.Establish Multiple Streams of Income
A family whose sole source of income is the salary of one parent runs the risk of being exposed to poverty upon the death of the breadwinner. While sometimes, it is more practical to have one parent be a homemaker, it is expedient that every household has more than one source of income. Investments that generate cash flow can also offset the danger of having a lone breadwinner. And even when one parent is a homemaker, it is imperative that they be skilled, confident and ready to earn a living if the need arises. If for example the family has a business, it helps to get the non-working parent involved, however slightly, in the operations of the family business. This ensures a smooth transition in the event of death or illness of the active partner.

2. Write a Will
Everybody knows writing a will is a good idea but very few people actually write one before death comes knocking. Writing a will gives one power to distribute one’s hard-earned resources the way one likes best. It also helps prevent a situation where one’s survivors fight over their estate upon their death. One can also circumvent certain customary inheritance laws, especially the unconscionable ones, by making one’s wishes known in one’s lifetime. Moreover, writing a will gives one opportunity to give some of one’s legacy to people who ordinarily may not be entitled to it. For example, a wealthy man who desires to give part of his estate to his favorite charity or a poor distant relative can conveniently do so through his will.

While it is ideal to go to an attorney to execute a formal will duly attested by two witnesses, writing a holographic will in the comfort of one’s home will suffice. A holographic will is one handwritten by the testator(person making the will). In most jurisdictions, it is sufficient even if not witnessed. So while you put off going to see your attorney, writing down your wishes in your hand in the meantime is a good idea as no one can guarantee being around tomorrow.

3. Get a Life Insurance Policy
For small premiums paid in one’s lifetime, a life insurance policy is a good way to leave some money to take care of people one leaves behind without necessarily placing the burden of managing an investment like say, a real estate propert, on them. Money paid to one’s beneficiaries can be used by the family to pay off mortgage on the home or even see one’s children through college. Life insurance policies are better investments when bought at a younger age as the premium tend to go higher as one ages. In any case, the need for a life insurance policy decreases as one gets older since one will be less likely to have young dependents but more likely to have made sufficient money to make more tangible investments one can leave behind for one’s loved ones.

4.Get Your Finances in Order
It can be a hassle to keep track of all the investments, both good and bad, one makes over a lifetime – stocks, real properties, insurance policies, retirement and pension funds etc. And over time, some do depreciate in value and one may be tempted to overlook them. Nevertheless, one should make effort to keep an eye on, and keep a documented record in one place, of all of one’s assets as even a small leak can sink a boat. Moreover, it is hard to predict which of one’s assets will prove to be a great investment in the long run. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep a record of all of one’s assets and what actions, if any, need to be taken on them periodically to make sure one doesn’t lose them. A record like this will also help anyone stepping in to manage one’s affair, upon an illness or death, to ease into the position without much difficulty.

5. Make Sure Your Family Know About Your Investments
While there may be reason to be discreet about one’s assets in families where there is mistrust, it is important that one’s survivors know where to look to see what assets they left behind. In the United States, an estimated 25% of beneficiaries do not claim their benefits under a life insurance policy because their loved ones did not intimate them of the existence of the policies. I also read that there are as much as $60 billion dollars of unclaimed assets in the United States. It is no different in Nigeria. When I was practicing as an attorney in Eastern Nigeria, I once had a client who found a deed of a property in his deceased father’s name. A search at the Land registry showed the deceased father actually owned such property. Communicating one’s assets to one’s prospective successors-in-estate also helps avoid a situation where survivors go after property a deceased had relinquished in his lifetime.

Getting your financial affairs in order is one of the greatest favor you can do your loved ones. The peace of mind and financial security your family will enjoy tomorrow will more than compensate for the effort made in tidying your affairs today. To get you started on this journey, follow this link: http://halbertwealth.com/articles/HandingDownYourLegacy.pdf and get for free a document that will guide you in putting together a list of all your assets, and details to lead your loved ones to them. You can tweak it to meet your needs. It is a very simple template to work with. I have given you this gift, now it’s your turn to fill it out and pass it on to your loved ones.

PS: Found this post helpful, please share.

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5 thoughts on “How Prepared Is Your Family?

    • You are welcome, Sis. Glad to know you love my blog. I am sorry I have been too busy to post more content in recent times. I am working on several posts and will put them up as soon as possible. Thank you for visiting and your comments. They encourage me.

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