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Navigating Grief and Finances: Six Lessons from Losing My Mom

Almost one year ago my life changed forever. In late March 2023, our worst fear became a reality when my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic pancreatic cancer. This had been our fear that my grandmother (my mother’s mom) passed from the same horrible, incurable cancer 18 years ago. One week after diagnosis, she was gone. My mother spent her last several months in pain but continued to work. I have never met a more dedicated employee. Looking back now, we are so thankful she lived in ignorance and didn’t have to suffer longer than she did. 

During her hospital stay, I knew what was coming and had to take action, quickly. My mom had yet to commit to completing her estate plan. Luckily, she was able to sign her trust and other estate documents. It was my honor to give her the peace that came from knowing all of her wishes would be met and I would take care of my brothers. 

A few months later we sold her house, which fortunately, was registered in the name of her trust. The process was very smooth, unlike the remainder of her assets. Unfortunately, my mom did not add my brothers and me as beneficiaries in her retirement plans. This meant probate was inevitable. The path I’ve worked so hard to lead clients away from was now my reality. I sought out the guidance of our family attorney, who filed a petition in late July. The court date provided was late September. I became the executor in early November, however, I couldn’t act until receipt of the official letters, which was just a few weeks ago. I look forward to finalizing everything later this year. 

Losing a loved one is an indescribable pain, and when that loss is accompanied by the harsh realities of financial responsibilities, the journey through grief becomes even more challenging. As I reflect on the difficult path I've walked since losing my mom, I find solace in sharing my story and the invaluable lessons I’ve learned. Below are some of the top lessons:

1. Estate Planning Awareness

If you haven’t completed your estate plan, I implore you to do so. Not only can you rest assured your assets are protected and not subject to public access, but your beneficiaries will be so thankful not to have to experience the probate process. Ensuring a smoother transition of assets is so important, especially during a time of potentially crippling grief and stress. Once you have your estate plan, don’t forget to update accounts and provide copies to the appropriate financial institutions. 

2. Family financial disclosure

Make sure your successor trustee and/or power of attorney have a complete understanding of all assets and liabilities. If you’re uncomfortable sharing your financial situation, let that go. Allow your loved one(s) access to your situation. If this is too difficult, you can share the type of assets and liabilities without necessarily having to provide exact figures. 

3. Asset registration and beneficiary designation

Consult your attorney or financial planner on this one. Make sure all assets are titled appropriately and beneficiaries are listed. If you can’t register an asset under your trust, like retirement plans, beneficiaries must be listed to avoid probate. This can become a complex task, so make sure you ask a professional. 

4. Emergency fund and life insurance significance

An emergency fund will help your loved one(s) secure end-of-life expenses without having to access their personal assets, which may not be available. Life insurance will provide financial security for surviving family members and potentially ease the burden of debts. 

5. Long-Term Financial Planning

Losing a parent or loved one can prompt a reevaluation of one's own long-term financial goals, leading to a focus on building financial stability, retirement planning, and creating a legacy.

6. Financial Professional Engagement

Even with decades of experience, this process has not been easy for me. I am even more passionate about the value of guidance from financial professionals, whether it's a financial planner, accountant, or attorney, to navigate the complexities of post-loss financial decisions.

In the intersection of grief and finances, these lessons have become guiding principles in my role as a financial planner. It's a testament to the profound impact that personal experiences can have on professional perspectives. As I continue to navigate this intricate terrain, I am reminded daily that the wisdom gained through loss serves not only to enhance my financial expertise but also to deepen my connections with clients. 

Since losing my mom, I’ve realized I’m a different person. Through profound and unimaginable grief, I’ve been able to find peace and happiness. I have a new appreciation for life, love deeper than ever, value relationships with family, friends, and clients even more, and have strengthened spiritually. My wish for you, is to experience this new or renewed outlook on life without first having to experience grief. Also, if this information compels you to seek action, reach out to us. We are here for you, we understand, and we care. 

In closing, I’d like to end with a quote from the one and only Kerry Bubb, “We’re here for a good time, not a long time.”

 ~ Diana Sailler

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified legal advisor.