Rehearsing your exit: The Dress Rehearsal

Have you had “The Difficult Conversation” with your family? The one about what will happen when you leave this life?  Every few years, our family has what we call a “Dress Rehearsal.” Together with parents and adult children, we meet with our independent financial advisors, and sometimes with our attorney. The announcement is made that Mom and Dad are in Africa and were just eaten by a lion. Now what?


The first item to address is the funeral wishes of Mom and Dad; their preference for a funeral director, location of grave sites, and type of casket. As for the service, it’s for the children and grandchildren and not for the grandparents, so they want their children’s wishes to prevail.


We review the location of important documents: wills, trusts, birth certificates, marriage certificate, passports, cemetery plot deed, vehicle titles, mortgages, and other essentials along with the combination to the parents’ safe and location of the safe deposit box and keys (assuring our children they have the right of entry). We review the roster of key people: attorney, accountant, financial advisors, and insurance agents. Log-in information and passwords for bill paying and account control are also reviewed.


Then, we move on to the beneficiary designations for Mom and Dad’s retirement accounts. We need to be sure they match the wills and trusts, as those designations actually supersede other documents. We open Mom and Dad’s balance sheet and discuss the portfolio strategy and the flow of assets through the trusts and the options that the children will have.


Next comes discussion of material possessions: homes, cars, furnishings, artwork, jewelry, etc. When it comes to homes, we’ve seen too many disastrous cases in which children own their parents’ home together as a group, so the children are urged to sell them and split the cash. As for other material possessions, it’s suggested that the children flip a coin to see who goes first and then, alternately, make choices based on sentimental—rather than material—value.


But what if the lion only dines on one parent, and leaves the other “incapacitated?” Since the estate documents call for the surviving spouse (and trusts) to inherit everything, it’s time to talk about long-term care. Fortunately, quality long-term care insurance was purchased many years ago, so that will help with the financial part. Mom and Dad each feel that living in a life care community, with the assurance of support services they might need, would give their children more peace of mind than having to worry about them staying at home.


We review Health Care Proxies, the legal document that gives the children the power to make health care related decisions for their parents. We discuss the circumstances under which Mom and Dad do and do not want life sustaining measures implemented. Then come the Durable Powers of Attorney and Living Wills.


As a general rule: the time for planning is not on the way home from the funeral. Give your children peace of mind, and consider your own “Dress Rehearsal.”


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