By Mike Gertsema, CEO & Wealth Advisor
This is going to be an unusual blog about estate planning because instead of discussing the dos and don’ts or going into a lot of legal documents and procedures, I want to discuss estate planning on how I’ve witnessed it with my clients over the last 30 years.
I have been blessed to meet a lot of people and have had the honor of fulfilling the final wishes of a lot of clients. Sometimes I end up delivering messages that are not well received by family members, but I do it anyway because I gave my word to my client.
The biggest responsibility is to take care of the surviving spouse when the first spouse dies.
Most people are very specific on what they mean when they say, “Please, take good care of her/him,” and it is usually confirmed with a handshake and a look in your eyes for confirmation.
I feel them look deep in my soul while we shake hands and weight on my shoulders as an advisor to help ensure that my clients’ goals are met.
Most clients have a gift of faith and accept death as a part of life, which I truly admire.
“I Did It My Way”
One elderly client, in particular, was suffering from kidney disease along with a number of other health complications. One day out of the blue he called to tell me that he was going off of dialysis.
I got quiet as I was searching for something to say, but before I could, he said “Mike, I know what you are thinking.”
I responded, “What am I thinking?”
He said, “You think I’m giving up, but I’m not giving up. I’m just ready to go and I know there’s a better place than suffering through this quality of life.”
Then, he requested that I come to see him and verify all his final financial arrangements – which I did. He was a joy to be around and was never without a joke or a funny story to tell me. He had all of his final arrangements planned down to the funeral music.
I attended the funeral on a Saturday morning, and I will never forget the ceremony and the eulogy. The minister explained he was with my client on his final hour and right before he took his last breath, he looked at the minister and said, “I didn’t think it would be like this.”
The minister hesitated to ask him what he meant because he was afraid of the answer – like maybe he regretted his decision to go off dialysis. But, the minister asked him what he meant.
My client answered, “I didn’t think it was going to be this easy.”
I think everyone that attended the ceremony gave a collective sigh of relief. The last song of the ceremony was “I Did It My Way” by Frank Sinatra.
Perfect song, ceremony, and very fitting – but of course he planned it that way.
Another example is a hilarious video that went viral in October of 2019.
Shay Bradly, from Dublin, passed away on October 8, 2019, after a battle with cancer. He decided to play his final prank at his graveyard ceremony by making a recording of himself being alive in the coffin and knocking on the lid telling people he woke up and “Lemme out!”
He had everyone at the ceremony laughing with tears of joy and sadness.
What Estate Planning Gives You
Another great example is the book and movie, The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall.
In the movie, James Garner left his estate plan with his attorney and a video to the family members to watch – which I really think is an awesome idea. In a sense, the deceased millionaire was controlling his estate from the grave, which we can all do if we choose to.
I think estate planning is a difficult subject to discuss – let alone plan – but I can’t emphasize its importance enough.
Clients do not want to be a burden to their heirs. They don’t want the estate settlement to be a long and dragged-out process. They don’t want Uncle Sam as one of their beneficiaries. They definitely don’t want hard feelings, disagreements, or conflicts – and most importantly, they want their wishes honored as written.
Over the years it’s been interesting for me to be part of the estate settlement process and in a lot of cases, I already know the family through their parents. Parents typically always want to parent their children no matter how old the children are.
I know this from experience and I also know that most parents are proud of their children and have respect for them – but also sometimes neglect to compliment them.
I tell the adult children what their parents have told me over the years, and it turns into a very emotional meeting because they had no idea that their parents felt that way. I can even give them examples of events that they have shared with me which emotionally affects all of us because we miss them.
It’s hard to believe that the parents never told their children about those proud moments.
Sometimes I feel a calling to share the moments with the family to be sure they know how their parents felt and hopefully results in them telling their children how they feel.
I was thinking about offering booklets for clients to write down special thoughts to each child, grandchild, and friend as a treasure for their estate plan.
I’ve even thought of offering an opportunity to have a video to leave the family-like James Garner in The Ultimate Gift, but in most cases, we should just tell our children how to feel about them while we are alive – especially with the compliments and pride.
It means much more now instead of later, after the fact. I think a note would be a great reminder though.
There is an element to being a financial planner that most people don’t know about and I also know that all financial planners don’t take the job and responsibility as seriously as I do, but I also know a lot of financial planners that do.
The Coffin Test
Ron told us about a talk he gave to a group of financial planners about the careers that they choose and asked them how they wanted to be remembered. He didn’t call it a business or a job, he called it a career.
How do you want to be remembered by family, friends, the community, and your clients?
Ron was really focused on the responsibilities that go with the career and how important they are to their clients. He said if they were in the business for the money and it was a job, maybe they needed to rethink the reason they selected this career.
He was adamant about the fact that this is a people business and providing the best service, experience, and value is what we should be striving for and it’s his ultimate key to success. Some of the planners in that group struggled with the task of how they wanted to be remembered at their funerals, so Ron decided to bring in a coffin to make the experience real.
Not only did he bring the coffin in, but he suggested laying in the coffin and to imagine you’re dead and watching people looking at you and what they were saying about you.
It turned out to be a very moving and emotional experience for many individuals.
Talk about getting your attention, right?
Your Estate Plan, Your Way
So, when I started this blog, I warned you that it was going to be unusual. But the point is, this is your life. Do it your way. Communicate how you feel.
And, remember, an estate plan can help ensure you get your final wishes – from certain music being played to how and when your beneficiaries receive their gifts and whether or not you want to exclude Uncle Sam from your beneficiary list.
Who you appoint as your power of attorney is crucial to this process. Do you have a family member or friend who deals with your wishes, or do you want a professional firm to take care of it?
If you want a professional, we can help.
At Gertsema Wealth Advisors, we have a mission to empower you to make life’s decisions on your terms and we do not consider this a job or a business – it is our career to provide the best service, experience, and value to our clients as we strive to get better every day.
If you would like a complimentary copy of the book The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, if you’d like a complimentary consultation in person or virtually, please call or text 816-259-5060 or set up an appointment below.