What Can Happen if You Don’t Plan: My Family’s Experience with Loss

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By Jaymon Meikle, CFP®, Wealth Advisor

One of my heroes is my Grandpa Meikle, who was an advisor himself and has been an important mentor my entire life. Another hero of mine is my Grandpa McKnight, or “Ray” to everyone else.

Grandpa McKnight was a giant among men and was loved by many. He was lovingly referred to as Papa Bear by his grandkids and was never seen around his family without having at least one kid in his arms. Grandpa was an avid scouter and was my scout leader for a time.

My grandparents loved kids and ended up with 12 children (eight biological and four adopted). They were foster parents for many years, which is where three of the four adopted children came from, two of whom (my Uncle Billy and Aunt Carrie) have Down syndrome. Grandpa worked hard to provide for his family, which was a constant challenge with having so many to care for, but he always found a way.

He Thought He’d Be Around Forever

Grandpa was an old-school gentleman who was convinced he would be around forever. The family needed him, so he was going to make sure he was always there. My father, who is also an advisor, tried many different times to get Grandpa to meet with him to go over his finances and to have the difficult conversation of what it would look like if he was no longer around, but Grandpa never took him up on the offer, saying that he was always going to be there.

In December 2001, my grandparents bought a brand-new house on the north side of Phoenix, Arizona. They had never owned a new home, and it was a bit of a stretch for them to get it. Unfortunately, Grandpa never had a chance to live in it.

On December 22 of that year, my older sister answered the home phone. It was my aunt looking for my mom, but my parents were out on a date. My aunt told my sister that Grandpa had a massive heart attack at home, just a few hours after running in to my mom and little sister at Costco, where he was picking out the Christmas ham. He was being rushed to the hospital. Cellphones were rare in 2001, and my parents did not have one at the time.

I remember waiting anxiously for my parents to get home so that we could tell them to hurry down to the hospital. My parents barely made it to the driveway before all of seven us kids ran out to tell them what happened, and they turned around to speed to the hospital.

We got a call later that night that Grandpa had passed. Our world was shattered. Grandpa was invincible – how could he be gone?

Chaos Begins

The next morning is when the chaos started to settle in. My grandma was completely lost without Grandpa. They had married when she was 16 years old, and she never dealt with any of the finances in all their years together.

My mom and her siblings quickly realized they were going to have to step in and take care of everything. Together, the siblings found out there was essentially no estate plan or life insurance to help with the finances.

Grandpa, believing that he would always be around, took a life-only option on his military pension (which was unknown to the rest of the family), so my grandma was left with the small amount of help they got from the state for adopting special-needs kids. So not only was my grandma left with very little income, but she was also now the owner of a new home that had to be paid for and had no assets to fall back on.

By some miracle, my father was able to step in and work with the VA pension to get it switched over to my grandma, which gave her just enough to get by. Problem was there was still a funeral to pay for. My mom and her siblings had to not only plan the funeral, but pay for it as well, which was a major financial burden for all involved.

Things were very difficult for a long time for my grandma and the rest of my mom’s family, largely because Grandpa didn’t take the time to create an estate plan and to discuss what would happen once he was gone.

This situation could have been a lot worse, but this is an example of what can happen if you don’t make an estate plan or update that plan. When you fail to make a plan, you may end up hurting those you wish to protect. The conversation can be difficult, but it is wildly important.

If you need help with figuring out where to start with your own plan, please give us a call at 816-259-5060 or schedule an appointment online.

Grandpa and me, taken at a scout meeting when I was 11 years old.

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