The Terror of Inheriting a Mess: Part 2

by | Oct 31, 2022

What better time to complete this topic series – Terror of Inheriting a Mess – than October, National Estate Planning Awareness Month!?! Based on your feedback and sharing from Part 1, this blog shares stories, tips and encouragement for those who have experienced inheriting a mess.

Your Stories

One Sixty and Me reader forewarned that you often can’t count on the decedent’s spouse for any help. In her situation, after an aunt died, she was trying to help her uncle, “but he knew absolutely nothing about accounts or even where his own money was.”

This is so common. Too often, couples take responsibility for different “departments” in married life, which is normally fine – EXCEPT when it comes to finances. We need to be at least aware if not involved in the details of our money life.

You may remember from a past blog, or as I often explain in my free workshops, research indicates that couples usually fall into one of three categories when it comes to the financial aspect of our relationships:

The Driver and Passenger Couple

Only one person in the couple is aware of, makes decisions about, and takes care of all things financial (the Driver). The Passenger is often glad not to be involved or have to be bothered with that “financial stuff.”

The Joined at the Hip Couple

Both members of the couple talk about and make financial decisions together, but only one of them is the “doer” who takes care of implementing those decisions.

The Divide and Conquer Couple

Like the Joined at the Hip couple, both members of the couple talk about and make financial decisions together but then split the duties. So, each one is acting on implementing some of the decisions.

The Differences and Consequences

The research has also shown that the survivor of the Divide and Conquer couple adjusts the best, experiences less stress, and adapts to his/her new life better than the other two categories. This makes sense since the survivor is often only taking on 50% more of the responsibilities vs 100% of the potentially unfamiliar duties and decisions in the other two categories.

One woman I know, Charlotte Fox, truly experienced the “terror” of inheriting a mess when her “Driver” husband passed away unexpectedly when she was just in her 50s. As the “Passenger” in the financial relationship, she recalls how she felt somewhere between a drug-induced coma and a nervous breakdown.

Similar to Heather Parker, in Part 1 of this series, Charlotte reacted to her situation in a life-changing way. She used her trauma to fuel her energy into writing a 200+ page workbook And Then There Was One to help others avoid or survive what she experienced.

She wrote the book with an invitation to readers and attendees at her workshops to hold her hand as she walks you through. One reader, quoted in her book, commented, “Your husband would be so proud of you!”

Tips Moving Forward

Another reader recommended hiring help. A second set of eyes helps avoid missing things you may not know about or you may not see, especially if you are experiencing brain fog, which is very common after losing a loved one. Moving forward on steps that need to be taken, though difficult, with an accountability partner involved can feel less overwhelming.

Whether you have help or are tackling this alone, another reader found that setting up “project management steps” can be a big help in focusing on getting one thing done each day. Breaking the seemingly endless tasks down to smaller, manageable bites is, over time, truly the best way forward.

“Slowly but surely clearing it away”, “slow and steady” were the exact phrases from women who commented after Part 1 of this blog. They are so right! We are more likely to feel progress and not get discouraged when we remember it doesn’t all have to be done in one day.

Words of Encouragement

Some final words of encouragement. One reader of Charlotte’s workbook wrote her a thank you letter and shared how going through the process of getting prepared had sparked helpful discussions with her family. Charlotte’s motto today is “The time to discuss your end-of-life plans is NOW.”

One woman who replied to the Part 1 blog on the Sixty and Me Facebook group, admitted “I made the mess.” Not taking action now to organize, express wishes, put things in writing, correctly title assets, etc. can leave you or your family with a preventable “terror” experience.

So, my final encouragement is to get yourself a checklist and get started. Whether you prefer short bullet points in a book, an electronic paperless format, or a fill-in-the-blank workbook, just pick the one that you are most likely to DO.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Too often we don’t take action on something until we have experienced a traumatic event. What prompted you to get financially organized with your estate planning? What motivation can you share with our community?

Marie Burns is a Certified Financial Planner, Speaker, and Author of the bestselling Financial Checklist books. Find Marie on Facebook or contact her at [email protected]

This article was first published at 60 and Me – a community that helps women over 60 live happy, healthy and financially secure lives.