Money Magazine: Being There for your Partner Beyond your Lifetime

estate planning news article by Money magazine

Editor’s Note: This article was provided by Money magazine, which is a resource for many of the topics we deal with on our blog, including life insurance. There are a few meaningful life events that make people reevaluate their need for life insurance, including marriage, children, as well as the acquisition of a house and other responsibilities.

When these occur, it might be time to get life insurance to lessen the financial repercussions and provide peace of mind. It also relieves some of the burdens from loved ones if something were to happen. Money has a great guide to help in the decision making!

Few things are as devastating to imagine as the death of a loving partner. Worse still may be the anguish of picturing the pain your partner will suffer living without you. But as difficult as it is to think about such deep losses, it’s even more challenging, for some couples, to broach the subject directly.

Countless husbands and wives avoid conversations about death and dying, sometimes even as it draws near and time is dwindling. Sometimes we’re inhibited by the rules we were taught when we were young: while cultures are changing, the subject of death has been taboo in many families for millennia. Sometimes we avoid the topic out of a sense of protectiveness towards the people we love. And often it comes down to simply not having the language to describe something so emotionally charged.

But as a married couple, you have a responsibility to imagine the unthinkable with your spouse. And the good news is that while talking about death may be uncomfortable, it can bring a profound new level of intimacy to your marriage. It takes trust to talk about death with someone and relationships deepen as trust is granted.

Where do you start? Let’s have a look at a few ways to ease into a difficult—but ultimately rewarding—conversation. Understanding your spouse’s point of view, airing your own, and making joint decisions may alleviate both of your fears by giving more definition to what would otherwise be an unknowable experience.

Tip Number One: Don’t Wait

Not to cast an even greater pall on the experience of losing one’s spouse, but death can arrive suddenly. Youth doesn’t offer much protection. But death is easier to talk about when it seems far off in the future. That’s one reason to start the conversation now.

You don’t have to make end-of-life decisions all in one fell swoop. Nor must the decisions you make today remain static as your feelings and circumstances change. Death may be final, but planning for it, ironically, is a dynamic process. We age, we grow, we learn more about ourselves and our values. Exploring our changes together is what keeps marriages grounded, healthy— and frankly, more interesting.

Tip Number Two: Write a Living Will

There are those of us who would like every measure known to medical science to be taken to keep us alive. Others put a premium on quality of life. We know we wouldn’t want to rely on a ventilator to breathe or con/nue to live if we were unable to move, think clearly, and make decisions for ourselves. Where do you fall on the spectrum? Is your spouse right there with you or does he or she have different priorities? Who do you want to make your end-of-life care decisions? Have you set the answers to those questions down in writing?

Not all married couples decide to put their partners in charge of healthcare decisions and that’s okay. Perhaps you have a best friend who shares your philosophy on what makes life worth living or a relative who has significant medical expertise to bring to bear on care decisions. By writing a living will, you can be sure that your wishes are plainly understood and that you’ll be as much in charge as you can be, even if you are mentally or physically incapacitated.

Tip Number Three: Think About Life After Death

No, I don’t mean the kind of life you might live in heaven or otherwise in the spiritual world. I’m talking about practical matters like where will your spouse live when you’re gone? Who’ll look after your beloved as the years take their toll? How will the bills get paid when you’re not there to bring home a paycheck?

That last question is where life insurance comes in. Pretty much any financial advisor you consult will recommend buying life insurance as part of a long-term plan for financial health. But life insurance also provides something priceless: the peace of mind that comes with knowing your spouse (and your kids, if you have some) will have the means to live even when you’re not around to support them.

Allow me a moment on my soapbox. One thing is for certain. The moment you have children is the moment you need life insurance. If you have young kids and don’t have insurance, get on the phone or get online now and buy some. You don’t want to leave your children both emotionally ravaged (as they’re sure to be if you die unexpectedly) and financially insecure. As financially savvy as millennials are these days, 75% of millennial parents do not carry life insurance. Don’t be one of them. The best life insurance for families with young children is often the most affordable kind. For a non-smoking woman aged 30, a $500,000 term life insurance policy costs about $35 a month. Most people spend more than that on their morning coffee. It’s hardly much to spend when your kids’ financial security is at stake.

Some term life insurance policies can be converted to permanent policies. Permanent—or whole life insurance as it’s also called—is an investment that gains value as you pay your premiums. Like term life, it also comes with a death benefit. When your children are grown, a whole life policy will help your spouse weather the financial challenges of being a sole earner or re/red worker.

Tip Number Four: Keep it Light

That may sound like a tall order. But there’s no reason why talking about death has to end in a teary goodnight or an emotional hangover the next morning. Not all of us are capable of finding the humor in death, but you might be one of them. And if you need some inspiration on how to talk about death sans the gloom and doom, watch Harold and Maude, a dark but sweet 1971 comedy starring the late great Ruth Gordon. Beetlejuice is another gut-buster that delivers some of its best laughs by showing us how powerless we are about death.

And one more thing: reward yourself for tackling a tough topic. A talk with your honey about death certainly warrants a nice bottle of wine. Milk and homemade cookies can be comforting, too. You can also show yourself some kindness by having these conversations in small chunks.

Make a list of what you need to cover, from medical directives to the music you’d like played at your memorial. Each time you check an item off give yourself a pat on the back. Give your partner a hug, too.