Two separate incidents are leading me to write this blog entry. First, the way too early passing of Tim Tripcony just a few days ago, as well as as the loss of Rob Wunderlich, Jens Augustiny and Kenneth Kjærbye in just a little over a year. All of those members of the Lotus Community left us way too early. The second one is a more personal one, as I am going in for surgery in a few weeks. All surgeries carry a small risk of complications (this particular one supposedly has less than 2% mortality rate).
But what this leads me is to the subject of this blog entry. Life insurance.
Most of us who are employed have some kind of life insurance through our work, and perhaps like me also have an additional life insurance policy. I am sure that most of self-employed also have purchased some life insurance themselves. So we all know we need life insurance, to provide for our children and/or spouses.
But what should happen with the money, in case the worst happens? In my case, I am divorced, and have a 13 year old son. Should a 13 year old inherit half a million dollar or more just like that? Or even if the child has to wait until age 18 to get the money, and it is managed by the other parent for some years, what would that lead to? I have heard stories about young adults that inherited a large sum of money after the death of a parent, bought a fast motor cycle or sports car and killed themselves within a year. Or who started using drugs/alcohol and either wasted the money on those things, or were killed by the substance abuse. I also know about women who lost their husbands, and within a few years used up all the life insurance money on houses, new cars, cosmetic surgery, all while not working.
So how do you make a real impact on the life of your loved ones left behind? In my case, I am in the process of setting up a trust that will handle the investment of the money, as well as spend it in a way consistent with my wishes.
The trust will handle the payouts of the child support until my son turns 18, and it will cover his college education (tuition, books, living expenses) for up to 5 years, etc. It also have all kinds of other provisions, like a cash payment to help with his wedding (only one, and after the age of 27!), matching payments to him for what he puts into a Roth IRA every year, financial help to buy a car and a house, etc. Even little things like extra money for birthday and christmas gifts are listed there. In addition, the trustee will have some personal discretion to help out when needed, and of course any medical and educational expenses will be covered as needed.
There are so many little details that one has to think about. Until my girlfriend Chrissy brought this up a while ago, I had not really been reflecting much on all those things. So I recommend that everyone sit down and think through how you want your life insurance to be handled if the worst happens. Just having life insurance isn’t enough to ensure they’ll be ok.
Too much of a windfall could be a problem for someone who is not ready to handle it. Knowing an inheritance is coming could even discourage a child from going to college because they may think they won’t need the education. Most parents do not consider the negative impact it could have on a young person to receive a large amount of money at one time, but we should.
While we may not always be able to be there for our kids if the worst does happen to any of us before they are grown this is a way to make our wishes known about their choices. This trust is important to me because I can continue to parent him at the same time as I provide financially for him. Setting up a trust lets my son know in writing what my wishes for his life would have been if I had been here. A college degree, saving for retirement, marriage if he wants it but not until he’s mature enough to handle it, buy a house and I’ll match your down payment and even limiting access if he ever gets into legal or substance abuse trouble. These would be things I will do as long as I am here physically for him too.
As I plan for this surgery it allows me to feel like I’d get a say in raising him through the stipulations of a trust, even if I wasn’t here anymore. That knowledge calms me enough to face surgery without worry about my son. Not just in financial terms but also in respect to all the other things a parent provides.
Tough to think about, but so very important.