This guest post from Jody is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes.
My dad died recently. He was a good man and a great father. Just three months after he retired (after spending more than 40 years as a salesman for an oil company), he was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer. Throughout my life, my father tried to give my brothers and me a good financial education.
- We were solidly middle class, but I always thought we were sort of poor. Often, there wasn't money for this or that. But Dad taught me to be comfortable living below my means.
- If I needed money, Dad told me to get a job. My brothers and I all had jobs since we were about twelve. I packed rice into take-out containers at a Chinese restaurant when I was in seventh and eighth grade.
- He taught me that charity matters. We sponsored kids our age in poor countries as a way to give back and underscore how fortunate we were.
But the most unexpected financial lesson my father taught me came after he passed away. I am the executor of his estate. My dad was always a planner, but the things he did to make this processes easier are amazing. I feel compelled to share them with just about everyone I know. Today, I'm sharing them with GRS readers.
Building a team
My dad lived on a beautiful lake in Missouri, which is about five hours from where I live. Every time I'd go and visit him, he would set up a meeting with his “key people”. I'd argue against it. “Dad, I don't really need to meet your tax guy,” I'd say. He insisted.
I met his insurance representative. We took his attorney to lunch. Just about every time I came to visit, he had to “stop at the bank for a minute.” I'm on a first name basis with his bank. When his “Fidelity Lady” called he'd say, “Just a minute I want you to talk to my daughter.” I would roll my eyes and be embarrassed for both of us as he handed me the phone.
This is all years ago, when it looked like chemo was working and he would beat cancer. Today, these connections have been invaluable. When my dad's insurance representative heard that he passed away, he called me and had already dropped the forms in the mail. His banker has made everything so easy. “Don't worry about that you can sign it next time you're here.” His “Fidelity Lady” also contacted me and filled out half the paperwork for us.
I can't count how many times, I've said “Thanks Dad, for looking out for me.” I knew who to call. I've met them. I have their business cards.
Dad negotiated the estate fees. Lunch with the attorney who wrote his will was so helpful that I'm still in awe. When the dust settled, I called her and said “What now?” She knew exactly what to do and had all the information to do it. But, get this: Dad negotiated the estate fees as well. He told her, “If my daughter decides to use you to settle the estate, (knowing he had already stacked the deck in her favor) let's negotiate a not-to-exceed amount that you would charge.” He then put that amount in a targeted bank account.
I was thinking that the cost for the legal fees would be about $7,000 or $8,000. I had no frame of reference. This was just a number in my head. The fees were $20,000. I was blown away. When I did some research and called some lawyer friends, I learned that lawyers typically charge between 3% and 5% of the total value of the estate. My dad had negotiated 2% and put the money in an account I had immediate access to. Again, thanks Dad!
Several years ago when he was still healthy, he added me to his bank accounts. My name was on his checks. I argued against it because I thought it was unnecessary and I was always taught that money and account balances are private information. He wanted me to do it anyway. (His credit was always spotless, so I knew there was no risk for me.)
When his health started to fail and then when he passed away, it was absolutely seamless for me to pay his bills. I could sign the checks. (He even made me “try it out” years ago by writing a $10 check to my brother!) I could pay bills on-line. He made sure there was enough money in that account to pay the bills in case his house doesn't sell for almost two years.
Preparing for the worst
My father pre-paid his funeral expenses and left extra money in that checking account for miscellaneous expenses. Again, my dad was a planner. He had a master binder. He wanted to review his funeral arrangements with me, but that was more than I could handle. He told me when I needed the plans, I just had to flip to “F” for Funeral in his binder. Low and behold when I did, everything was there: the places he had made arrangements with and copies of cancelled checks with business cards attached to them. There were five copies of 8x10s he had taken when he was still relatively healthy for us to use in the obituary! Attached to that was his obituary! He wrote it himself.
Even as organized as he was there were about $3,500 in unforeseen costs. It was a rainy, windy day and we needed a large tent and chairs at the graveside. Obituaries cost about $100 a day. I had no idea newspapers charged for obituaries! My grandma wanted the obituary ran in several other papers along with the ones my dad specified, which was fine, but I was shocked to see that it cost $500 more. Seeding that checking account that I already had access to, was key. I cringe at the thought of having to ask my brothers, who are a financial mess, to chip in for anything. Luckily, his funeral didn't become a financial burden on anyone.
When Dad updated his will several years ago, he asked if I would be his executor. Of course I said yes. He told me that I was entitled to compensation for doing this. He recommended I take a 2% or 3% commission. I said no way. It felt like I would be charging him.
After he passed away and I realized all that it entailed, I found myself thinking that maybe I should have taken him up on that offer. Being the executor of an estate — even a very well-planned estate — took about 10 to 15 hours a week for months. It's a big job. I found myself resenting my brothers since I was doing it all.
When we went to Fidelity to split up his IRA, he had stipulated that I receive 1% more then my brothers for my job as executor. He paid me anyway! He knew the job should come with some compensation and he preserved my relationship with my brothers. See what I mean? My dad was amazing, and this is just a small peek into his wonderful life.
A gift from the grave
I honestly consider my father's financial planning to be a selfless act of love. Despite his generosity, I would trade every last cent for ten more minutes with him. When someone you love dies, it's brutal. Emotionally, and physically. Trust me, you really are in no state to make these type of financial or legal decisions on your own (unless maybe you are an expert). I haven't even mentioned the tax side of it. I'm sure there are ways to save money and do things cheaper.
As J.D. says, don't let the perfect be the enemy of good. Not having any plans is a giant mistake. Do what my dad did. Do a little at a time and refine your plan along the way as you become more knowledgeable.