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My father passed away a couple of months ago and, even though it was a very difficult time, I learned some extremely valuable lessons. My sister and I had to deal with things that we weren’t prepared for: we had to notify family and close friends, make funeral arrangements, pick out a coffin, hire caterers for the wake, and make the burial arrangements. It was an emotional and physically draining experience.

It was very surreal when, examining the contents of my father’s briefcase, we found his handwritten letter detailing his final wishes. For anyone who knew my father, this was no big surprise as he was a master micromanager. In this case, it was a relief to know that we’d be executing his final arrangements exactly as he wished. He detailed which priest he wanted to preside at his funeral, how much of a donation we should give the priests (my father wanted three priests), who the caterer would be, and the sequence of events. Traditionally, the Greek Orthodox travel to the cemetery after the funeral service, if close by, and then come back for the Makaria (wake). My dad was worried that too many people would not come back from the cemetery so he wanted the Makaria right after the funeral service. He liked to entertain.

Lesson 1: When we plan for our own deaths (or maybe avoid planning for it), it’s important that we properly think things through. What kind of funeral service do you want? Where do you want to have it? Do you want a specific priest or pastor to officiate? Should there be a wake? Will it be catered? Where do you want to be buried? These are just a handful of the questions you should think about and put in writing – after all, it’s your send-off.

That it’s a painful time for family, friends, and loved ones didn’t surprise me. What surprised me more than anything was how important the outpouring of support was and how much it helped. When I learned of someone’s passing, my traditional reaction was to not bother the family and loved ones with my
expression of sorrow and condolence. I rationalized it in my mind that they didn’t want to be bothered and reminded of their loss.

Lesson 2: Reach out to those who have suffered a loss; share your sorrow and remembrances, and offer your support. I was never bothered by the calls, letters, cards, and emails. They built the foundation of a tremendous support network that propped me up.

Like most of us, thinking about our eventual demise is extremely uncomfortable. My father was no exception. While he had a handwritten will (written in
pencil for quick changes), he never really formalized his estate planning until he was 82. The years of my prodding and badgering finally caused him to break down and get it done. Or so I thought. Really, it was his own awareness and acknowledgement that more years were behind him than in front of him that inspired him to act. At age 84 1/2, my father finally learned the difference between ownership and control as he made final estate plan adjustments. It turns out that this key understanding allowed his estate to pass without taxation.

Lesson 3: Better late than never. Whatever your age, make it a point to create a living trust. If you already have one and it’s been more than 5 years since it was reviewed, then make an appointment with your attorney. While my father didn’t suffer from a long, drawn-out illness, be sure to have the proper healthcare directives in place so your loved ones can manage your healthcare as you would wish when you’re unable to.

The loss of a loved one is traumatic enough without having to deal with incomplete or ineffective estate planning. The planning and preparation that my father had done in the few years before his death was invaluable and provided the roadmap for methodically settling his estate and distributing his assets.

Call us if you need help organizing the key details of your estate plan. We collaborate with top estate planning attorneys should you need a referral, or we can collaborate with your existing attorney.