I love Olivia Newton-John. I love Grease, I love Xanadu. I may have even done karaoke on stage to Grease’s Summer Lovin, the duet between Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.
Sadly, she passed away this week at the age of 73. She had been suffering from breast cancer for over ten years, and according to this article from Yahoo Entertainment, she had contemplated her death because she knew she was sick.
Instead of going our usual route of offering our estate planning advice to her family, or discussing her estate, instead, I want to talk about something much scarier: the fact that we are all going to die someday.
In the face of a terminal diagnosis, people are faced with the concept of their own mortality. It’s a subject that we brush under the rug, and act like it won’t happen if we just never talk about it. Coming from an old-school Italian family, it was bad luck to talk about our eventual death. As if, by talking about it, we wish it to happen. So instead, we ignore it, we fail to plan for it, and in our selfishness for refusing to deal with it, we leave our families with a big giant mess.
When asked about contemplating her own death, Olivia Newton-John said, "I mean — we all know we are going to die. I think we spend our lives probably much in denial of it."
In my business, I find that she’s exactly right. We live in denial – like nothing bad is ever going to happen to us, and we will all live for 100 years.
While getting a scary or terminal diagnosis is scary and awful, it does give the person, and their family, the opportunity to think, plan, and even say goodbye. Read our blog about Molly, who did a podcast about her life’s journey with cancer.
But lots of people die without ever getting that chance.
Doing what I do for a living, I see that death comes in all shapes and sizes. Are you scared yet? Because it’s about to get scarier: the truth is that death does not discriminate. It comes for the old, the young, the rich, the poor, and everything in between. Many times, it’s a surprise, and the family has to process it all at once, without a chance to say goodbye. Further, the family is left holding the bag if the deceased did not plan.
A proper estate plan is a gift that you give to your family. Every day I have clients that have to dig through the mail, through file cabinets, on desks, or under beds, looking for evidence of bank accounts and life insurance. Because there was no plan, and the family has no clue what assets there were, what bills there were, or what property should go to which people. It’s a disaster that a grieving family just doesn’t need.
Don’t wait until you're ill. Face it head-on – we are all going to die. It’s inevitable, just like taxes (and yes, the government will tax you, even in death if you haven't planned – learn how to avoid estate taxes by reading our free guide). Face it, plan for it, and do what’s right for your spouse, children, and family. Provide your wishes so that no one has to wonder. Pull the plug? Or not? Burial? Cremation? Services? Yes, it’s unpleasant, I know. But facing unpleasant things is a part of life. Decide where your property will go – if you don’t, the government has an estate plan all ready for you, and it won’t be one that you like. Plus, if you don’t plan, a big chunk of your assets could have to be used to pay estate taxes. You can avoid that by planning ahead.
If you really want to give your family a gift, consider writing a legacy letter. Learn more about that by listening to our podcast with Jay Sherwin, a legacy letter expert.
Once your plan is done, you only have to think about it once per year, and that’s it. Do an estate plan, review it annually, and keep it updated. A good law firm will have a program to help you do just that. You want to make sure you update your plan based on changes in your life and changes in the law. If you want more information about keeping your plan updated, read the chapter I wrote for Wealth’s Counsel’s publication, “Estate Planning Strategies – Second Edition”. You can request a free copy from us and we’ll mail it out to you at no charge.
Want to learn more? Start with the free resources on our website.
Olivia Newton-John played a muse in Xanadu – an immortal daughter of Zeus. I’ll prefer to think of her that way, roller skates and all.