Writing Your Last Letter

You’re going to die. You don’t know when: It could be 50 years from now or tomorrow. So write a letter to them to tell them important things, that cover matters of both the wallet and the heart.

When I thought recently that I had limited time left, I wrote a letter to my wife. The letter was just about financial matters. I should have written about several things besides that.

Cover the practical stuff. Your significant other needs to know whom to call about different financial aspects of your life.

Is that your attorney, certified public accountant, best friend or sibling? Some combination of these? Whoever can help your spouse get through this period needs to know they’re on call and they must also have a copy of the letter.

Write down where your passwords are for bank accounts, credit card accounts and investments. If you own a business, provide your spouse with guidance about what’s important to do in that business. If you hold life insurance, make sure your spouse and supporter know what they need to do to secure the death benefit or survivor benefit.

Tell your family where to find important documents such as your will to designate distribution of your assets. If needed, appoint guardians for your children. List your marriage license, deeds and other proof of ownership of property, cemetery plots, stocks and bonds, retirement accounts and other major items; and your last three years’ tax returns.  

Cover feelings about your significant other. Death means more than financial concerns. The dying often regret that they never expressed certain feelings. Too often we can take care of unsettled business if only we bother.

I heard it takes a widow seven to eight years to get over the death of her husband or significant other. Men seem to get through the process faster, maybe because many men never really come to grips with the death of their wife.

Not letting your spouse know how special he or she has made your life better is unfair. You and your spouse probably spent many years together.

Write a final love letter: The one left living will be glad.

Write down your feelings about your children. Share the letter with your children, who must also let go in pain. Write down specifically what made them special in your life; they’ll appreciate it and you help keep your memory alive. If you have grandchildren, include them in the letter.

Talk about what your life meant to you. What do you cherish? What memories are special?

What was it like growing up? Raising your children? What was it like after you became an empty nester?

Your family will want to know answers to all of these questions. Again, often we don’t tell others what’s important to us and wait for them to figure it out. That too isn’t fair.

Use the word “love.” Use “hate,” too, if you must. It’s your letter.

This letter can be long, likely five to 20 pages if you do a complete job. That’s okay. This is your last chance to be complete.

Follow AdviceIQ on Twitter at @adviceiq.

Josh Patrick is a founding principal of Stage 2 Planning Partners in South Burlington, Vt. He contributes to the NY Times You're the Boss blog and works with owners of privately held businesses helping them create business and personal value. You can learn more about his Objective Review process at his website.

AdviceIQ delivers quality personal finance articles by both financial advisors and AdviceIQ editors. It ranks advisors in your area by specialty, including small businesses, doctors and clients of modest means, for example. Those with the biggest number of clients in a given specialty rank the highest. AdviceIQ also vets ranked advisors so only those with pristine regulatory histories can participate. AdviceIQ was launched Jan. 9, 2012, by veteran Wall Street executives, editors and technologists. Right now, investors may see many advisor rankings, although in some areas only a few are ranked. Check back often as thousands of advisors are undergoing AdviceIQ screening. New advisors appear in rankings daily.