Even if you never watched the 90’s hit show “Beverly Hills 90210,” it’s hard not to be shocked and saddened by the untimely passing of actor Luke Perry, age 52, who died after suffering a massive stroke earlier this week.
The unexpected death of a favorite celebrity helps drive home what it means to be truly prepared, and protective, of your family and loved ones.
Life takes some unexpected and unplanned twists and turns that can leave us all feeling vulnerable and exposed. Here are some important points to consider as we try to cope with the uncontrollable nature of life and mortality.
It is never too early, or too late, to get your legal affairs in order. Perry was taken to the hospital after suffering what seemed to be a massive and sudden stroke, before passing away five days later. During that time period, someone was called upon to make critical medical and financial care decisions, while family members were summoned to his side.
At any age, you should have drafted Durable and Medical Powers of Attorney which name someone else to make legal and medical decisions for you if you are not able to do so for yourself. You may also need a Trust, Will and proper beneficiary designations on insurance policies and retirement accounts so your assets pass to your chosen heirs without fuss, expense, or protracted legal battles. This is especially critical if like Perry, you are divorced, have children from a previous marriage, and a significant other to whom you are not married. Without proper documentation, the courts may not distribute assets to the people you would have chosen.
In my early days as a Trust Officer, I had a situation where a father, widowed with two young children, remarried after his wife’s death. A few years later, he passed away, leaving all his assets to the stepmother. She took all the money and practically put the kids out on the sidewalk. Cruel? Unfair? Yes. But perfectly legal. If it’s not written in a legal document, it won’t get done. Period.
Don’t forget to plan for illness or disability. What will happen to your children and family if you become disabled or die prematurely? Not the most pleasant of topics, but life insurance or disability policies can protect your dependents if your income suddenly comes to an end. Your master plan may call for you to keep working and earning money, but your health may not cooperate.
Perry left two children, a daughter age 18 and a son age 21. His daughter Sophie finally spoke out following her father’s death, poignantly saying nobody is “given a lesson” on handling such a loss. It’s incredibly hard to lose family, especially when it’s totally unexpected and premature. Not having to scramble for money makes it just a little bit easier.
Don’t postpone living your life for last. It’s tempting to postpone the family trips, the time off, the special moments with family for later, “after you retire,” “when you have the time,” or “maybe for next year.”
But don’t postpone too long. How many times have we seen clients put off that special trip overseas, for example, until one of them was too fragile to make the long plane trip? That trip is even more unlikely now, since he just entered a memory care unit. Yes, sometimes you do need to work an extra year or two longer to finance your dream retirement, but don’t overdo it. There’s an art to balancing work and fun. A tragic early death, like that of Luke Perry, reminds us to make time for what’s important today. Don’t leave it until tomorrow. Like the saying goes, tomorrow may never come.