Taboo Topics When Someone Dies–Part 3, Money

Part 3 in this series on taboo topics (*see below) focuses on money matters and why you should leave them alone.

Would you walk up to random people and pat them on the stomach? Of course not, except… Have you ever noticed that insensitive relatives, acquaintances, or even strangers will do that to women in the latter months of pregnancy? No matter that it’s intrusive, rude, and creepy. (It happened to me, more than once.)

Would you walk up to random people and ask them about their finances? Of course not, except… Have you ever noticed that insensitive relatives, acquaintances, or even strangers will do that to mourners in the earliest days and months of bereavement? No matter that it’s intrusive, rude, and creepy. (It happened to me, more than once.)

Here is what you need to know about the finances of those who are grieving:

1) Their finances are none of your business — unless

the bereaved asks you about money matters, concerns, or questions (in which case, you should limit your words to providing direct answers, not asking them questions or making assumptions), or

… you already have a professional financial relationship to the bereaved (and/or the deceased) as their financial or insurance adviser, accountant, broker, loan officer, etc., and your inquiries are

relevant to that relationship,

timely for the altered needs of the survivors, and

mindful that most major decision-making should be delayed for at least a year.

2)  Financial gifts may be desperately needed by bereaved families, even though mourners’ finances are none of your business. If the deceased was the primary (or even secondary) breadwinner in a family, the sudden loss of income can be financially devastating. Even small monetary gifts can help offset expenses, and they will show your tangible support for friends who have lost loved ones.

3) Death is expensive for its survivors.

Whether the death was expected (due to age and/or health issues) or unexpected (due to undiagnosed health matters or external forces), there are likely medical expenses. Big medical expenses. These may include (but aren’t limited to) doctor, hospital, and ambulance services (**see below for a digressive rant). The financial costs can be huge, and the emotional costs of drawn-out payments for treating the already-deceased loved one can be just as difficult to pay.

Funeral, burial, and cremation expenses can be prohibitive and drain a family’s financial reserves. Payments are often required up front. My home (and the land it stands on) still belongs to my mortgage company as much as it does to me. Even after it’s paid off, I’ll still owe property taxes as long as I own it. How awful it is that the only land I’ve purchased and own “free and clear” is fully uninhabitable: my husband’s burial plot.

Legal and business fees add up. I remember the sticker shock of having to pay for changing the title of my husband’s car to my name before I could sell it. Various accounts and deeds can cost even more. Eventually, every legal document or business account once in the name of the deceased must be updated, closed, or renamed, and these transactions can be costly.

 4) Not everyone has adequate — or any — life insurance (***see below).

Don’t assume.

Don’t judge.

Preexisting health conditions, finances, or emotional constraints may have prevented purchasing such policies.

5) Life insurance payments feel like blood money. They are not windfalls or fun lotto winnings. Their intent is to pay for current and future life expenses for the surviving beneficiaries.

ONLY named beneficiaries have the right to decide how such funds should be spent. Period. If you have an opinion on how it should be spent, keep it to yourself.

Do NOT ask about or comment on life insurance amounts. The subject is not only private — it’s painful. Survivors who are asked about whether they received life insurance payments may feel cornered or pressured into discussing details that only their financial advisers should be privy to. (Remember #1 on this list!)

Don’t ask to borrow money from life insurance funds.

I apologize if this post feels stern. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin by now, but I still remember some people’s intrusions during my earliest months of widowhood. Many meant well. I understood their concern for my well-being, and I continue to feel gratitude for the gifts generous souls sent our family at that time. However, I also recall the inappropriate questions of those who were more interested in satisfying curiosity than consoling my family.

___

*I talk about other taboo topics — politics, religion, appearance, and legal status — in separate posts (while, yes, talking about the very things you shouldn’t talk about).

**My digressive rant:
The ambulance bill provided a double shock. The 5-minute “ride” cost more than $150 per mile, and when I received my credit card statement verifying payment, the expense was listed under “travel and entertainment.” While I appreciated the efforts of the EMTs who responded to my 911 call, and I didn’t begrudge paying for their efforts (fruitless as they were), seeing the cost listed as “travel and entertainment” infuriated me. Still does.
(Okay. Rant over now.)

***If you’re on the fence about purchasing life insurance and you have dependent family members, do it. NowEven small policies can help. I hope you outlive your policy, but if — Heaven forbid! — The Worst Thing (your death) should happen to your loved ones (as it did to me and mine when my husband died), having a financial cushion may be of indescribable help to them, even if it is a small one. [Note: I’m not endorsing any company or industry by saying this. I’m sharing first- and secondhand experience.]

Console the Bereaved with Concern, but Curtail Curiosity

Showing heartfelt concern when someone dies offers comfort and consolation. Exhibiting curiosity does not.

“The Curious” are more interested in displaying their own pain (or discovering that of the bereaved) than they are in relieving or lightening the mourner’s load. They may say things like:

“Tell me how she died.” Surviving loved ones should never be pressed to discuss this most personal, devastating event. Whether the passing was a bittersweet, peaceful, expected transition or a wrenching, abrupt and untimely, traumatic cataclysm, these details–even if made a matter of public record on the evening news–are intensely private.

“When are you going to move?” No matter how well-intended, this question assumes and imposes the burden of considering yet another upheaval in an already overturned life. Ideally, those who grieve should not make major life decisions within the first year of their loss–and when they do, those decisions are theirs to announce only when and if they wish.

“The same thing happened to my third cousin’s neighbor’s ex.” The grief-afflicted soul thinks, “So what? I don’t know them, and I’m hurting worse than I’ve ever hurt before.” The worst and most relevant grief is a person’s current grief.

“What kind of life insurance did he have?” or “What are the terms of her will?” Unless you have an already established relationship as the survivors’ attorney, accountant, or certified financial planner, questions such as these are off limits! Period.

“When are you going to stop being sad?” Even happily remarried widows and widowers “still” feel sadness over the death of their late spouses. Bereaved parents will “always” mourn the children they’ve lost. Love–and grief over lost love–has no expiration date or timetable.

“What are you going to do now?” The newly bereaved are already overwhelmed. Don’t point out the need for them to make further decisions–which aren’t your business anyway.

In contrast, “The Concerned” set aside their own importance, remembering the goal is to help their grieving friends. They interact to witness and validate the pains of the bereaved survivors they would comfort. Their words sound more like:

“Do you  need to talk about how she died?”
“Is there any way I can help you with any planning you need to do?”
“I’m so sorry for what happened.”
“Can we help you meet any immediate financial needs?”
“Would you like to talk about your feelings?”
“I’m here to support you in whatever you decide.”

Go ahead and show your friends the concern you feel for them in their grief, as long as you aren’t indulging your curiosity to do so.