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Memento Mori

Memento Mori is a reminder that none of us wants, but one that we all need. It’s a Latin phrase meaning “remember - you will die.” None of us are immortal, yet we often live trying to ignore our mortality. Then something happens - a serious medical diagnosis or the death of a close friend or relative - and we are forced to face reality.

The recent passing of Jimmy Buffett was another memento mori for me. No, I never met Jimmy, and he didn’t know me, but he felt like part of our family. My dad was a huge fan (read his excellent blog post on Jimmy here), so his music was a soundtrack to my childhood. He was there for our family vacations, birthday parties, and holidays. We made summer plans around his concerts and couldn’t wait for each year’s new album. 

It wasn’t just that he was a part of our family that made his death hit home; he also seemed immortal. For years, we said we had to go to his summer concert because we thought it might be the last year he would tour. Yet there he was in 2022 at 75, doing a full summer concert tour, and here he is this July, a few months before he passed, still doing what he loved the most. 

While they can be painful, these reminders can also be an opportunity. Thinking about our own death can help us live with purpose and savor every moment, as Ryan Holiday points out in this article. He says, “Meditating on your mortality is only depressing if you miss the point. It is in fact a tool to create priority and meaning. It’s a tool that generations have used to create real perspective and urgency. To treat our time as a gift and not waste it on the trivial and vain. Death doesn’t make life pointless but rather purposeful.”

In addition to the psychological benefits of thinking about your own mortality, there are also practical reasons. It’s important to think about what will happen when we are gone and to make plans for those we will leave behind. We often talk about this in terms of “estate planning,” but there’s much more to “end-of-life planning” than just your financial estate. We’ve discussed this before, but it’s important to revisit these items periodically. Here are a few reminders and suggestions:

  1. Check your beneficiary designations - We are in the process of reviewing beneficiaries for all of our clients who have retirement accounts at Schwab. You should do the same for any retirement accounts outside of Schwab. While you don’t need to assign a beneficiary on nonqualified accounts as long as you have a will in place, that is an option. You can even designate a beneficiary on your vehicle in some states, like Maryland.
  2. Review your life insurance coverage and beneficiaries - If you have life insurance right now, review your coverage amounts to see if they are appropriate given your current financial situation and ensure you have the appropriate beneficiaries listed. If you don't have life insurance, consider whether you should purchase coverage and how much you might need.
  3. Make sure your estate planning documents are up to date - This includes documents like your will, revocable trust agreement, health care directives, and a durable power of attorney. If you don't have any of these documents, this is where you should start. If you do have those documents, take the time to review them to make sure they are still aligned with your wishes. If they aren’t, contact an estate attorney to update them. Here's a good estate planning checklist that lists important documents to get your affairs in order.
  4. Develop a digital advance care directive - While it's good to work with an estate attorney to document your advance care directives, you can also do this online through a website like MyDirectives.com. The state of Maryland has a good website explaining what an advance care directive is and why it's important to have one.
  5. Organize the details of your life - Consider using a website like Everplans to help you document all the things someone would need to know after your death. They allow you to set up “deputies” who could access this information if something happened to you.If you'd rather put together an offline "Life File", this checklist might help you organize that information.
  6. Talk to your family - While it’s important to have your end-of-life plans documented appropriately, discussing those plans with your family is equally important. These are never fun conversations, but it’s much easier to have the difficult conversations now rather than make your family and friends try to interpret your wishes after you are gone.
  7. Share your plans with a trusted advisor - If you have a relationship with a trusted advisor, whether that’s a CPA, financial advisor, attorney, or someone else, it’s helpful to share your plans with them. We serve in this role for our clients and have helped many families deal with the death of a loved one. 

We know it’s difficult to think about our own death and even more difficult to talk about it with someone else. I struggled even writing this article because it’s not a fun topic. However, we have seen how difficult things can be when someone passes away who has not given any thought to their own end-of-life planning. Grieving family members and friends are put in a tough situation, making difficult decisions during an emotional time. We promise your kids and other family members will be eternally grateful for taking the time to ensure you are prepared for your death. We are here to help you through this planning. Remember, we are all going to die one day - Memento Mori.

-Chris Benson, CPA, PFS

The views expressed represent the opinions of L.K. Benson & Company and are subject to change. These views are not intended as a forecast, a guarantee of future results, investment recommendation, or an offer to buy or sell any securities. The information provided is of a general nature and should not be construed as investment advice or to provide any investment, tax, financial or legal advice or service to any person. Please see Additional Disclosures more information.