My entire life I have been blessed to have developed many wonderful friendships. As a somewhat introverted person, I have a small, but much-loved group of people in my life, who mean a lot to me. We’ve all met through most of the usual methods – some I grew up with, some I got to know through our kids being in school or activities together, and others were introduced through mutual connections. My friendship with Holly, however, is probably the only friendship in human history that started thanks to Robert’s Rules of Order!
About a decade ago, Holly and I (not having yet met), were attending the annual general meeting of a professional association. During the meeting, the chair accidentally skipped from proposing a motion on an important topic, directly to a vote. There was some murmuring in the crowd, because normally, our organization’s procedure was to call for a discussion amongst members after any motion was put on the table. The chair had accidentally skipped this important step, and many members in the crowd were murmuring discontent as the topic was somewhat contentious.
If you know me, you know I’m very much someone who is a “follow the rules” kind of person. So, I stood up, ran to the microphone and called a point of order, which I don’t think had ever been done in the 20-year history of our group. The chair graciously realized they had skipped an important step, and opened discussion.
Unbeknownst to me, Holly, a fellow fan of Robert’s Rules of Order, snapped to attention at someone calling a point of order, but missed anything other than my name. Holly put out a post on twitter asking who and where I was, as she was impressed that anyone else had read the book, and knew how to make a point of order. Holly’s colleague had been sitting at the table behind me, and posted a picture, using the hashtag #WheresRyan. Not only did Holly find me, and introduce herself (with a certain nerd-like glee), but it stemmed a popup “#WheresRyan” conference game that would go on for several years.
Holly and I found ourselves connecting quickly and easily, and it was the birth of a great friendship. At the time we met, neither of us realized how our intricately connected our lives actually were.
Through a weird turn of events, we eventually discovered that our families had known each other for decades. My grandfather had worked for Holly’s spouse Jules’ grandfather in northern Ontario over 50 years before. Not long after that, my mom became quite ill with cancer, and a short time later, Jules was also undergoing cancer treatment. Holly and I had many long conversations about caregiving and our shared journey supporting our loved ones. Sadly, a couple of years later my mom passed away, and a few months later so did Jules.
When we hear the term “widow”, we often envision a senior – but Holly was still in her 30s when Jules died – their daughter was only 6 at the time. Few of us imagine that something could happen at such a young age, but it is, alas, part of life.
Every year, Holly posts a very practical school-of-life set of reminders on finances, estates and life that she’s adapted from her own experience, and a list created by other widows. When she posted it a few weeks ago on LinkedIn, I realized what a tremendous and thoughtful resource her words were. We can all benefit from her wisdom, and I am extremely thankful to my dear friend for letting me share it with you.
The rest of our newsletter is in Holly’s words, untouched from her post. I’ve made a few comments in italics to highlight some important points in a few spots.
Holly’s School-of-Life Adulting Reminders
This is my annual adulting reminder of the things you need to have in place if you’re partnered and/or have kids, because one of you will die (hopefully not today, tomorrow or anytime soon). I’ve only ever shared this on Facebook, but heck, you might find this helpful, too.
Everyday more folks are welcomed into the widows club, a club no one wants to be a part of and have membership to, and having the adult side things taken care of is one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself or your partner.
Borrowed from a fellow widow with a few tweaks.
1) Take out life insurance and have your spouse/partner as the beneficiary.
2) Make a will: living will, power of attorney, last will and testament.
3) Add and update beneficiaries to all your accounts. Have your spouse listed as beneficiaries on all RRSP, TFSA, etc. (Ryan’s note: on the TFSA in particular its important to list your spouse as successor holder, not beneficiary in most circumstances. The successor holder inherits all past-used TFSA room as their own. If you have a RRIF, there are subtle differences between naming a spouse as beneficiary or successor holder – talk to your advisor to see what makes the most sense for your situation.)
4) Be kind, gentle, loving and generous to one another. Say thank you and I love you every single day.
5) Take lots of family pictures together, videos, voice recordings, don’t put it off. Be deliberate about taking pictures of EVERYONE when you get together.
6) Make time together as a family to build lasting memories. These don’t have to involve expensive vacations. The Sunday afternoon walk in the park, outings to the community pool, picnics, and family movie nights.
7) Talk about what you would want for funeral arrangements. Discuss each other’s wishes in the event of one dying. It’s not an easy conversation to have but it’s easier than just guessing when that nightmare comes true.
8) Share your passcodes: cellphone, computer, billing accounts, safes…even social media. Know where your loved one’s list of passwords are for any account your name is not on. You both need access to safety deposit boxes if you have one. (Ryan’s note: Do not cancel your spouse’s cell phone as soon as they pass away – in the era of multifactor identification, you often need your spouse’s cell phone to access account details – especially in online-only situations).
9) Have at least one bank account in both your names.
10) Make sure all property is in both names. (Ryan’s note: make sure you check with your accountant and lawyer and other financial professionals before making any title changes – there can be a number of ramifications that you should review and understand.)
11) Make sure you have credit cards in your name and not just as an add-on to your significant other’s credit.
12) Have cash reserves or an emergency fund. It may take a long time for other finances to come through.
13) Make sure your children’s birth certificates are done correctly (depending on when your kids were born for my same-sex couple friends, did both your names go on the certificate or did you have to do a second parent adoption and update the birth certificate).
14) Assign legal guardians for the children. What happens if there is no parent alive?
15) Marriage gives you a bunch of legal and tax perks (and if you’re not married, make sure you know what supports/legal docs you need for common law partnerships because the rights marriage bestows on you aren’t automatically bestowed in common law relationship – most importantly, if you have a house, make sure both names are on it if that’s what you want).
16) Know where all your documents are, birth and wedding certificates, insurance and housing contracts, financial information, mortgage, house, vehicles, billing information for utilities, water, electricity, cable, credit cards, life insurance policies, benefit providers. If you’re not the one who manages finances, know where the stuff is and how to access it.
17) Stop letting day-to-day stress stomp your joy. None of the things we bicker about matter. Cherish the moments. Do not take your spouse for granted. Don’t stress the small stuff. Not everything is worth arguing about. You don’t always have to be right.
18) Wear your seat belt, or your bike helmet, take safety precautions in your daily activities.
19) Go to the doctor when feeling unwell. Do check-ups and pay attention to your health and your body changes. Make sure your doctor takes your concerns seriously. Just because you are young does not mean you can’t have a serious health condition.
Also, the wonderful Ryan Fraser shared this guide where you can gather all of your personal information for your family/executor in one place. I’m finally going to complete it this fall. *Sunlife Information for Executor Workbook
* Ryan in no way prompted Holly to add this wording…