Love Means Not Leaving Your Heirs in Confusion

One of the most famous movie lines of the past sixty years comes from the 1970 release Love Story. Ryan O’Neal’s character apologizes for an angry outburst at his romantic partner, played by Ali MacGraw. Her character replies, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”1

The line is famous mostly because so many people thought it was ridiculous. And it ended up being widely lampooned. The scriptwriter was possibly trying to say that love covers a multitude of wrongs. But as spoken, the line has rubbed many people the wrong way because it seems to go directly against the Golden Rule. Love is treating others how we wish to be treated ourselves.

In keeping with this better definition, love would also include sparing your family unnecessary anguish. Specifically, we’re talking about a simple way you can help ease the burden on your heirs when you give them instructions on what to do should you unexpectedly die or become incapacitated. Following through on this endeavor includes health directives, financial instructions, and the information needed to put those wishes into action.

You may not be able to do much to soften the grief your children will feel at your sudden downturn or death. But you can help them answer the difficult question that can cause so much stress: What do we do now?

Unfortunately, the default situation—where there are no instructions—is confusion, frustration, and even conflict among loved ones. Not only are your bereaved not sure what to do, until your estate can be settled, they will personally be on the hook for expenses.The loving solution to this situation is to write out basic instructions for your survivors, including information about how to access your accounts.

Personal finance writer Laura Wheatman Hill describes what a comfort it was to receive such advance instructions from her recently widowed father. Writing for Business Insider, she says, “A few years ago my 76-year-old father gave me a file labeled ‘financial love letter,’ containing a copy of his will and further instructions on what to do if he is incapacitated or dies.”2 Also included were contact numbers for his lawyer and bank, as well as passwords and other sensitive information.

He gave Wheatman Hill (his eldest daughter) power of attorney to act on his behalf in case he becomes incapacitated. And he also gave her access to a safe deposit box containing copies of his important documents, including updated versions of everything in his “love letter.”

(Note: Power of attorney ceases when the individual granting the power dies. But including a trusted heir as a joint owner of your checking account can facilitate uninterrupted access to needed funds.)

Your instructions to your heirs can be very basic. You can always update and expand them. The important thing is to have something written down so your survivors know right away what you would like them to do.

Having this kind of “love letter” is your way of being there for them at a difficult time. And that is one of the most loving things you can do.