Monday, April 20, 2015

Leaving a better legacy

The father of a dear friend passed away unexpectedly a week ago. The events that have transpired since have served to bolster my determination to leave my children a debt-free legacy.

Mike is 37. His father was 64. Mike has an older brother who has spent his adult years living off of his parents. The parents are hard-working, blue-collar folks who live in a single-wide mobile home on land they rent. Mike knew there wasn't a lot of money. It's what he didn't know that has thrown his life in turmoil.

When Mike went with his mother to the funeral home to make the arrangements, he quickly realized that he was going to be paying the costs. His mother had $100 in her checking account. So Mike, a schoolteacher, was left to come up with nearly $13,000 on the spot.

In the ensuing days, he began sorting through his mother's finances to get her ready to face life on her own. He learned that his parents owed the IRS for back taxes and owed $10,000 on a car now worth $6,000. The interest rate on the car note? A whopping 18%. Possibly worse, his mother is paying $300 a month for a sofa and a mattress and has been doing so for a year and a half. That means she has already paid more than $5,000 for furniture worth less than half that. The wedding rings were pawned long ago. There are credit cards, but his mother says she quit paying those and nobody is bothering her about them. Mike found a stack of unopened medical bills.

Needless to say, among the many emotions he is dealing with, he is angry. Really angry. Angry at his parents for being so reckless. And angry at his father for leaving him to sort through the mess.

All of this has reminded me why it's so important to get our financial house cleaned up. I never want my children to face what Mike is dealing with. In fact, I immediately reminded my adult sons that we have life insurance and if they provide proof to the funeral home, they won't be facing any upfront costs. We carry enough insurance to pay all of our debts, including the mortgage, with a good sum left over. But I don't want my kids to have to pay our debts. In a time of grieving, I want things as uncomplicated as possible for them.

One more very good reason to keep knocking this out. (And a reminder that we need to update our wills ...)



  1. Ouch. That is a sad story, and I'm sorry for your friend. I'm going to make an assumption here about the brother being at least somewhat able-bodied and minded. That is a big assumption. Now this poor friend of yours will see how his parents' "generosity" to the brother actually probably hurt him. This fellow will now have to learn to take care of himself. If he had been forced to do so when he was younger, his road would also be easier.

  2. We faced this kind of a mess when our dad was buried and are trying not to have this same kind of mess when mom goes, but boy is it tough when you have siblings that mooch and a mom that is a little dotty. My heart goes out to your friend.

  3. Wow. Why does it seem like this story is becoming the normal? This makes my heart sad, for everyone. I remember a VERY similar situation with my mom and her siblings when my Grandmother passed away.

  4. How terribly sad. I really feel for your friend, and you are ABSOLUTELY right that we have no right to leave this kind of mess for our kids. I don't want to tempt fate but I really strongly feel that my ex will leave just that kind of mess behind him even though he has way more money than me. Problem is, here in France the kids (and even the grandkids I believe) are responsible for the debts of their fathers. At least one of us has to behave like the adult here. Having all that mess to sort out on top of what must be a shocking bereavement is just so sad. Anna

  5. What a tragedy - this story brought tears to my eyes. Your poor friend does not deserve to have all this debt thrust upon him. I am so glad I have no debt and will be able to leave Kazi a decent sum. You are doing so great Sarah - you are half way to the finish line!!

  6. What an incredibly difficult situation for everyone involved. In reading this story it makes me think that the older brother was living the way he was taught by his parents, with their apparent undisciplined money lifestyle, and Mike learned to live within his means. The saddest part is that Mike is now forced to attempt to change his mother's way of living to one that is a prudent lifestyle, and it sounds like that isn't going to be a smooth transition. What a nightmare. Hearing about situations like this serve as a reminder to me how important it is to stay on the right track.

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