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It Happens to All of Us, But Most of Us Don’t Plan for It

By Marie Burns January 24, 2023 Managing Money

What are the odds of getting hit by a bus? 1 in 495,000. Not happening to me, right? But what are the odds that you’re going to die someday? Exactly. Yet only 40% of us put any documents in place about what we want to happen when we die. I always say this topic is about WHEN not IF something happens… not a pleasant thought, but 100% true.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

I have finally figured out, after 20 years of talking to people about the most procrastinated area of financial planning (estate planning), why it is such a hard topic.

It’s because it forces us to think about all six of the most common fears: death, old age, loss, poor health, running out of money, and criticism (for not taking action on the other fears!). Who willingly wants to do that?

Why Is This So Important?

Since women tend to outlive men, we have an even more pressing reason to be the one that makes sure things are in order. After all, it’s most likely we will be the one picking up the pieces and transitioning, alone.

I remember hearing years ago about research that found married men lived longer than single men. I chided my husband that it must be due to the “happiness factor.”

Later, I found out that it is due to the wife helping the husband (he may consider it nagging) to live more healthfully, i.e., eat better, exercise more, take less risky behaviors, etc. So, now we need to take our own advice and help ourselves to make sure we are financially healthy too.

Tying up what may feel like detailed, and often overlooked, loose ends in life can be hugely important in the event of an unexpected crisis. If Covid-19 has taught us something, it is that an unexpected crisis can happen at any time. So, why not get a handle on the inevitable decisions that just about everyone will need to make at some point?

How Do I Go About It?

When I interviewed Abby Schneiderman on my podcast, I asked for some specific advice from her new book, In Case You Get Hit by a Bus: How to Organize Your Life Now for When You’re Not Around Later. The unexpected loss of her brother was the tipping point in her life that partially led to her current line of work of being a life and legacy planning expert.

I found the book to do an especially helpful job not only of breaking down the detail of what can be needed during seemingly daunting circumstances, but also of explaining in layperson’s terms what all of the documents within an estate plan actually do.

What Tools Are Available?

Abby also helped to start Everplans. It provides a digital way to keep track of not only your documents, but your wishes for various aspects in later life. People can use it directly or advisors can offer it as part of their services (which I do at no cost).

It helps you think about your passwords, a list of assets, future care plans, funeral wishes, etc. Not everyone is comfortable with digital storage, which is part of the reason I wrote a checklist book as an option to help those of us who may be more paper oriented.

Currently, and for the past several years, I volunteer as a guest presenter at New Adventures in Learning in Sun Lakes, Arizona. It’s a wonderful lifelong learning program for retirees, and my classes are always around getting financially organized.

To take the overwhelm out of anything, most of us prefer to “just cut to the chase and tell me what to do.” So, I incorporate individual checklists to help build better habits, one step at a time.

We Learn from Each Other

At the end of those classes, I often have participants show me a binder, a folder, or some format they use that works best for them to get financially organized. It was in one of those classes that I first heard about a “To Go” folder.

Several attendees shared how they decided to keep a copy of their Advanced Directives for Health Care, a list of their medications/doctors, names/contact information in case of emergency, etc. in a To Go folder, so they can bring it with them when they travel (driving, flying, etc.). All these are options that will help you plan for unexpected future events.

Breaking It Down

As I help new widows each year (including both my mother and mother-in-law this past year), I am reminded each time how significantly helpful it is to have an asset list available after a loss. This net worth list becomes the master checklist because it’s a blueprint of what there is and what may need to be acted on after someone is gone.

It also takes a lot of pressure off of an already stressful and emotional situation to not have to already have that list compiled. This type of list is also helpful now as you make financial decisions to be able to see at a glance, in one place, the big picture of your financial life.

Now, let’s begin to create better financial habits so you can take control of life’s practical details. To help you identify manageable chunks of time, you may find my habit builder checklist to be just what you need.

I am a true believer that an organized life is not only easier to live now, but it also allows you to leave behind a gift that your family doesn’t even know they need.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you lost a parent, sibling, or spouse? Anything in your experience that could help our community to know? Let’s have a discussion.

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What can someone do when they can no longer manage their personal business and no one to help?

Marie Burns

There are private fiduciary services that can step in, for a fee, to act on their behalf financially and otherwise. Depending on someone’s financial circumstances, there may also be social services in the area to assist. And some communities have an Omnibudsman role or Area Agency on Aging that can help assess, assist, or connect someone with what they need.

Janet Geida

Great article. My parents did leave us a gift of being very organized in their financial life! I always say the same thing you do that it’s a gift for your children to be able to financially support yourself until the end and have your records in order. My husband is the financial planner person and I am the daily more detailed person who pays the bills etc. it works. He keeps us on track and keeps me involved.


How awesome Janet, you sound like a great couple that takes advantage of each other’s strengths while also keeping each other in the loop!

The Author

Marie Burns, a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), advocates for women’s financial health. She is an author of a financial checklist book series, speaker, podcast host and partners with clients to offer friendly financial advice in her independent practice Visit her at or

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