For two and a half years I cared for my father after he moved to Charlotte to live in a retirement community. He was finally convinced to move to Charlotte after his companion of eleven years passed away. The two of them met in 2002 and for seven years they traveled the globe. Then in 2009, my dad’s companion suffered a stroke and over the next four years, my dad drove to see her in a nursing home nearly every day. There were so many people that she didn’t recognize, but she always knew my father. I’ve told their love story many times, often describing my dad as a loyal soldier. He was both – he was loyal, and as a young man, he was a soldier in the United States Army. When I think of my dad as the loyal soldier, I think of responsibility, action and being prepared, which leads to the point of this article.
One day in 2008, when I went to visit my dad, he greeted me with a task. He presented me with a blank “Casualty Assistance Checklist,” a form that he picked up at Fort Jackson. He had me sit with him at the kitchen table, and together, we began to fill in the blanks. I can remember him telling me, “The first thing you do when I die is contact the VA and Social Security.” That was on the checklist along with the appropriate phone numbers, and just as instructed, I made those two calls on December 28th, 2015, the day of his death.
Since my father’s death, the Casualty Assistance Checklist (CAC) has guided me in the handling of his affairs. I took a copy of the CAC to the funeral home when my brother and I finalized the funeral plans. The CAC answered questions and gave clear instructions to so many of the questions asked that day, including:
Do you want a military honor guard: Yes
Do you want to be buried: Yes
Funeral Home: Greenlawn (note beside this … “Keep it cheap.”)
Do you want to be buried in your uniform: No
Do you want a memorial service: Yes
Gone are the days when you viewed caskets in a showroom; instead, we viewed caskets on a video screen. The first slide showed a very handsome, sleek model with a very hefty price tag. There was a curious note in the top left corner of the screen, “1 of 63.” Before the funeral director could advance to the next slide, I asked him if there were 63 choices and if they were, um, in price order. Allowing a smile, he answered yes. To that, I suggested that he just move on up to number 63 and we’d be happy to work backwards. My brother and I didn’t choose number 63, but it was definitely closer to #63 than it was to #1. My father’s directive to “keep it cheap” made this task much easier for my brother and me.
Not only did the CAC instruct us on funeral arrangements, it clearly listed life insurance policies, policy numbers, values, beneficiaries, and the carrier phone numbers. This was very helpful on that sad day as we worked through the funeral arrangements.
The other categories of the CAC included bank and investment accounts with account numbers, beneficiaries and values on the day that we completed the form. There was a section on creditors. Another welcome note was “no debt.” There was a section on locating documents. Again, it was a relief to have all of this information at hand.
This one document directed me, informed me and gave me peace of mind as I worked on the sad process of saying goodbye to my dad. I’m grateful to him, the loyal soldier, for making sure that I would be prepared on the inevitable day of his death. He knew the day would come. I preferred not to think about it. However, I have a dog-eared copy of his CAC at home, one at work and one scanned for safe-keeping.
In your financial planning with Bragg Financial, we capture much of this information and we encourage you to create a CAC for yourself. If you will be responsible for making arrangements for, or for helping settle the affairs of your parents or a loved one, we also encourage you to work through a list with them. If there are reasons that you don’t want to share specific information on your own CAC, and if your preference is to keep the information private, you may want to let your executor know the whereabouts of this document. These aren’t always easy conversations. However, they are much easier to have when everyone is healthy and clear-minded. Here at Bragg we have our own version of the checklist, a Planning Guide for Survivors, and we are happy to help you create it and to update it during your estate planning sessions with our advisors.
This information is believed to be accurate but should not be used as specific investment or tax advice. You should always consult your tax professional or other advisors before acting on the ideas presented here.