I arrived at the agreed-upon time; 7 PM. Hans and Muriel Steiner (not their real names) had had time to share their evening meal and were ready for me, their financial docs arranged in a neat pile on the dining room table. It was time for the annual review of their life insurance, annuities, mutual funds, retirement plans, etc. And they were ready for me.
Hans greeted me with a warm handshake and invited me in. This was my second year of reviewing with them and I was ready with all of their updates; cash values, amounts of interest earned, fund earnings, etc. In the dining room I was offered a seat at the head of the table (an offering that I accepted as a sign of honor and respect) and Hans sat to my right. Muriel came in and also greeted me with a warm handshake.. This was the part of my job that I really enjoyed; making people aware of how they were doing financially. Muriel joined us, taking a seat to the right of her husband. After a bit of small talk, Hans asked, so how are we doing?” Our review was begun in earnest. As I removed a sheathe of papers from by briefcase and began laying them out on the table, Muriel stood and, heading towards the kitchen, asked how I wanted my coffee and if my wife would mind if I had a few of her home-made sugar cookies. I thanked her, said that a glass of water was fine, and asked her to hurry back because she needed to know and understand what was going on with their finances. She smiled at Hans, said proudly, “oh, my husband handles that,” and continued into the kitchen.
‘Muriel,’ I called to her, “I think that it’s really important for you to sit with us and go through this.” But Muriel said with a chuckle, “Hans is really smarter than he looks. He can handle it and tell me later.”
He didn’t. Instead, Hans might have said something like, “we’re doing just fine,” or “we should probably increase our annuity contributions,” or “I’m thinking of maybe starting a college fund for Albert and Ethel’s new baby.” But he didn’t give her the details of their situation. How can I say this with such certainly? Because, before Hans and Muriel’s next annual review, I got a telephone call from someone who identified himself as, “Frederick,” the cousin and, as it turned out, the only living relative of Muriel. He had flown in from out of state and was helping Muriel to “get things in order.” Hans,who had never been sick a day in his life, had had a massive heart attack and died and Muriel had no idea of anything. She didn’t know where they banked, how much money they had, where it was, or how to access it. She had married Hans “back in the old country” when she was just 16 and Hans handled all their business matters. Muriel was content to keep house and raise children. Muriel, quite literally, did not know how to write a check. She was, Frederick explained, an emotional wreck; overwhelmed with grief and completely lost as to how anything would get paid. I told him to reassure her, as best he could, that, at least financially, everything would be alright. I immediately gathered all of their records and the paperwork necessary to right Muriel’s new situation as beneficiary, and the following morning went straight to her home.
That morning I came to understand, at a cellular level, the importance of ALL parties to a financial plan being intimately involved with that plan and all of its details because that morning was the first time that I’d arranged for a death claim.
I shudder to think what could have become of Muriel had it not been for Frederick. Life insurance may have been lost and remained unclaimed; Muriel would have had no idea of how to preform a missing policy search; She could have lost everything.
I shudder to think what would have become on Muriel if Frederick had not noticed the magnet on Hans and Muriel’s refrigerator; the magnet that was my business card.
When it comes to your finances, there are no tricks, there are no secrets, and there is no magic. There is only knowledge and understanding. And a trusted financial professional can provide both.