Every day, when Judy Trepeck goes to the mailbox, she wonders if she’s going to find another bill she has to pay. That’s been pretty much the norm since her stepfather died four months ago, and she stepped in to manage his financial affairs. She’s working through her grief and a myriad of issues related to settling his estate.
“Our job as a survivor begins the day a loved one’s life ends,” said Trepeck, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer for the Michigan Association of CPAs. “What I’m learning now, for example, is that you have to give notice to creditors for four months in case someone has a claim against the estate. There’s a process that starts after death that needs to be managed, but nobody tells you about that. Who knew?”
Trepeck’s colleagues at MICPA knew. In fact, they convened a task force of certified public accountants from across the state to address the matter. After nine months of work, including some long nights during tax season, the organization produced “Financial Affairs at the End of Life” for Hospice of Michigan patients and families.
The booklet, which can be downloaded at www.micpa.org, provides a wealth of assessment and planning tools designed to ensure families can be financially prepared for the end of life. Sections range from caring for dependents to advanced directives to estate planning with a single goal in mind: Providing objective financial information and resources.
“We had been talking at a Hospice of Michigan board meeting about the fact that social workers were often asked about financial issues for a family and didn’t have the resources or the wherewithal to answer those questions,” said Trepeck, who also serves on HOM’s board of directors. “We saw the need at MICPA to give social workers the objective information they needed to provide to the families – from an honest broker standpoint, if you will. Our goal was to be a resource book that has all the information on the various things that families should think about, then gives them phone numbers or points them to websites.””
For MICPA, which has nearly 18,000 member-CPAs statewide, the opportunity to fill an educational need was motivation for the project. For Hospice of Michigan, the largest non-profit provider of hospice and palliative care services in the state, the resulting booklet filled a gap.
“We walk alongside patients and families during one of the most stressful times of life,” said Robert Cahill, president and CEO of Hospice of Michigan. “Financial worries compound that stress and magnify it. We are grateful to the MICPA for giving our social workers and clinicians a valuable tool for their toolboxes with ‘Financial Affairs.’”
The booklet, which has gone through multiple revisions and updates, encourages families to start by gathering detailed information on their assets and liabilities. Sections detail what kinds of information is needed, right down to the location of safety deposit boxes and a list of employer fringe benefits.
The Planning section focuses on family, offering lots of questions to prompt discussion before decisions are made when it comes to guardians, property and advanced directives. Whom does the patient trust? Whom do the children love and trust? Is this what the patient wants? Important but difficult conversations to have.
The section also covers the basic financial tools including life insurance, pensions and other retirement accounts, as well as basic estate planning including wills, probate and trusts.
An extensive “Meeting Financial Needs” section provides an overview on short-term and long-term expenses and commitments, which often undergo a significant shift during a prolonged illness or death. Accessing resources, managing affairs and handling funeral expenses are all covered at length.
The third and final section is the one Trepeck finds herself referring to a lot: “Survivor’s Issues.” It offers a practical timeline and checklist of tasks immediately after death, two weeks after, and a month after, detailing the types of benefits from Social Security, life insurance and retirement accounts that are available.
“It’s a gift for people to be able to leave their families with detailed financial information and end-of-life directives,” Trepeck said. “While they may not be easy conversations to have, they are essential to a family’s peace of mind because during a serious illness or after a death, you’re not going to be able to get this information, let alone be in a frame of mind to process the conversation.”
MICPA developed “Financial Affairs at the End of Life” for Hospice of Michigan patients and families. The booklet can be downloaded free of charge, along with the organization’s Financial Inventory, at https://www.micpa.org/resource-center/resources-for-the-public/financial-literacy.