A note from Griffin: What follows is shared with permission from John Bryson, pastor of Fellowship Memphis. I remember first reading this post around 2013 and thinking “When I’m married and starting a family, I am going to do this.” Now that I’m married, I realize what an incredible act of selfless leadership this kind of preparation is. I emailed him and asked permission to share it here, and he kindly agreed. I’ve only lightly edited here, and now pass it on to any who desire to lead their families well. I hope that any husbands or fathers that encounter this post will take its recommendations seriously, and prepare to lead their families in the most difficult time possible: the day you are no longer there to lead and care for them.
I have a strong passion for men to step out of passivity and lead. A unique place that needs your leadership is in the event of your untimely death. I am working on what I call “The Briefcase”.
Here is the list I compiled of leading your wife and family well in the midst of your no warning / untimely death. Please add to it, subtract from it or tweak it as you see fit.
I recommend both digital copies and physical copies of what follows placed in a designated file or briefcase. Your wife and at least two close friends needs to know where both [digital and physical copies] are kept and the two friends needs to be deputized by you to step in and execute (working gently and clearly with your wife) what it is you have left so that burden in not placed exclusively on your wife. In my opinion, the spirit of these intentional acts should be to be as clear as possible and as freeing as possible to your family left behind:
- A will prepared by an attorney.
- Ample Life Insurance. My goal is term life and enough that my family would be debt free (including a house) and Beth would never have to work or re-marry if she chose not to do so.
- A letter to your wife expressing your love and appreciation for her and freeing her to grieve, live and trust Jesus. He is good and does good. I personally encourage my wife to remarry with my blessing if she find a man who loves Jesus, will love her and love our kids and to thank that man for me.
- A general letter to all your kids about your dreams for them as a family unit with your family values and traditions that you love.
- A specific letter to each kid affirming your love for them and what you have learned about them uniquely with your hopes and dreams for them.
- Possible letters to other family members and friends.
- A letter that addresses your desires for a funeral, burial, a couple of options for who to preach your funeral (options give freedom, you don’t want them to feel like a failure to you because a certain man couldn’t do your funeral) and some pall bearer options. Also, any special music requests or if you have not strong desires or opinions, say that, so again, they are operating out of freedom, not guilt.
- Options / preference of where to bury you (later in life, as you can, you need to purchase cemetery lots). I personally am directing Beth to buy the cheapest casket possible and not be suckered into emotional purchases at a funeral home!
- A list of all your assets. Specific as possible with every detail you have.
- A list of all your debts. Specifically who the debt is owed to, account numbers, and phone numbers.
- A list of your life insurance. Company, agent, amount(s), account numbers.
- A write up of why you bought the amount of insurance you did and what you may have envisioned it for (pay off house, amounts set aside for daughter’s wedding, college fund, etc) but with the freedom for her to use it as she sees fit.
- Any verbal financial agreements or understandings you have made or have been made to you from employers, family, friends, etc.
- Any desires you have for anything your own / your assets to be specifically given to any other people or individual kids.
- Set up a deal on your phone / calendar to remind you to re-visit and update your “Briefcase” annually.
Every time I read through this list from Dr. Bryson, one phrase comes to mind: intentional love. This list takes work. It takes thought. For some men it will be hard to put pen to paper and pour their heart out in the event of their unforeseen death. But it is the sort of selfless act that will bear great fruit in the life of your family. My mom died suddenly at age 48. For those who have not had to experience this, trust me when I tell you that what follows is so much stress, paperwork, and burden that you hardly have time to grieve. This will spare your loved ones of that burden.
I had a few additional ideas and notes to add as well:
- Often we put off making a will because it is expensive or burdensome. Check with non-profits you support and see if they have any estate planning services. The organization I work for has an incredible group that walks you through the entire process, helping you think through things far beyond just money (things I never would have considered!). I know in Alabama the Baptist Foundation of Alabama has incredible and affordable legacy planning services. Don’t spend $5000+ dollars at a lawyer who’s just going to write up a generic plan.
- It is true of most people that when they die, their life insurance will allow them to make a greater gift than at nearly any other time in their life. Have a conversation with your wife ahead of time about if you want to make a charitable contribution at this time. Only 1 in 40 people think to leave money to causes they support (including their church, missions, etc.) in their will.
- Consider leaving a gift: It’s possible to set aside some cash for a year’s worth of flowers to be delivered to your wife monthly. It wouldn’t be hard for a friend to receive these instructions. Only do this is your wife would like it. Only you can answer that.
- If there are any uncommon things that only you would know, include that: “we get the oil changed at X”, “those ______ I always buy you that you like so much is _______”, etc.
- Perhaps opening the briefcase in an emergency would be traumatic (for example if you were on life support). Make sure you always include any end-of-life medical wishes in a front pocket of the case. This includes Do-Not-Resuscitate orders, coma response, etc. Do not leave your family unsure about your wishes for keeping you on life support or not.
- Enough cash for food for a least a week. The week after a tragic death, it’s hard to get off the couch. Financial worries are immediate. It may seem silly, but covering the immediate week after will be a great blessing.
- Finally, also have a contingency plan in place in case you and your wife were both to pass suddenly (whether a car crash, house fire, or some other tragic event). Your children will never need you to come through for them more than at that moment.
That’s all I’ve got. Thank you to Dr. John Bryson for allowing me to share his great ideas here. I hope you never need this. But if you ever do, I hope this will serve as a great tool to love and lead your families well.