The “Hit By the Bus” Binder

By Brian Zdrowak

I am 35 years old, and the world is in front of me. I have a wonderful and supportive wife, three fun and energetic kids under the age of 5 and a dog. My wife and I are trying to balance it all: being good parents, finding time for each other, playing tag at the playground for endless hours and building a career. Then, my worst nightmare occurs. Late one night, my wife receives a call that, while on my way home from working late, I have been in a terrible car accident. She rushes to the hospital, anxious, hoping and praying only to learn that by the time that she arrives I am dead. She is 33. Not only does she have to be there for the kids and deal with the loss of her husband, she has no idea where we stand financially.

I actually dreamt this scenario prior to a business trip to Houston. My mom died when I was 5 and, with my oldest child having just turned the same age, I found myself worried about how my family would fare without me. Most of all, I worried about what my wife would do and whether she would be okay. I had been handling all of the family’s finances since we were married and I started to wonder, was it realistic to expect my wife to just step in if something happened to me? It was at this point that my wife and I sat down to put together a financial plan for our family, which included the first edition of our ”Hit by the Bus” binder.

Hopefully you can find something meaningful in our experience, and in the financial planning lessons we learned from it. Perhaps it’s applicable to your own life. Regardless, a “Hit by the Bus” financial planning binder is a valuable way to prepare for the worst.

As we started talking through our situation and putting together a plan, we realized that we had no life insurance, a woefully outdated will and no documentation showing where our savings and investments were. Prior to this, my plan (which was in my head) was for my wife to rejoin the workforce if something happened to me. However, we both came to realize that even though my wife is extremely talented and a hard worker, jumping back in the workforce after raising our kids for five years, and at her previous salary level, was not realistic. With significant household debt and household savings that were still building, if something happened to me, while the emotional toll would undoubtedly be hard, the financial toll could be a true disaster. Therefore, we both agreed that at this point in our lives, life insurance for each of us was our first step.

Next, we agreed to put together our survivors guide, the “Hit by the Bus” binder. Within this binder we listed our key contacts, such as our insurance agent, a human resources representative for dealing with work benefits, and our lawyer and tax accountant. Also included was our banking information, including the safe deposit box key, and a list of the safe deposit box contents. Finally, we included a back-up record of our family finances, specifically our investments, user names, passwords and the appropriate contacts. Our intention was to re-visit this binder every few years. In reality we update it any time we both travel.

My family is my most cherished treasure, and it is sad to think about how little time I had dedicated in those early years to ensure they would be OK. Raising a young family is hard, especially finding the time to dedicate to planning for financial stability. Thank goodness I had that terrible dream. It’s even better that it did not happen, particularly before our plan was in place. If it had, it would have put a huge strain on my family. The loss of a breadwinner is hard enough. But how horrible would it have been for my spouse to deal with my loss, the need to be strong for the kids and then, on top of all that, have no time to grieve because she was busy looking for our passwords and worrying about whether she could pay the mortgage? I would like to believe my family would have managed, and that our extended families would have been there to support them. But looking back, I can’t believe we took that chance.

Today, our dog has been replaced by two cats. My kids are 16 years older and growing into wonderful young adults who still keep us running. My wife and I are enjoying more time together. We now have a good financial plan in place and our “Hit by the Bus” binder continues to be updated for the benefit of the survivor.

For some, talking about finances and planning for the future is like going to the dentist. It’s the last thing we want to do. At the very least, however, it’s important to have a plan in place, one that includes a “Hit by the Bus” binder. Include the names of your most trusted advisors and the location of passwords, user names and your investments. Doing so will provide some direction to your survivors, especially during a very emotional time. It will provide time for the survivors to be there for each other, mourning the loss of a loved one.

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