Jackie Parker’s life was moving ahead just as she imagined. She was a successful educator, wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Then, sadly, after 48 years of marriage, she became a widow.
“It hit me very hard when Jim was diagnosed with multiple myeloma,” she remembers. “He had a stem cell transplant that they said would prolong his life for three to four years. I’m so thankful that he lasted seven. Those seven years were truly wonderful.”
Focusing on family
After Jim’s diagnosis, Jackie decided to retire from her long-time position as director of a private school, to stay close to her husband. Now she says these are moments she cherishes—even though many of them were spent in doctors’ offices and hospitals. “We found ways to block out the world and genuinely be together.”
They also focused on their family. They built a cradle for their great-grandchildren that could be passed from family to family. Jim knew he’d grow too weak to do this on his own, so he designed it, but she built it. Much the same was true for their financial and estate plan. He was the architect, but she kept it going.
“Estate planning is much more than forming wills and trusts, and is not a ‘do it yourself’ activity,” says Andrew Hamil, senior vice president and head of Fidelity Personal Trust. “The key to a successful plan is to create an open dialogue with your family and involve them in the planning process.”
Getting the conversation going
Like many couples, Jackie and Jim came into their marriage with different approaches to money. Her family was frugal and closemouthed on financial matters. When her father died, her mother didn’t even know where key accounts and papers were kept. When the family cleaned out the attic, they found $27,000 stashed in paper bags and in the pockets of clothing. “Living through the Depression had left him fearful,” Jackie recalls.
By contrast, Jim was very open about financial matters. “He’d always ask questions that started everyone thinking,” Jackie says. “Initially this made my mother mad, but we got through it.” Jim helped Jackie’s mother set up her finances on the computer so she could manage them more easily, and as they worked together, her mother gradually became comfortable talking about her finances.
How did Jim get the conversation going? Jackie recalls he persuaded her to put him in the center of their living room and ask him pointed questions in front of the whole family. In time, his openness rubbed off on Jackie’s brothers and sisters. Now their families have come together and everyone seems to feel comfortable talking about sensitive financial issues.
Jackie had another technique. “I like to remember things,” she says. So at Christmas, we’d always sit around after we’d open gifts, and talk about what happened over the last year, and I’d write it down. And then we’d project what we thought might happen in the future. It really got the ball rolling as far as talking about plans and goals—and how to reach them.”
After Jim’s diagnosis, the Parkers realized Jackie would need to take over the family finances. In the beginning, she didn’t know much about investing. While she paid the bills, Jim managed their portfolio. When Jim retired from his job at a telecommunications company, he’d taken a payout and placed the bulk of those funds in an investment account—most of it in mutual funds.
Jim was adamant that Jackie needed to learn about finances. He even had her shadow him at the computer as he did their taxes and managed their investments. But Jackie wasn’t comfortable managing the portfolio herself and knew she’d have gone crazy if she didn’t know how much was coming in every month to pay bills. So, she decided to annuitize part of their savings. “The annuity was a problem at first because my husband always said he never wanted to have one. When my brother-in-law got one, he said it was the stupidest thing in the world. Well, for me it wasn’t stupid—because it gave me peace of mind.”
With a fixed annuity, Jackie knows exactly how much she’s going to get each month and can plan accordingly.1 “My husband was the risk taker, not me,” she says. “I’m not interested in making more. I just want to maintain what I’ve got. And hopefully the money will live as long as I do—or longer, so I can leave some to my kids. Actually, we’ve already set some aside for that.”
Knowing when to turn to a professional
After Jim died, Ann Marie, their Fidelity representative, helped guide Jackie through the necessary steps that required immediate attention, like applying for Social Security and changing accounts into Jackie’s name.
Jackie also wanted to roll over her 401(k) to an IRA. “I wanted all my accounts in one place—instead of here, there, and yonder,” she adds. She has also been very open with her children about what she’s doing and where everything is so it’ll be easier for them when she’s gone. She also has told them that Ann Marie knows where everything is and is there to help them.
Make sure your family knows where important documents, contacts, and account statements are kept. Many families today use secure virtual safes, including FidSafe®,2 to store copies of important documents and other information, such as passwords, financial statements, and wills.
Benefitting from guidance while maintaining control
Jackie says she enjoys the best of both worlds now. She likes to come up with her own investing ideas and research them. But she also appreciates having a financial professional she can rely on for guidance when needed.
When asked if she had any parting advice for others, Jackie replied, “Just get the family conversation started. It gets easier as everyone becomes more comfortable. So start talking, not just about finances, talk about everything. When raising our children, nothing was ever off the table. That’s how it should be.”
- Learn about estate planning.
- Read "How to have the legacy conversation."
- Read "Aging Well: A planning, conversation, and resource guide."
- Explore income strategies with the Fidelity Income Strategy Evaluator® (login required).
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