The letter written below was really well received by many, but caused a bit of a backlash among certain people. For the full details and perspective behind this post – as well as a response – please read my accompanying response to those who took issue with the letter below.
To my wife,
Let’s just start at the beginning.
When we first met, you thought I was arrogant and prideful. For two and a half years we would rarely talk while we walked past each other in our small college town. At the time, we never could have imagined that one day we would get married. In a twist of irony, two weeks before we started dating you still didn’t know as you told one of your best friends, “I could never date a guy like him. He is too sure of himself.”
Then something changed.
You wanted to talk late one night outside of your dorm. We even got scolded for talking too late into the night. We first became friends, then we became best friends, and then you became the love of my life. Ten years of marriage and three kids later, you still have my heart and always will.
You are the most caring, compassionate, and forgiving person that I’ve ever met. I guess God knew that you’d need those qualities in order to be married to me – particularly that forgiveness part. When you make as many mistakes as I do, a lot of forgiveness is required.
I tell everyone every day that you are a better person than me, and I’ll continue to say that to the grave. But if I should make it to the grave prematurely, I want you to have this letter to guide you on exactly what you should do for our family.
When I die, you’re going to realize that you are immediately financially independent. If not, reading this will teach that to you.
With the money, you’ll be able to pay off all of our debts and have more than enough to last as long as you and the kids live. That said, you are likely to have no idea what to do with it given that you’ve always trusted me with the big picture of our finances. (We need more money dates, apparently).
So, I’m going to walk you through exactly what you should do with it.
Cash in My Life Insurance
You need to get my term life insurance policy. It’s in the folder in my desk.
Call the insurance company and tell them the bad news. Then, call my work place and do the same thing (I have a life insurance policy at work, too). Tell them you’d like to collect the full sum of money. I’ve done the math and this amount of money should allow you to do whatever you want with your life.
After you realize your awesome financial situation, make sure to change all the beneficiaries on your estate planning documents to the kids. I won’t need to be your beneficiary anymore for obvious reasons.
Pay Off All of Our Debt
After you get the money in hand, you will be able to pay off all of our debt with ease, including our house. Hopefully, we’ve done well enough by the time that you need this that the mortgage is all that is left.
It’s worth saying twice: pay off the debt before you do anything else.
It will make life easier for you and the kids. Also, consider fully funding our kids college education by putting $75,000 into each kid’s 529 plan and letting it grow until they need it.
You Have to Do Some Math
I know that you don’t like math, but you’ll have to do some.
After paying off all of our debt, you’ll have a certain amount of money left. If you multiply that number by 3% (Total money x 0.03), that is the amount of money that you can spend annually and rest assured it’ll last as long as you need it.
It should be a lot more than you need.
If you decide to keep working, because I know you – and that’s what you’ll likely do – just subtract your annual income from that number above and draw less out of the account. It’ll give you an even better chance that it’ll last long enough and you can give what is left to the kids someday.
Speaking of Saving Money
Take $100,000 of the money and put it into a Money Market Account for an emergency fund. This should cover any unexpected expenses that arise.
Also, feel free to give me the cheapest funeral possible. No one will be looking at my casket when its underground ten years after I die. A wooden box will be just fine.
Put all of the rest of the money into a taxable account at Vanguard. Put 50% into the total stock market index fund (VTSAX), 25% into the total international stock market index fund (VTIAX), and 25% of the money into the tax-exempt bond index fund (VTEAX).
Take any money I have in my work retirement plans and simply roll it over into an IRA at Vanguard. Since the money in this account will hopefully be dwarfed by the money from my death that you’ve placed into a taxable account, you can put 100% of this money into the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund (VBMFX).
If you need help, call Vanguard. They are great. If you still need help, call a fee-only financial advisor who operates as a fiduciary for a flat-fee.
Speaking of Help
Ask our lawyer friend at church to help you make a trust for the kids and plan for our estate. Your money will likely grow while you are taking it out at 3%, and so you want to make sure that the kids won’t get hammered by massive estate taxes.
If you need help with the financial stuff, feel free to look at my recommended financial advisors list (coming soon!). I’ve vetted them myself. Or, I am sure, that many of my financial advisor friends will reach out to you to offer help.
Continue to Be Generous
You know one of my favorite things to do is to give to other people. And I know you’ll do the same. But it would make my heart happy if you found some people who really needed help and gave them a leg up in life.
Oh, and pay for the medical school to support someone who will start a curriculum to teach the students about money. It’s important stuff, and it just may save them from burnout so that they can save you and our kids someday.
First of all, recognize that my death wasn’t too soon. It was right when it was supposed to be. You and I both know that there is a bigger calling in this life, and I hope that you continue to teach our kids the selfless love of Jesus.
I also hope that you find love again. This life is too short to live it alone. Just make sure he loves you, and loves our kids. Also, make sure he signs a prenuptial agreement given all that money stuff we just talked about 🙂
Continue to teach our kids to be selfless, respectful, and to put others first. Spend time with them and support their passions.
You may not realize this, but families who have money usually lose it by the third generation. So, don’t let our kids touch any of their non-college money until they are 24 at the youngest. Continue to teach them about money. Make sure they associate hard work with earning money. And make them give you a plan for what they want to do with it.
Tell our oldest little philosopher that she is brave, inquisitive, and sweet. I pray that she always continues to stay that way. And tell her that I am proud of the little woman she has become. My hope is that she stands up for those who can’t.
Tell our only son that, while I wasn’t always the best at understanding his emotions, I love his empathy. That is his gift – understanding others. Help him use it to serve others well. Make sure he knows that I am proud of him, and will always be proud of him no matter what he chooses to do with his life.
And to our fiesty Jack-Jack, teach her to harness all of that charisma and fervor. Teach her to love others with just as much passion. I hope that she always possesses a jealous and fierce love for her family.
To end this open letter to my wife – I want to point out that a chapter of our life has finished. We are selling the first home we had after getting married. The one where we brought home all three of our children, and created our life together over the past nine years. While this is bittersweet, I cannot wait for the memories that we have to come in our new house.
Know that I love you and that, if I die before you, I have cherished every moment we had together, even if I wasn’t always the best at showing it. Continue to love the kids the same way you loved me – unconditionally.
Your Lesser Half
I encourage every one of you to write a letter like this to your spouse and kids. If you die prematurely, they’ll treasure it. And hopefully it’ll help them out along the way. You can leave a comment about how terrible mine is if you want, but I’ll probably just ignore it.