Editor’s Note: As time has gone on, our financial situation has changed, and I’ve adapted this letter to fit those new needs. The structure of the letter remains intact, though I picked my words a little better this time 🙂
Let’s start at the beginning.
For two and a half years we would rarely talk while we walked past each other in our small college town. When we first met, you thought I was arrogant and prideful. 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.”
Then something changed.
You wanted to talk late one night outside of your dorm. We were scolded for talking too loud and 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 know. [Being a single mom to our three kids during my 14 day COVID quarantine serves as the most recent example – the kids and I are lucky to have you].
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. We both know you are more likely to live a longer life, too. 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 free.
With the money, you’ll be able to pay off our last remaining debt – our mortgage – and have more than enough to last as long as you and the kids live. Though we designed our life and financial plan together, you’ve always trusted the big picture financial tasks to me, while you handled paying the bills that I would have missed since I am not detail oriented.
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.
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 remaining debt.
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 (minus whatever we have put in for the year so far). The limit is $15,000 per year, per kid with a max front-load of 5 years, or $75,000.
How much You can safely withdrawal
After paying off all of our debt, you’ll have a certain amount of money left. Based on the safe withdrawal studies that have been performed, you can safely take out ~3.5% per year and know that it will last your entire life.
Knowing how little you care about spending money, it should be more than you need or want.
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 one of the fee-only financial planners that I trust.
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 3.5%. Put the money into a trust.
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 continue the FLARE curriculum for the students. 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.
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 – 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.
Editor’s Note: The original Open Letter to My Wife 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.