When the Unthinkable Happens

Sometimes tragedy slaps us in the face. It leaves us with sorrow, but there are usually some lessons we learn as well. In this post I want to share some lessons associated with a recent personal tragedy. Some problems were anticipated, others not so much.

Facing the Death of a Child

December was a sad time for our family as we lost our youngest child. Brian was 32 years old when he died which is remarkably old considering his many health issues, challenges so severe that he was not expected to live but a short time when we took him in foster care at 17 months. Certainly, no one suspected he would live long enough for us to adopt him a couple of years later.

Fortunately, Brian responded to love and good care from ourselves and a multitude of great doctors, nurses, and other caregivers. He became the joy of our lives as he shared his engaging smile with those he loved. We loved Brian greatly and miss him immensely.

In dealing with his arrangements, we had to focus on issues that any parents face when losing a child, especially one that is not married for any reason and has no family of his own. I thought I might share a few reflections that might help others prepare for such an event should they face a similar misfortune.

Issues Encountered When Your Child Dies

In this post I will focus primarily on financial implications since that is the focus of this site. Obviously other matters are even more important on a personal level but that discussion is better for another time and place.


The first and most significant impact of losing a child can only be described as shock. After years of life threatening health issues our son actually seemed to be doing quite well in the days just before he died, but I doubt it matters in most cases. People are always overwhelmed when they face the death of a loved one.

As we went over the funeral arrangements, it was clear that our minds were not clear. I have always counseled people not to make important decisions for six months after the loss of a loved one. I was glad that we had a good idea beforehand what we wanted to do.

It may seem unthinkable to you, but if you have children it is a good idea to think about what you would do in such a case. Decide ahead of time what kind of funeral you want and how to pay for it. Many families are torn apart by such events when they do not.

Legal Entanglements

Even though I was aware of most of these things, I was not fully prepared for everything in this regard. Power of Attorney ends with death and without a will everything of value goes into the estate and often will have to go through probate if there is no will. It is important to think about and prepare for these possibilities.

In our case there was not much to worry about here, but I was a bit surprised when someone showed up at the house with a bounced check! It was for a bill paid a few days before his death. I don’t know how, but it would seem that the banks get notified of a death and seal a checking account before the hearse gets to the mortuary! Without our notifying them they froze the account immediately. However, they did send us word right away.

There may not be any way to avoid getting surprised by a few things like this, but it is wise to expect the unexpected. If you have a generous emergency fund you may need to draw it down a little, at least temporarily. It may take time to collect insurance and other money as well so advanced planning is helpful.

Unanticipated Expenses

The average funeral in our area runs around $8,000 and we live in a relatively inexpensive place. Our funds were in a different type of account, but Minnesota (where we live) has a very good pre-planned funeral law and if your state has one like it, it is worth looking into.

But the funeral itself is not the only expense. Even if you strictly limit yourself you will spend a good bit on flowers and other incidentals. Some folks will always need clothes—and you can't wait for sale prices.

When overcome with grief, you are not going to find it easy to think about how much things cost, even when you ordinarily would. It is easy (and you will be emotionally bent) to just go ahead and do what you want and worry about money later. It seems so callous to even think about how much something costs under the circumstances.

Would You Be Ready?

Most people are unprepared for such events but it would be wise for any family to consider some of the issues they might face should there be an unexpected death of a child.

In this post I have just tried to raise a few of the issues to think about and left most of the solutions up to you. Our son's funeral was just thirty days ago today and frankly, my mind is just now getting back to a reasonable level of functioning. I hope you never need to face such an experience, but if you have children, think about the unthinkable at least a little and prepare as best you can.