Is your green box in order?

Is your green box in order?

For most of us, the part of life we least prepare for is the end of it. I was reminded of that last summer when a friend and colleague, Steve , died suddenly leaving loved ones to sort out his finances and business affairs.

Death is perhaps the most inevitable part of life, and yet few of us really expect it, see it coming, or get some kind of two-minute warning to prepare for it. It seems like we’ll always have time to prepare, but the truth is the only guaranteed time we have is right now. Unfortunately, for most of us, there’s always something more important to do “right now.”

The topic of planning for the end of life came up recently during a regular meeting I have with a group of other executives who also knew Steve. We called it the “green box exercise,” after a hypothetical green box that contains the information, instructions and documents that will allow those you leave behind to take inventory of your assets, square your accounts, and carry on your legacy.

Many think simply drafting a will is sufficient, and while it should be among the contents of your green box, it is just a start. Your green box should have all your key financial documents, contracts, statements for all of your accounts, a list of your financial advisors (or anyone, for that matter, who should be contacted in the event of your death), and how to reach them, as well as the passwords for all of your accounts.

If you own a business, putting your hopes and intentions for that business in writing will ensure they will not be lost in translation. You can convey those goals by telling someone close to you, but writing them down will make it more likely your plans will be carried out. Your green box should contain the names of key employees, the detailed status of your business, and a clear plan for its future.

The conversations you have now with those around you will only reinforce the instructions you leave in your green box. Think of it as a chance to create your own mission statement while you are still here to articulate it fully. Now is the time to spell out what your values are, what charities you want supported, what relationships you want to influence.

Your green box is also the place to leave your final messages to your loved ones. You can write letters or even record videos for your children, tell them what they mean to you and what your hopes for them are.

Once you fill that green box, the next step is to start living and communicating the contents of that box so that it is not just something your survivors find later. The message you leave them with will be that much more powerful if you can live that message now.

When he died, my friend Steve was in the process of putting together what amounted to instructions for his loved ones should anything happen to him. Because he didn’t finish, he left some unanswered questions and uncompleted tasks. He was in his late 50s when he died, riding in a marathon cycling event. He was doing something he loved, living life to its fullest, unaware and unprepared for its end.

Thinking about Steve and about what it means to have a green box ready and filled made me realize I am not that prepared myself. I have done some of the things I have been talking about but not all. I am on this same journey too, and I also have some work to do.

What work do you have left to complete your green box?

John Christianson
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