Saturday, September 5, 2015

In Lieu of Flowers: Financial Help Please!

When a life altering event-such as an injury, illness or death-happens, finances are often not the first thing family and friends are concerned about. Yet, it is during this time that the right type of support and guidance can significantly impact future financial viability.  

Decision makers-spouses, adult children and persons designated for this purpose-are under incredible stress, vulnerable and are being asked to make choices that have life-long consequences. Having someone that can help make affordable funeral arrangements, write an obituary that lists a fund that has been set up to help the family versus donating to an organization, or decide whether to do a costly procedure on someone who is very ill can make all the difference.

Consider the following:

• Ask questions sooner than later, of a family member or someone who is close to decision makers. If a person has died, do they have sufficient funds to cover the arrangements without going into debt? If it’s a life altering injury or illness,  do they have insurance to cover medical bills? What about how they will be able to support themselves? Kids?

Keep in mind that if you are concerned but don’t think you are the right person to bring this up to the family, ask someone who you think may be more appropriate. Some religious leaders have training in this area. If that’s a possibility, be sure to let them know of your availability to help with fundraising.

• Who’s in Charge? It’s better to have one or two people working directly with the family and interfacing with those engaged in raising funds. Because needs can be so different for families, it’s reasonable to think of one person being responsible for setting a scholarship program for kids and managing it, while another person deals with day-to-day expenses.

People will want to help so the quicker you can assign tasks the better. Creating a Lotsa Helping Hands website is free, and allows you to fund raise along with having people register to do things, e.g. make meals, that will be helpful.

• Compassionate Crowd Funding and other Options: There are any number of sites, like GoFundMe, that are used to raise funds for a family. These are easy to establish and aren’t subject to the same rules that apply to setting up a fund say through a bank. The down side of this method is that whatever website you use will take a portion of the money raised. The plus side is that it’s easier for someone to donate money on-line versus writing a check and mailing it to a bank. Check out How to Raise Money for a Family in Need to assist in setting up a successful crowd funding site. 

Learn more about Crowd funding and the best sites to use at Crowdsunite

While “Crowd funding” has its purpose, you may want to consider these options as well:
• Donate directly to the individual or to a bank account that has been legitimately set up in their name.
• Give gift certificates for goods and services that are needed.
• Help to organize a fundraiser for a specific need, such as a scholarship fund
• Pace your giving. While there is immediate need, for a major loss, such as a fire, death or significant illness, the needs extend well beyond the initial burst of activity of a week to 10 days.
• Give of yourself. While money is certainly needed in many of these situations, there are a number of practical details, such as childcare, cleaning, lawn care, rides etc. that need tending to.

• Set up a scholarship fund for surviving child(ren): Whether a parent dies, or is diagnosed with a significant chronic condition that is going to impact earning potential, setting up a scholarship fund can not only provide for the child’s future education but it gives considerable peace of mind to the family. Don’t make assumptions about the other parent’s ability to provide for future college needs as things change and the younger the child is, the more opportunities can occur that make finances more difficult.

There are many different ways to set up scholarship funds and laws very by state so the best recommendation is to start by calling your local bank and discussing it with them. They will have dealt with this request before and can be of considerable help.

There are scholarship crowding funding sites, such as Gradsave, that may be right for your situation since it allows people to donate similar to how one uses a gift registry.

Whatever system you choose to use, scholarship funds are something that people will continue to donate to provided you do the following:
- *     Keep donors informed about how the child is doing, particularly how funds are being used. When children are old enough, it is important for them to be responsible for “thank you” notes and providing updates.

**  Remind donors of the fund around specific dates, such as birthdays, important anniversaries, graduations etc. This is a good time to give an update as well.
* * Those that may not be able to contribute money may have the time to help organize a fundraiser and/or be the one responsible for keeping social media site up to date, staying connected and thanking donors.

• Be a Financial Advocate: Understanding benefits, eligibility, workmen’s comp, social security, health insurance and what a person maybe eligible for is confusing even in the best of times, so someone’s life altering illness, or spouse’s death, just makes it even more challenging. You can assist them by:
-    * Learning as much as you can about their benefit options.
* * Go with them to appointments and take notes. Be sure to keep track of dates of visits, what’s been discussed, who you spoke to, follow up instructions etc.
   * Encourage them to think about choices and not make rash and/or emotional decisions.
   * When it comes to making funeral arrangements, discuss a budget before meeting with a funeral director. 

   * This is a good time to discuss how a scholarship fund and/or other type of financial support be designated and listed in the obituary versus flowers or another organization.
 * Encourage them to meet with a financial planner

• Be the Voice of Reason: Guilt and shame are common in those dealing with financial issues as well as those with a chronic/severe illness and survivors. Many will want to continue to try and provide the same lifestyle for their family that was possible before the life-altering event. This is often not realistic and many can make themselves sick in the effort to try and do so. Gentle reminders and support can help, particularly when you let them know that what they are able to do is good and making a difference.

While it can sound trite, a door closing (such as a serious illness) can make it possible for a window to open to possibilities no one ever dreamed of. As I’ve written in this blog before, in the years that follow a major event, many people comment  about how it changed the course of their life for the better. While not something to say in the middle of a crisis, it’s a good reminder to sustain yourself when helping those most in need.

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