Just like planning for retirement, estate planning can easily fall by the wayside. With many of us juggling day-to-day work, family commitments and life in general, we tend not to think about events that seem far off in the future, or are not very fun to think about, but sometimes the unexpected can happen.
This was a similar outlook Harold Empey had before making his own estate arrangements and realizing the importance of planning ahead. A member of the CSS Pension Plan since 1952, Harold spent nearly 40 years working for Federated Co-operatives Limited across western Canada, starting out as a messenger boy when he was just 17 years old and working his way up to senior officer before retiring in 1992. “I’ve been very busy since I retired,” he says.
Along with volunteering for Rotary International, Harold also donates his time to numerous community organizations in Saskatoon to help with fundraising initiatives. Harold is no stranger to giving back; in the 1960s and 70s, he was also a Co-operative Superannuation Society (CSS) delegate and served as president of the Board.
Another cause close to his heart is one he developed himself after the unexpected in fact did happen – the Just In Case program.
“Back in 2004, I was sent home from the hospital on two different occasions to do funeral arrangements for myself because of my heart,” he said. “So my wife, Betty, was concerned about how she would handle the paperwork if I died.”
Harold and Betty decided to do advanced planning and began a comprehensive search for key documents and information that their survivors would need following their deaths – including bank account information, insurance policies – even the code for the garage door opener.
Although they had some of the information, they quickly realized it was far from complete and was not easily accessible. Should something happen to them, it would’ve been difficult for their survivors to sort through.
Under the circumstances, Harold decided to develop a set of guidelines and put together a binder containing all his and Betty’s information, ranging from documents about executors, finances, life insurance, pensions, contact lists, social media accounts, Wills and more.
Harold points out that it is natural to be reluctant to do advance preparation for one’s death, but also notes it is important to remember that death can occur at any time. Although Betty was initially concerned about her husband’s heart condition, the tables quickly turned when she was diagnosed with cancer and was told she had just one year left to live.
“It had reversed. So we prepared all of our information, including funeral plans, obituaries – everything was done. We put it all together and put it into a book,” he said.
Harold and Betty updated the information in the book periodically and shared their post-death wishes with their family.
Betty lost her battle with cancer in November 2012. Following her death, Harold had a conversation with his neighbor who wondered how the pair had gotten all the post-death documentation together so quickly.
“My neighbor wanted to know how we put things together so fast,” Harold explained. “I said ‘Well because we had it all planned. We did everything,’ and he wanted to see it. I said ‘No, it’s personal stuff,’ but then I decided maybe I could help him.”
The interaction led Harold to create the Just In Case binder; a simple binder set up as a step-by-step guide for estate planning, arranged in 12 key sections listing the types of information and documentation people should think about preparing in advance of their deaths.
Harold developed the guidelines based on his own experience during Betty’s death, and also consulted lawyers, accountants, funeral homes and other advisors to customize the structure of Just In Case.
“It’s not rocket science. It’s just about putting it all together,” Harold says.
WORD OF MOUTH TRAVELLED FAR
Since developing the Just In Case binder, Harold has toured across Canada to give presentations and educate people about the matters they should consider with respect to the end of life. Word of mouth about the Just In Case binder travelled quite far, and Harold now regularly produces copies of the binder which are available in locations across Saskatchewan or direct through him.
Harold doesn’t make any money from the sales of the binders and donates all revenue to charity.
“The response to the binder has been beyond my expectations,” Harold said. “I’ve gone through over 13,000 binders since 2013 and raised over $200,000 for charity.”
Harold hears feedback from binder owners frequently; many who have lost loved ones said the Just In Case binder made things much easier on the family during an already difficult time. He also says he typically gets calls from people across Canada each week who have heard about Just In Case and order a binder.
There are also people who do approach him and know they should complete their binder, but they just haven’t gotten around to doing it.
“You’d never be surprised, but it hurts when you hear that so many people have done nothing,” he says. “I understand some not wanting to go to a funeral home, but it could save them thousands of dollars by going ahead of time – and then peace of mind.”
Of equal importance to sitting down and completing the binder is making your loved ones aware of your wishes and where the binder is stored, whether on a shelf or in a digital format on the computer or other device.
“You never know when it’ll be the end, and some people think it is only in the case of death – it’s not. The binder can be used in the case of sickness, inability to work, accidents, etcetera. It’s for any age group,” he says. “Just put yourself in the position of ‘what if?’ and that’s why it’s called Just In Case. What if this happens? Just in case I die, just in case I’m ill, just in case whatever. Do you want someone else to decide for you?”
Interested in getting a Just In Case binder?
Harold encourages any CSS Pension Plan members who may be interested in obtaining a Just In Case binder to contact him directly at (306) 244-4954 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A binder costs $30 and any surplus leftover from producing the binders is donated to charity. Harold is also available to do seminars across western Canada.