Planning for the Worst

Slate had an interesting article this week discussing the tragic early loss of David Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey and husband of Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg (who is also the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook), who died last weekend after sustaining a head injury from a fall on the treadmill. Author Torie Bosch points out that we should always be prepared for the worst, explaining that her own childhood was changed by the early death of her father, leaving her mother to return to the workforce in order to support her family. The loss of her attorney father’s income changed the family’s life immediately, which is was a terrible burden in the midst of their grief. Of course, the practical concerns of the very wealthy are different from those of the middle class:

Sandberg faces a terrible situation, but a situation that will not be made more terrible by worries about how to feed her children or pay the mortgage. She can focus on the most important issues—her grief and that of her children. Given Goldberg’s own successes, Sandberg would probably have been financially stable in widowhood even if she hadn’t leaned in. But in some ways, her message is even more powerful now: It looked like she had the perfect life, but no one is immune to shocking upheavals.

Bosch views Sandberg’s loss from the perspective of her bestselling book, which encouraged women to maintain their careers instead of stepping back when they had families. I come at this from the view of an estate planning attorney, of course, and the lesson for me is this: illnesses and accidents do not respect wealth, age, or your family’s financial needs. Much as we don’t like to think so, accidents like this happen. If the worst happens, at the very least you would probably like to know that your family is cared for, whether because your spouse has a high-paying job or because you have ensured their well-being through insurance, investments, and a proper estate plan. This is particularly important in single-income families, or families where one spouse’s earnings are much higher than the other’s. In the event that the worst happens, that planning can quite literally change your family’s life.

*Originally published at on May 6, 2015.

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