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By Liza Horvath


The Game of Death

It can be safely assumed that not one of us likes to think about death. It can also be safely assumed that at even though we may resist the temptation to ponder about it or we turn a deaf ear to family and advisors who implore us to plan for it and even if we exercise and eat well, death will, inevitably, one day darken our door to serve as our personal escort to the great beyond. 

Because death is a rather unpopular topic, we estate professionals have resigned ourselves to the fact that most people consider our work repulsive. However unattractive our work may appear to outsiders, planners, for the most part, love the profession and find it challenging and interesting. Communicating that fun and excitement to clients – well, that can be difficult. Imagine if your job consisted of questions like, “Have you done any preneed planning?” or “Is your original will in your safe deposit box or at home?” “What tax bracket are you in?”

So, resigned to the fact that we will hardly ever gain clients by offering an exciting service that everyone wants, we estate professionals must to resort to all kinds of innovation to get people to first, believe that death will one day come calling and, second, get clients to deeply consider the consequences. Enter an extremely unpopular but very effective exercise that good financial and estate planners will do with clients to really bring home the need for not only the consideration of death – but the actual practice of dying. 

 The “game,” if you will, is called “I’ve kicked the bucket, now what?” The name may sound like the fun childhood game we used to play in the streets but that is where the similarity ends. In the Kick the Bucket game, you sit down with your personal representative – that person who will act as your executor or trustee and basically say, “Ok, I’m no longer here and you just heard about it. What will you do now?” You might offer some clarifying information like, “My family has already taken care of funeral arrangements,” or “Mission Mortuary is holding my body and they need information on how to proceed,” – make it as easy or as challenging as you like.

The game will smoke out any “gaps” in your planning and should also to help your personal representative begin to understand what will be expected of them when the time comes to step in as your trustee. The results differ – some trustees are well equipped and breeze through the scenarios while others begin to discover that maybe they are not really suited for the job. Still other named personal representatives, having never actually considered what the job entails, will run screaming from your home.


Some families who play the game have their advisors – lawyers, tax preparers and such – participate and having adult children involved can also be very enlightening. The children learn about the process and it is a great opportunity to set expectations – what they stand to inherit and when. The process also affords parents an opportunity to discuss their values, their life experiences and can bring to light the ways in which they hope to be remembered.


It is fairly certain that “Kick the Bucket” will never replace Saturday night Bridge with friends, but it really can be interesting and entertaining. Also, unlike Bridge, in Kick the Bucket no one is keeping score.

Liza Horvath has over 30 years experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the president of Monterey Trust Management, a financial and trust management company. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. If you have a questions call (831)646-5262 or email liza@montereytrust.com










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