Father Sez

From and to parents - parental advice to our children on personal financial management and life.
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How attending a funeral can change perspectives

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

On December 17th, 2007 I helped bury a dear friend. 

He was a gifted fellow. He had handyman skills that MacGyver himself would rate an “A”. He had great skills at raising flowering plants of any sort. He reared colorful fishes. He built a “koi” pond in his house and raised the koi fishes until some of them wee almost as old as my youngest child. 

He was careful with money. Not cheap, but careful and frugal. 

As an employee of our National Oil Corporation, he had been sent for all kinds of training courses. Corporate equivalents of the ones people like 007 go through. 

He had the uncanny ability to break down complex problems into little sub problems which were then solved systematically. 

He had traveled literally the roads less trodden, the Silk Route, the jungles of Myanmar and the villages of Surabaya amongst others. Very well read and well traveled, he would regale us with stories such as those of the uncanny skills of the Indian hermits, like how he had seen them sleeping on a branch of a tree without falling off. 

He was the one I called my “wisest friend”.  

He died at 10 am on the 17th December 07 at our General Hospital. His wife and all his three girls were with him when he breathed his last. 

As the funeral arrangements were being made, (as a Muslim, he had to be buried as soon as possible), my mind wandered on what were the really important financial things that I had to do as the head of my family. 

i)                  Write my will 

Islamic law has different views on distribution of assets, if the deceased did not leave a will. Brothers, sisters, parents and even grandparents get included and it may become quite a complicated matter. It seemed that no one knew if my friend had left a will. So in addition to the grief, there was also concern about the family finance over the coming days. 

ii)                Make sure there is a house to shelter my family 

My friend had already paid off whatever mortgages he had on the house. However, the charge on the property by the financiers had not yet been removed and the title was still under his name. This would bring the issue of the “family house”, being included under the heading of “pool assets” to be distributed under Islamic Law. Hence putting some worries in the minds of the bereaved family.  

iii)              Sufficient and easily accessible cash in hand 

I have no doubts about my late friend’s emergency fund. However, the funeral and immediate expenses needed cash. Whilst the amounts may not be big, cash was still needed.  Financing the family expenses over the period until the issue of the will, the distribution and insurance claims etc. are sorted out is another major matter of concern.  

Zen Habits featured an article titled “Big Rocks first, double your productivity this week.”   

To quote Leo,  

The Big Rocks are the major things you want to get done this week. A report, launching a new website, going to the gym, spending time with your spouse and kids, achieving your dreams. These Big Rocks get pushed back from week to week because we never have time to do them — our days fill up too quickly, and before we know it, weeks have passed and the Big Rocks are still sitting on the side, untouched. 

He was referring to our planned output for the week, and how the big rocks represented the important things that had to be done. 

Extending the same principle to my financial life, I should get the big rocks out of the way first. And these big rocks are, in my view:- 

The Will 

My wife and I have done our will. We have appointed administrators should anything untoward happen to both of us. This matter has been discussed at a family meeting. All our children are aware of the administrators that my wife and I have selected.   

So this big rock has been taken care of. 

House 

The house we live in is under a mortgage. It has a MRT assurance attached, so that in the event of any untimely event, the loan would be paid off, by the insurance.  The house itself is under the ownership of our family company, whose shareholders presently are my wife, the elder two girls and me.  

Another big rock out of the way. 

Sufficient and easily accessible cash in hand 

The funeral expenses are quite small. So I am sure, this will be sorted out without any problems. For the subsequent period say, till the insurance claims etc., are sorted out, the family living expenses should be catered for.

In our family I am the sole breadwinner. So this is a major big rock. Whilst most of our assets are in our joint names, some of the unit trusts have been shifted into my wife’s name. This should be sufficient to take care of family expenses in the interim. 

I only wish it had not taken the death of a dear friend to get me to check up on these.   

My little boy has just become a young man, and I almost missed the signs!

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

Sometime ago, I wrote about the 5 stages of a child’s life and how it relates to their financial and life education. 

I listed the stages as : 

a)    My Mommy knows everything stage,

b)    My Mommy knows most things stage,

c)     My Mommy does not have a clue stage,

d)    Maybe I should ask my Mommy stage and

e)    I wish my Mommy was here, she’ll know what to do stage. 

My elder two girls are now in the 4th stage. Thankfully the 3rd stage of their life went by without any major disruptions in our family. 

The younger three were in the 1st stage, until recently, very recently.  

And this is how I found out. 

Since 2005, it has been a yearly practice for me to sit with our three younger kids and together draw up their goals for the next year.  These goals are some things the children and I agree as important. We review them about 3 times a year and the children will promise to try harder to meet the goals and life goes on. 

This year, the youngest two girls, Nana and Ain drew up their goals, after our usual discussion.   

Not so Abang, our only boy who turns 14 this January 5th.  When he and I first started talking about the goals for 2008, (sometime around November 07), he asked for additional time. He then kept on postponing.  

Today, he came out and told me that he has his own goals.  

It looks like my little boy, our Tuan Muda (“Young Master”) has now moved on to the 2nd stage of his life! I am part sad and part happy. My son has just come of age!  

Am I worried about my son’s seeming lack of interest in goals? Not at all.  

Last year, as part of his English improvement exercise, he read Anthony Robbins’ “Notes to a Friend”. Every Saturday and Sunday, he would write about 4 – 5 pages down and them read them to me. He has finished the book now. Now he is going through Sean Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens”. 

I am sure some of the points in the books are seeping into him steadily.

And besides, he has told me that he does have his goals. 

My son likes, as so many other boys his age, to play video games. This activity is taking up an inordinate amount of his time, and has been the subject of a number of scenes of displeasure with his mother. Other than this little thing, our Tuan Muda is a great young man and I have every faith in him.  

In fact, whilst working in India, a business acquaintance who was also an amateur fortune teller, told me that one day, my wife and I would be looked up to and become famous as being “Our Tuan Muda’s parents”. (When I told this story to my wife and my much younger son then, he beamed with pride).

Well, at least my son has agreed to write down his goals and also agreed to show them to me, but much later. So for now, he has managed to get me off his back. 

Thankfully, I am aware of this subtle but so important change in Abang’s life. Now that Abang is entering the second stage, I have to treat him a little more as an equal. The treatment when he was in the “My Mommy knows everything stage”, may no longer be suitable. 

And for now, I have to get used to my son now being a young man!    

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