Written by Keith Schwanz
From his column It’s Your Money


I scrambled to respond to the outburst. I confess the intensity caught me by surprise.

Cancer had taken its toll. So on a Sunday evening we gathered at her house. Even though she was younger than many in the congregation, she was closer to death than the rest of us. On this Sunday evening, when she could no longer come to the church building, her friends went to her.

This was a gracious group. We often discussed challenging issues at our Sunday evening gatherings and had learned well how to respond to difficult situations with grace. This congregation excelled at unconditional love in the midst of the messiness of life. As a pastor, I had never served a church as honest and transparent as this community of faith.

My request of our friend came from within that trusting, corporate context. During our conversation about the scriptures, I asked her, as a person of faith, to talk about walking through the valley with death on the horizon. Her pilgrimage had brought her to a place none of us had experienced. I thought all persons present might learn from her.

That’s when she exploded: “Keith, why would you say that?”

I had misread the situation. I did not realize she was unable to talk about her impending death.

Challenging Conversations

In a similar fashion, some people avoid taking necessary steps with personal finance issues related to their own mortality. Naming primary and secondary beneficiaries on a retirement account is easy and painless. But meeting with an attorney to draft a will and other end-of-life documents forces people to think through what may be some uncomfortable issues. Working through the details about life insurance is another financial issue from which some might shrink back.

Suppose I died today. How would my family be affected financially? This question warrants careful consideration. Life insurance could soften the financial blow when death comes unexpectedly.

A person needs to make several calculations to determine the amount of life insurance necessary to provide financial protection in the event of an untimely death. These include items like burial or cremation, and the amount remaining on a mortgage or other debt. Future needs, such as college funding for children or income replacement for a certain number of years, can represent a substantial portion of what is needed to mitigate the financial risk for survivors.

Several Internet sites provide calculators to determine the appropriate amount of life insurance for specific family and financial situations (e.g., and The more detailed information you provide, the more precise the recommendation. Adding all of the calculations for final expenses, debt elimination, and future needs shows the financial impact of the death of a wage earner. From that sum, a person would subtract all financial resources available for those expenses—items such as investment and retirement accounts. Further, subtract the death benefit of life insurance already in force (if any) to indicate the amount needed in a new life insurance policy.

Purchasing insurance is one way to manage risk. Risk management is the objective for all types of insurance, but let’s continue thinking specifically about life insurance. In exchange for a premium, a life insurance company assumes the financial risk should a person die while the policy is in force. The one purchasing a life insurance policy recognizes the financial risk a family would face in the event of an untimely death and transfers that risk to the insurance company.

In today’s financial environment, premiums for group term life insurance are low compared with 20 years ago. The modest cost could provide great relief if the unexpected occurs. Pensions and Benefits USA partners with Aetna Insurance to provide reasonably priced group term life insurance. Until October 1, 2015, they are holding open enrollment for ministers and spouses under the age of 49. This means eligible ministers and spouses may apply without proof of health.* Visit here for details.

A Missed Opportunity

Just a few weeks after our Sunday evening gathering, on a Sunday morning this time, we heard that our friend was not doing well. As soon as the service ended, my wife and I went to her house. The family gathered around the hospital bed in the back bedroom. We sang a hymn. While we prayed, her labored breathing became calm. She took her last breath a few moments later.

We spoke easily about death as we stood around the bed on that Sunday afternoon. I wish we could have talked more freely about dying in the weeks before.

Keith Schwanz has served as a pastor, church musician, and seminary educator. He now works as a writer, editor, and publisher.

*Some restrictions apply.

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