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Lessons to Learn from a Tragedy

In the Summit Daily News on December 29, 2018, I read the story entitled, Family remembers Arvada man who died following cardiac event at Keystone. The picture shows a smiling man on the ski slopes, Daniel Mares, age 52. He was three years younger than I am, which caught me eye. His first cardiac event killed him without warning on December 22, 2018.

The article provided Daniel’s background and a glimpse of his personality and passions.  It stated that he was “characterized largely by his effortless intellectualism, a carefree and joyful disposition, and the love he shared with his children.” He had two kids age 23 and 21, who are now struggling to deal with his loss on many levels.

I enjoyed reading about Mare’s life until I got to the point where it was revealed that he had not done any planning for the inevitable, his ultimate death. I then felt heartsick for his kids, who are just a bit younger than mine. The article quoted his daughter, “This was his first cardiac event, so I don’t think even he was prepared for it. There’s no will, no life insurance and no financial records…so we have nothing, and were the only people our dad had.”

The article then went on to say, “While the family is still hoping to find Mares’ financial records or a will on his computer, they’ve so far been unable to access it…In the meantime, the family has started a GoFundMe campaign titled ‘Honoring the Life of Daniel Edward Mares’ to help raise money for a proper funeral service.”

At this point I am cringing in disbelief and anguish for his children. I gather that they were a close family but the kids currently have no road map on how to settle their father’s affairs or even how to pay for his funeral. Most likely they will need attorneys and probate and spend most of the next year dealing with legal matters on top of the grief and emotional pain of losing their dad.

This mess is unnecessary. If you have not done so already, please put your affairs in order now! Have a will and estate plan. Let your kids or a family member know where all documents are located including passwords if necessary. I am 55 and this is what I have done as a gift to my children and family:

Paper and digital copy of my Estate Plan. One copy is saved in Google Documents and key family members have already been granted access. One copy is in paper in a notebook and family has been told where to find it.

Within these two locations my family will find:

  • Last Will and Testament
  • Power of Attorneys-General and Medical
  • Information needed for a Death Certificate
  • Obituary draft
  • Declaration of Disposition of Last Remains
  • Digital Assets Access Authorization Form
  • Advance Directive-Planning for Important Health Care Decisions
  • HIPAA Privacy Authorization Form
  • Information and Instructions of all my business dealings
  • Key Contact list of all professionals/doctors I use
  • Key Contact list of all friends and organizations to notify
  • Other personal wishes and private communications

If you don’t know me, you may wonder why I am so organized at age 55. I wrote the book, A Chance to Say Goodbye: Reflections on Losing a Parent. As I experienced end-of-life issues with my dad, I became motivated to get my own affairs in order. Although A Chance to Say Goodbye was focused on eldercare, I also wrote it to help those in midlife prepare for their own death-in old age or suddenly as in the case of Daniel Mares. The book reflects on many topics that help one prepare for the inevitable end of our lives. It also provides a resource section in the back of the book, which I have shared on my website. In that resource section, you will find books and many websites with direct links to guide you in estate planning.

If you have already completed all or most of the list I provided above, congratulations! If you have work to do, I encourage you to take at least one action step today towards filling in missing pieces of your estate plan. Links in my resource list that you might want to utilize now: Forms and Planning for Death, Funeral/Celebration of Life Information and much more!

If you are in the Denver area, you may also want to visit an Estate Planning Professional. I recommend my attorneys David M .Cook and Jill Klancke for estate planning. Let them know I sent you!

Please learn from the tragedy of Daniel Mares’s unexpected death and lack of planning. Leave a gift to your family by getting your affairs in order now. May Daniel Mares rest in peace and may his children find their way through their grief and struggle to sort out their father’s affairs.

If this article struck a note with you, please comment below and share on social media to reach others who might need to hear this message.


  1. Dave McReynolds

    Thinking back on my own parents death, and how they handled their affairs, and what paper trails they left me, well my parents did a pretty good job of disseminating any information I needed. It helped that I was their financial executor towards end of life. But what about my finances, and what have I done to help my kids? Not nearly enough, when I consider your recommendations. Especially “Digital Assets Access”.
    When a family unit’s structure changes (the father or mother dies, or a divorce occurs), than documenting all these details become much more important, since there is no longer a “backup source” of information.

    • Lisa J Shultz

      Dave, the digital assets form is one page and easy to add to your other documents. I received the form from my attorneys. Thanks for sharing your comments! Cheers, Lisa

  2. Andrea Costnatine

    Such an important topic and reminder. I will definitely make an effort to get all these things done. We have a few things in place, but not everything. Thanks Lisa, this is important work.

  3. Laura Jacob

    Great summary Lisa! As is typical from you, this is a passioned gentle plea for self responsibility which benefits our loved ones in both practical and emotional ways. I am proud of my management of my affairs, but this is a great reminder to review it all again for myself and my adult children. My profession is Dental Compliance and our mantra is, “If it’s not documented it didn’t happen.” We must have courageous conversations AND document our wishes. Your book is terrific and I always appreciate your thorough resource lists.

  4. Carrie Printz

    Nice piece, Lisa! Very good practical advice. We were in Keystone when this tragedy occurred. Very sad for his children.

  5. Sabrina

    Excellent advice, Lisa, and a great reminder of what we can do now to make things easier for our loved ones later – hopefully much later. Thank you for sharing such great info.

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