Lessons learned after rising from the ashes

Twelve months ago, almost to the day, our family home burned to the ground. We got nothing out. You may have seen it on the nightly news at the time.

In fact the media was kind of like the fire itself: hot as hell for 24 hours and then gone. We were left to pick up the pieces and carry on.

Here’s what that experience has taught me over the past year:

It’s All About Money

Standing in front of our burnt out home with my wife, and our baby, was the worst moment of my life. Yet to the guy at my insurance company, it was just another Monday morning.

His job was to pay out as little as possible — or at least hold on to the cash for as long as he could.

Insurance rep: “So you just need to let us know when you’ve found a builder, because we help you with your scheduled payments and …”

Barefoot: “That’s not needed. I’d just like my payout. In full.”

Insurance rep: “What we do is hold on to the money, and work with you to …”

Barefoot: “Every last cent. In my bank account. By the end of the week.”

Insurance rep: “Oh … kay.”

That guy, in ‘industry speak’, was a total knob. But to be fair, his colleagues were great (though it also helped that I had one of the best insurance brokers in the business working for me).

Speaking of knobs, it didn’t take long for the lawyers to turn up. The story goes that the bushfire which took out our home was caused by untrimmed trees hitting power lines. Or at least that’s what the fire truck-chasers said when they announced a multi-million-dollar class action.

At the time I publicly stated that I didn’t want any part of it: our society is already litigious enough, and I don’t like perpetuating the culture of blame. But then I spoke to a friend who was high up in the Black Saturday commission. His view was that, years ago, the electricity companies got their bean-counters to work out what would be cheaper: burying the power lines or paying out a class action for lives lost and legacies ruined. The class action won.

It’s Not About Possessions

There’s something strangely cathartic about fitting practically everything you own into a Toyota.

The last time I’d done it I was 18, in a 1966 XP Falcon, on my way to university, and my prized possession was a limited edition case of Duff Beer. This time round I had a sobbing wife and a screaming baby (and no beer).

Our wedding had only happened a year before, and we received three dinner settings. At the time I thought to myself: “Well, when the Socceroos come around for dinner we’re totally set!” How wrong I was.

I don’t miss stuff, only the things that can’t be replaced: pre-digital family photos, my wife’s wedding dress, letters from my childhood.

Today we’re building a brand new home. At first I worried it would feel like one of those soulless, overstyled, display homes because, by necessity, everything would be brand spanking new. Yet that’s not the case. Over the past year we’ve been sent letters and gifts from Barefoot readers that will form part of our new home. A new beginning has risen out of the ashes.

It’s All About Family

That day, I remember looking into my wife’s eyes and seeing how devastated she was.

It’s the closest I’ll ever get to being able to hover over her — Patrick Swayze ghost like — and watch her deal with my death. (And given she’s younger, fitter, and a much safer driver than me, it’s likely I’ll be going to the great toaster in the sky long before she does).

Every day a wife, a husband or a partner, loses a loved one.

Eventually, it will happen to your family — and possibly when you least expect it. At that moment, the most loving thing you can do for them is the simple, unselfish act I’m about to share with you.

Now, I understand you’re probably not going to do this. So I’m going to make it ridiculously simple for you.

All you need to do is go to Officeworks and buy a folder and some plastic pockets. Over the next month, as you pay your bills, create the following tabs:

Advisers: Write down the contact details of your accountant, lawyer, financial planner and stockbroker.

Bank accounts: Include account details and passwords for any account related to you with any money in it, and outstanding loans you have.

Investments: Print off your latest share portfolio (including share registry details), your managed fund holdings, your superannuation account details (along with your binding nomination), and titles to any properties you hold.

Insurance policies: Include all your policies, using a highlighter pen to circle the policy numbers and relevant telephone numbers.

Funeral instructions: I want Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing to play at my funeral. I also want to go cheap on the burial — but expensive on the booze. Your ideas may be different. Write them down.

Personal documents: Include your birth certificate and marriage certificate(s), and copies of your driver’s licence, passport, Medicare card.

Passwords: This is a big one. Facebook, Twitter, email accounts and whatever else you have. Just make sure everything is there so they can be shut down.

Up-to-date will: Remember to include the name of your executor and your enduring power of attorney.

Once you’ve finished putting together the folder, there are only two things left to do.

Find a safe place to store it (I’d suggest paying for a safety deposit box — houses can burn down).

Then write a letter to your spouse and your kids. Tell them you love them.

Tread Your Own Path!