If you commit to doing one thing in the new year, I am imploring you, cajoling you, pleading with, even guilting you if I must. Please, for the love of God, make sure that your will, your paperwork and your beneficiary designation are up to date. And if you do not have a will, or a plan, should something happen to you, sit down with the people you love, have the heart wrenching conversation and get what you need to in place. Your family deserves at least that peace of mind, should the unthinkable knock on the door happen to them.

On August 10, 2005 that knock was on my front door. I was a newlywed of just over ONE month (33 days y’all, I didn’t even have a copy of my marriage license yet).

New Year

(Courtesy Sherry Graham-Potter)

My husband Tim was 30 years old, and, like most of you, I’m guessing, didn’t think it would happen to him. He had no will, he was in the middle of selling his home. I was not on the deed or the mortgage. I was not on the title of his car, his bank accounts, his credit cards. It was a legal nightmare I had to navigate while in the fog of the most unspeakable grief and despair that you can imagine.

But the one thing Tim did do, the one thing that I was so stunned to find out, was that he thought to go to HR, and update me as his beneficiary. My two sons are in college today on tuition waivers because Tim took the time to go down to HR on a Monday morning and update his paperwork. He died two days later. I was able to take as much time as I needed to heal and recover from Tim’s violent and tragic death, because Tim went to HR that Monday. I have financial security to this day because Tim went to HR that Monday.

I speak at family day for Tim’s agency’s recruits. It is rare for more than a couple of recruits to raise their hands when I ask if they have a will. I get it. It’s so difficult to think about, you guys are superstitious about these things. Sometimes it’s hard to make decisions concerning whom you choose to as a power of attorney, or an executor. I get it. But I don’t care. Get it done.

I work with a non-profit organization that supports the families of officers killed in the line of duty. They stepped in after Tim was killed and their support was life-altering for me and my children. But one thing that I see over and over again, are second wives who do not get the state and federal benefits I know their spouses would have wanted them to receive, because the officer never updated his paperwork. It is tragic, and there is nothing that can be done about it, save the beneficiary gifting it back to the current spouse (pretty sure I don’t have to tell you that NEVER happens). I cannot tell you the agony these things cause families in an already horrific situation, and it is an agony that can be prevented ONLY by you.

So, as I wish you a happy, healthy and safe 2019, please take my words to heart, and make it a point to review all of your vital paperwork and directives and make the necessary changes to them. This one action could end up being the most priceless gift you will ever give the ones you love.

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Sherry Graham-Potter is the surviving wife of Deputy Tim Graham, Pima County Sheriff’s Department, who was struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle during a foot pursuit on August 10, 2005. While Sherry and her young sons struggled to make sense of their tragic loss, their local chapter of C.O.P.S. stepped in to support the grieving family. Inspired by the survivors she encountered, Sherry became a strong advocate for the role that fitness and nutrition played in her own grief process, and encourages new survivors to incorporate healthy habits into their own lives as they navigate their healing path.

Today, Sherry is married to Officer/Pilot Chris Potter of the Tucson Police Department. Together they advocate for health and wellness within the law enforcement community, teaching Fitness and Nutrition to officers across the country. The couple are both avid cyclists and triathletes. Sherry also authored the viral Facebook post to the Nike Corporation.