By the time my dad gave up his condo for an independent living facility in his late eighties, he had whittled down his financial records so that they fit into one loose-leaf notebook plus a manila folder. Currently, my financial records fill a four-drawer filing cabinet in the basement. Tax returns for the last three years — and supporting documents — are stacked on top of the cabinet because they do not fit within. I’m clearly not following in my dad’s footsteps — yet. This story is my first foray into that arena. It outlines the first three steps I am taking. I told my son I’m not sure if I am thinking about moving or if I am thinking about dying, but I have begun to clean house, more ominously known as getting my affairs in order.
Following in Dad’s Footsteps, I’m Streamlining My Finances
Why do I have so many financial records? Because my investments were sprawled across six different investment firms. Anyone who has had several jobs in their lifetime could be in this situation, owning a different retirement account with each past position. Multiple accounts mean multiple statements like the ones filling my file cabinet. To reduce this five-fold, I picked the firm that had been most responsive in the past — they meet with me twice a year in person — and consolidated all six accounts into just one.
According to a financial company that is a member of the FORTUNE 500, there are many perks to consolidation. Whereas all my advisors had been good, none knew my total financial picture. I had six little investment vessels out in the vast ocean instead of one big boat with a captain to steer. How did I expect my ship to come in using that strategy? Additionally, multiple investments meant multiple decisions, fees, emails, etc. And it appears that some people lose track of old retirement accounts altogether when they forget to change their address after making a move. And let’s face it, with the possibilities of downsizing, independent living, assisted living, and the like, there might be a few moves in my future.
As an added bonus, there is a perk for my kids. When I die, they have one account to liquidate, not many. And speaking of the kids…
I’m Doing a Review: Will My Will Work or Won’t It
I created my estate documents in 1994. At the time, my kids were 18, 16, and 11. In my documents, I listed legal guardians for them in the event of my death. I named and instructed executors — my parents — to distribute the principal from my estate to my kids in three chunks, one third when they were 30, one third at 35, and one third at 40.
On their birthdays in 2021, my kids will be 45, 43, and 38. They don’t need a legal guardian. My ages for distribution are moot. My parents are dead and unable to administer the estate.
Clearly, estate documents need to be updated regularly. Patting myself on the back, I’ve actually made revisions in 2003 and 2011. Even so, ten years is a long time since the last one. I need a do-over of documents.
According to the National Institute on Aging there are four important items for me to update. A will and/or trust is needed to distribute my money and property after I die. There are also “advance directives.” One of the advance directives is a living will. It allows me to state what kind of care I want — or don’t want — in the event I become too sick to make decisions. Another advance directive is a durable power of attorney for healthcare. It allows me to name the person who will make healthcare decisions for me when I cannot. Finally, I need to name a durable power of attorney to act on my behalf for any legal matter if I am unable to make decisions on my own.
And Finally, I Am Tackling ALL THE STUFF
I have lived in my four-bedroom home for twenty-seven years, and accumulated a lot. Where do I start? Actually, it makes no difference. It all has to be done, so I can jump in anywhere. I choose my highly visible collection of books.
There are three bookshelves in my living room. In total they contain fourteen shelves. Each shelf has a complete row of books and then on top of that row are more books. My first goal is to get rid of the toppers. I know that if I were moving, I would lug-along almost none of these books, and yet, they are hard to part with. So far, I have given away sixteen books and five shelves are topper-free. I laugh at myself, forgive myself, and congratulate myself. It’s a start.
In my next blog, I’ll get back to sorting through ALL THE STUFF with five great tips. Until then, here’s a motivating story:
On Sunday, July 4th, I had numbness in my foot and a pain in the arch that I was sure indicated a blood clot. I wondered if I should go to the a quick-care clinic in a supermarket chain or to the emergency room. I was miffed because it was not convenient to go anywhere until after the holiday on Tuesday. And then I laughed to think that death could likewise hit me at an inconvenient time and that I need to have my affairs in order. My thoughts immediately turned to all the “embarrassments” that exist at my house (journals!). Why haven’t I gotten rid of those? I vowed that if I lived, I would.
I did, and I am.
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