Let Me Repeat Myself
by Ray Sagner on Jan 22, 2021
Every January for the last fifteen years of writing this column, the subject has been a variation of the same theme. Clean up your stuff and get your documents in order! Last year, the title was Dostadning, which in Swedish translates to “death cleaning” and is associated with a book written in 2017 by Margareta Magnusson. The point was that somewhere around middle age, you get rid of all the stuff you have accumulated that you have no more use for and so that no one else must deal with it after you pass. At an age north of 80, Ms. Magnusson states her motivation in part after cleaning out several relatives’ possessions over her long life. One of my favorite statements in the book is that the process is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly.
This is more personal for me this year, as I have spent the last eight weekends at a second cousin’s house, 56 miles away clearing up fifty-eight years' worth of possessions, and we are barely getting started. It’s more than just possessions, collections, and collectibles; things that must be valued and sold to knowing buyers. The other half is garage sale and there are a couple of commercial buildings to deal with. Add a pandemic to the timing and that’s what we’ve got. It has not been just the possessions that I and a cousin of his deceased wife must deal with, there were also no estate planning documents. Believe me, they were told it was necessary every chance that I could bring it up. My cousin's wife died earlier this year and he became unable to care for himself. Since September, we have transported him to see an attorney, gotten his estate planning documents in order and have found an assisted living facility for him. Now we must ready the house to sell to pay for his care.
I do not begrudge stepping up to take care of my cousin, I'm the only relative under 80 who sort of understands what needs to be done. Think of the relatives who are left with a mess like this who do not understand the processes, and who don't live close enough to spend weekends cleaning up accumulated stuff or are too bereaved to tackle the chore in a timely manner.
Following is my barely edited article from last year. Upon re-reading it, each point rang truer to me now as it did then, so I thought it as worth a share.
I am all about minimalism when it comes to having things for myself and thinking about my daughter having to go through boxes of keepsakes and nick-knacks that I could not part with. If you think someone may enjoy something when you pass, ask them. This article is not so much about getting rid of things but of organizing your financial life and gaining a sense of control. It is about having your financial information in one place, on one document that you can easily access. And now I feel obligated to add, go through your closest occasionally and get rid of stuff, or put it in some coherent order.
I have written before that “one of the strongest tonics for easing your mind is having ‘things in order.’” Upon reflection and experience, it is not true that everyone feels better when their financial lives are organized, or when the garage is finally cleaned up. While a cluttered garage may not be that important, having your financial documents in a form that you can readily access will give you a clearer picture of what you’re dealing with, thereby making your financial decisions easier. Also, having your financial information in one place will aid those who will take care of your affairs when you are not able to. And that day will come.
Following are some old strategies for getting financial documents and other personal information in an orderly format. Don’t just think about it -- ten good intentions do not equal one good deed. At some point we must act, so why not this year, this month, this day?!
Step one: for your convenience, you should have a file folder for your monthly bills and statements, as well as folders or binders for such documents as your insurance policies, investment statements, current year tax information, etc.
Step two: make a list of all your personal information, such as the professionals you deal with and all your account details. Keep in mind that the data listed on this document will provide easy access to the information not just for you, but also for the person who may need to deal with your financial affairs for you. Once completed, the document should be kept in a secure place. Begin with the date the document was completed and include such personal information as your full name, SS number, date of birth, and drivers’ license number. Also, include any passwords for online access. Include all your single, joint, and business accounts, and indicate both assets (i.e., checking, savings, and investment accounts) and liabilities (i.e., credit cards and mortgages). It may be helpful, as well, to create a separate sheet which lists your beneficiaries for your various accounts.
If you would like an example, email me (Ray@TheLegacyGroup.com) and I will send you my excel template that can help you get started. You may then want to encourage your parents and children to complete a similar form. Once the form is completed, make a copy, and give it to whomever you have designated as the executor of your estate. Compiling all this information may seem like a time-consuming task at first, but it is an important step in simplifying your future, and it is time well spent, and you can do it in small chunks.
Now, let us go a step further. I encourage clients to write a letter of intent to those who may be managing their affairs one day. A letter of intent spells out the specifics concerning the “who, what, where, why, and how” of financial documents, special disposition of assets, and desired funeral arrangements. The point is not to leave your loved ones confused, hurt, or burdened.
As one who has gone through this process, I know it can be uncomfortable and I understand why people are reluctant, but it is a valuable process. Not only does it help you clarify what you value, but it also shows that you value those you leave behind. Speaking of leaving something behind, I’m sure we’re all ready to say goodbye to 2020, so here’s looking forward to a healthy, prosperous and organized 2021. Cheers!
The purpose of this article is to inform our readers about financial planning/life issues. It is not intended, nor should it be used, as a substitute for specific legal, accounting, or financial advice. As advice in these disciplines may only be given in response to inquiries regarding particular situations from a trained professional. Ray Sagner is a Certified Financial Planner professional with The Legacy Group, Ltd, a fee only Registered Investment Advisory Firm, in Salem. Ray can be contacted at 503-581-6020, or by email at Ray@TheLegacyGroup.com You may view the Company’s web site at WWW.TheLegacyGroup.com