When The Doctor Says, “It’s Time To Get Your Affairs In Order”

Someone close to you has just received a terminal illness diagnosis. The doctor is telling them that they have a short time to live and that they should get their affairs in order. Why does it take a terminal illness to prompt us to get things organized?

Even more curious, why would you want to spend your final glorious days organizing paperwork, paying bills, and performing other tedious tasks? If you establish a system for arranging and maintaining your records, you can be confident that your affairs are in order no matter what unexpected life event comes your way.

Our 86 year old aunt lived her final years in a senior living community in Omaha, Nebraska. She was moved to the skilled nursing unit when she was diagnosed with cancer and needed a higher level of care. We traveled to Omaha for a weekend to visit with her and clear her apartment of personal items.  Unfortunately, the apartment was so cluttered that we spent most of the time there making trips to the dumpster, rather than spending that time visiting and comforting her. To this day, we regret the time we lost with her.

Here are some of my favorite tips for getting organized.

  1. Safe Deposit Box or Waterproof/Fireproof Safe. Decide how you wish to safely and securely store those original documents that are so important – birth certificate, death certificate, marriage license, social security card, passport, estate planning documents, etc.
  2. Portable File Box and File Folder. We have found that plastic portable file boxes are the best way to store copies of the original documents that are stored in your safe. We also use this box to store copies of insurance policies, safe deposit box inventories, keys to the safe or safe deposit box, pension plan information, and lists of trusted professionals. The portable box makes it easy to grab and go in the event of a disaster, such as hurricane in our windstorm prone community.
  3. Trusted Professional List. Maintain an up to date list of all the professionals with whom you work. This list should include your CPA, attorney, financial advisor, insurance agent, and banker with their name, address, phone number and email address.
  4. Summary of Assets and Liabilities. Develop a list of assets (bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate, and personal property) and liabilities (credit cards, loans and other debts). Include contact information, beneficiaries, account holders, account signers and other pertinent information so that a family member could step in and access your assets if the need arose.
  5. Invest in a shredder. You never want to throw paper in the trash if it has your name, address, and other personal information on it. If you are organizing your paperwork after many years of accumulation, you should consider using a professional shredding company. They will come to your home and shred onsite or drop off and pick up shredding barrels for your convenience.

Organizing your documents is a tiring process, so don’t try and do it all on one day or even one week.  Set aside some time each week and work through the paperwork a little at a time. This will allow you time to review what you have and decide if you should keep it or shred it.

For a free copy of our Document Checklist, please send me an email to reba@secureaging.com.

Reba Rogers, CPA, is the founder of Secure Aging, a group of care managers who preserve the independence and protect the assets of seniors by helping them with financial and care management. She is also a Director Consultant for BNI (Business Network International), a referral marketing organization which gives her access to many trusted business professionals in the community.

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