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Terry Savage: Preparing for your own mortality

Preparing a living will, a healthcare power of attorney and other end-of-life documents may feel morbid. But having them could save anguish for your loved ones. (Photographerlondon/Dreamstime.com)
Preparing a living will, a healthcare power of attorney and other end-of-life documents may feel morbid. But having them could save anguish for your loved ones. (Photographerlondon/Dreamstime.com) (Dreamstime.com)

In a time when we wear masks in public and hesitate to embrace and change plans to celebrate the holidays with family, it makes sense to consider our mortality in financial as well as spiritual terms. As the COVID-19 pandemic resurges, we are again faced with the horrible possibility of distanced goodbyes and things left undone. Perhaps you can lessen the burden if you are prepared in advance.

Consider these steps as investments in peace of mind. And since you won’t be out holiday shopping or cooking a turkey, you will have time in the weeks ahead to confront this issue in an organized way.

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There is a link to my Personal Financial Organizer form at the top right corner of my website, www.TerrySavage.com. You can fill it out on your computer and then print it out — or print out as many blank copies as you like for friends and family. It will be a guide to your loved ones if you are unable to communicate. And it will serve as a reminder of things undone.

On these four pages you’ll be able to list all your important financial information, from the location of your will to your banking and investment accounts and insurance policies. If you have a safe deposit box, list it here. There’s a section for all the important contact numbers of your attorney, accountant, financial adviser and insurance agent. Make a list of your credit card numbers and the toll-free numbers to call for replacements (handy if you lose the card). And much more.

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All in all, it adds up to quite a project! The process helps get your mind, as well as your financial affairs, in order. And you can use this slow time at year-end to make some adjustments. Here are my suggestions:

—Check your beneficiaries. Every insurance policy and retirement account should have a named beneficiary. That’s because these accounts pass directly to the people you have listed, outside your will. You don’t need a lawyer to make changes. Simply contact the fund management company or insurance company and ask for a “change of beneficiary” form. Some will require a “signature guarantee” from a notary or bank.

—Sign a healthcare power of attorney and living will. These are two separate documents. The first authorizes someone you trust to make decisions about your healthcare if you cannot do so for yourself. The living will gives your wishes about prolonging life when reasonable treatment has failed. Yes, this is a morbid thought on a nice weekend morning. But having those two documents could save anguish for your loved ones. You don’t need an attorney for these documents. Search online for those two forms, for your state of residence. Sign them and attach them to this financial organizer form so that they are available in an emergency. Also give a copy to your physician.

—Update your will or, better yet, your revocable living trust. Please search the columns at my website for more information about these two topics. A simple will is enough for many people, but a revocable living trust has many advantages — if you remember to retitle your property in the name of the trust.

In either case, this is definitely NOT a do-it-yourself project. You won’t be around to correct your mistakes by the time they are found! Find an estate planning attorney through your local bar association or bank trust department and do it right.

—Organize everything else. Where are your most recent tax returns, the deed to your home, the title to your car, your life insurance policies, your IRA statements? Do you have a pre-paid funeral policy or cemetery deed? Don’t leave it to a grieving family member to search through disorganized paperwork and benefits cards while dealing with emotional trauma.

Purchase a small plastic file box and a few folders. Store this completed financial organizer form and your significant papers together. And let your trusted spouse or adult child know where you have placed it in your home.

Yes, it may seem morbid to organize your end of life documents at a time when we traditionally cheer the holiday season. But this activity may be strangely comforting, a chance to make order out of the random nature of this dreadful pandemic. And that’s The Savage Truth.

(Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and the author of four best-selling books, including “The Savage Truth on Money.” Terry responds to questions on her blog at TerrySavage.com.)

©2020 Terry Savage. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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