With Mother's Day coming up, and Father's Day soon after, perhaps it's time to have a family discussion about what will happen when the unspeakable occurs. Death isn't pleasant to talk about, but if you're willing to have that conversation, you'll make things much easier in the future.
No one likes to think about mortality. But sooner or later, our time will come.
Will we leave a giant puzzle for our loved ones and heirs to figure out? Or will we smooth the way to making this transition a bit less painful, leaving them able — and legally empowered — to handle the assets we leave behind?
By the way, this is not a discussion just for aging parents. Families with young children need to organize their finances as well. Who will know the passwords to access everything from bank accounts and 401(k) plans to your valuable cache of airline miles?
Years ago, I created a Personal Financial Organizer form, which is available on my website, TerrySavage.com, when you sign up for my free newsletter. Click on the link and you can print out as many copies as you want and give them to friends and family to create their own financial road maps.
This four-page form is used both as a discussion starter and an organizational tool. Once filled out, it serves as a guide to locating your investment accounts, bank and brokerage accounts, will and estate planning documents, cemetery deed, safe deposit box and keys, passwords and credit card account numbers and myriad other documents that would be hard to find in a crisis or after you're gone.
But Harris Rosen, a retired executive, has taken it a step further in “My Family Record Book.” The octogenarian has explained not only what you should organize, but why — and he explains the pitfalls and consequences of not knowing this important information.
Rosen speaks directly to seniors, giving resources and references on everything from how to order a tombstone to services that will take care of your pet after you are gone. There is an entire section on downsizing after the loss of a spouse and advice on how to dispose of furniture and clothing to charitable organizations that will make good use of these items.
But mostly he focuses on organizing your financial papers to make life easier for your survivors.
Two other books of a similar genre are the best-selling “Getting it Together” by Melanie Cullen, published by Nolo Press, which includes downloadable forms, and the spiral-bound “Peace of Mind Planner” by Peter Pauper Press. Both make your planning organized and accessible to family members.
These tools provide a starting point for important discussions about end-of-life matters, from locating health care directives and powers of attorney to planning a funeral or finding the policies and assets that will allow the survivors to deal with financial issues.
Yes, it's a tough subject to tackle on days that celebrate our parents, but it's not nearly as tough as it will be to try to figure it out in a crisis when your loved ones are not able or around to help you. 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.” She responds to questions on her blog at TerrySavage.com.