Over the past year, our “Aging Gracefully” blogs have focused on the “us” of the aging process: attitude, appearance, health, lifelong learning. Now, I’d like us to change the focus for a moment from “us” to “them.” What about the people in our lives who’ll be responsible for dealing with all our stuff when we’re gone? I think there are some organizational things we should do right now giving us and our loved ones some peace of mind.
Planning Ahead Is Empowering
Yeah, I know… Who wants to think about this? Well, maybe some of you are less fainthearted than me and have your estate planning under control! You’ve made your wills and powers of attorney and made sure that all your paperwork is in order. You’ve done that. You’ve also given the necessary people access to the information.
Well, I hadn’t and it’s something that’s overlooked by people far too often, which is why I thought we could talk about it. If you think about it, it’s actually never too early to start putting these things in order. We all lead such complex lives with many careers and/or marriages/partnerships. Leaving our loved ones to unpick this maze without any guidance strikes me as a little unfair. The kind of information we should be gathering for them could be:
- Where’s your bank and investment account information stored; how do they gain access?
- Are any of your bills paid automatically? by which bank? when?
- How do you handle your sources of income (Social Security; pensions, interest payments)? Are they paid in automatically? Where? When?
- How do you pay your normal bills? Where’s your checkbook? credit cards? passwords to these?
- Does your partner/husband have different accounts and/or information?
- Where is your safe deposit key? What’s in the box and whose name is on the account?
- A list of contact information of important people in your lives.
The hardest part is just facing it and getting started. Once I made myself start I found the process of getting it all out of my head empowering and liberating.
How to begin? You could use a computer spreadsheet if you have the skill. In my case, this isn’t an option. So I looked at books on Amazon, ranging in price from $13 to $565. I ended up picking a spiral bound book called “Peace of Mind Planner”. When the book arrived the layout immediately put me at ease. I felt like I’d be able to follow along and complete it all. Using a guide like this provides me with a buffer. It’s such an emotional process, but the book depersonalizes the process. This allows me to manage my emotions and get the task done!
Once started it all starts to flow. Sometimes just finding where the information is requires some digging around. I expect to come up with more things that someone will need access to in the future. Capture everything and follow where it takes you.
It’s taken until recently for me to face this issue. My husband and I are in our eighties and seventies. The person who’s agreed to take responsibility when we’re gone doesn’t have a clue about any of this. And why should they! So, I am taking responsibility and making sure that when the time comes he’ll have everything he needs. It may not be easy, but I have tackled my procrastination head-on and found a way to move forward.
Mental Peace of Mind
We need to make many major decisions at this stage of life, including funeral and burial matters. We’re speaking here not so much about decision-making, but about a means of organization. In fact, it may be that as we begin to organize our stuff, we will start to think about and/or make decisions. These too must be shared!
A good way to begin the sharing is with a face-to-face conversation. My advice is to do this in a comfortable and private space. It will be an emotional conversation. It’s important to acknowledge and nurture the expressions of caring and concern that come up during this conversation. Most family members will have some difficulty with this type of conversation. Help the person who’s agreed to be your executor prepare emotionally to deal with it. I have started this conversation.
Finding Peace of Mind
Making all my vital information accessible has been my goal over the past few months. In a time of grief and an adjustment, it could be a great gift to our loved ones. Now that I know I can get the task done, hard as it is to get started, I can get back to the joys of aging gracefully with a little more peace of mind.
It’s a difficult subject to approach, but I hope you found this topic useful. Is this something you’ve taken care of already?