Wednesday, March 14

Slightly Morbid Spring Cleaning

At the risk of sounding a bit morbid or completely mundane, I'd like to talk about paperwork. Specifically, the kinds of legal and official paperwork most of us try to avoid: wills, titles, certificates, insurance policies - all the stuff that should come with complimentary bottles of Excedrin. 

Why am I talking about such a bleak subject? Because right about now you're  likely in Spring Cleaning mode. You have your sleeves rolled up and your spirits high (be it from the sunshine or all the cleaning solution fumes). You're also handling all your latest financial information, compliments of tax day in April. That combination lays the perfect foundation for a little much-needed housekeeping in your filing cabinet.

Please don't exempt yourself from this just because you're young, in good health, or assume you don't have any assets worth worrying about! 

As I try to explain to people when discussing succession planning, any one of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow - physically or metaphorically. Serious illness, injury, death or the dawn of the zombie apocalypse can happen to any of us at any time. Preparing to handle these potential crises as smoothly as possible is one of the best ways a person can love on and protect their family. 

It shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that laws are written to benefit the government rather than to reflect common sense. For your sake and your family's, you need to have your ducks in a row and not leave yourselves in the greedy, incapable hands of government!

Most of us drastically underestimate the legal complexity of what should be basic documents, as well as the amount of time and documentation required to update or replace crucial items like Social Security cards and certificates of marriage or birth. Take it from someone who knows: the whole system is a mess! It will take longer than you think, and God help you if you have to do it during a crisis or after someone has been incapacitated.

So where do you start?

1. Get Your Documents in Order. The graphic above is from the Wall Street Journal. If you click on the picture, it will take you to the larger, more readable graphic. You can also read the accompanying article here. Both are great starting points for figuring out what you need. Depending on your situation, you may be able to do most of it yourself with the help of free templates online. If your situation is more complex, consider investing in the services of an attorney or other professional who can help you navigate the system effectively.

2. Simplify Your Life. When is the best time to divest yourself of stuff and commitments you don't need/ use/ benefit from? Right now! Whether you're 26 or 86, use this process as a positive occasion to evaluate your life. If you find dead wood or messy, untied strings get rid of them! Focus on what's important and living well, and lose the rest. You're putting in the elbow grease to clean, sort and plan right now anyway so make the most of it!

3. Amplify Your Spring Cleaning. Two of the biggest challenges people often face in a crisis are clutter and disorganization! Shred or burn the boxes of old checks or receipts you'll never need. Properly file and clearly label important information like recent tax returns, mortgage papers and insurance policies. 
Compile critical information into central, easy to reference files or lists. (Need help? You find comprehensive and thought-provoking lists online or end-of-life planning books at your library. Whether you're planning for death or an apocalypse, you'll find much of the basic documentation similar.)

4. Talk to Your Family. Clearly, crises are not anyone's favorite topic of conversation. Depending on your family dynamics, the discussion can get heated and bring up old wounds, fresh resentment and buckets of guilt. But better to deal with all that mess now than in the middle of a crisis! Start slowly if you have to, but keep at it until everyone else gets on board (or at least knows what you're doing, whether they like it or not). Remember, even if they'd rather avoid thinking about the potential for a crisis altogether, this is something you're doing out of love and because it's your responsibility. The peace of mind on the other side of this messy, headache-inducing process is priceless.

Is your filing cabinet ready for the zombie apocalypse?

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