Checking up on our own personal “state of the union” with our finances isn’t always the easiest thing to do, especially when finances have emotional components to them like when spouses don’t agree on priorities or income is tighter than what we’d prefer.

Especially when global economy issues are volatile, keeping an eye on your personal bottom line is important. “No!” you say, “I don’t want to look!” Being brave enough to “look” gives you lots of emotional and mental benefit which may even lead to financial benefits faster than you might think. “Looking” at your bottom line and being willing to take different actions to make changes does a number of things for you.

First of all, knowing where your finances stand gives measured mental and emotional relief due to the “great unknown” becoming more visible. When we don’t know exactly what’s happening, our autonomic nervous system can perceive it to be so much worse than it actually is. Getting clear on the nature of the problems at hand is the first step to solving them.

Secondly, the sooner you know the scope of an issue, the more lead time you have to consult professionals, get the proper advice and put a working plan in place.

Thirdly, as soon as you begin to take action, the emotional “cost” of procrastination, (the knowing you have something hanging over you needing your attention) will begin to lift, resulting in YOUR emotional load lightening, and more energy being available for the other areas of your life.

So, we’re sharing a piece of a sample year-long plan that you can start using today and customize to fit your family’s needs and interests. For example, in families with children, many parents like to use September as a “check on finance issues month” because the kids are back to school and they have more time. So feel free to add in what makes sense for your situation.

AUGUST’S ONLY TOPIC

This section deserves its own month because it’s a biggee – Death.

Often considered a “taboo” subject.

Often a fearful subject.

With some forethought, consideration and a generous dash of courage, it doesn’t have to be either fearful or taboo.

In today’s American society, it’s not as common for several generations of families to live together. Families tend to live in “nuclear” clusters (1 or 2 parents plus children) rather than larger family homes. Aging, caring for aging relatives and actual death are less frequently experienced by the average person. Aging, care-giving needs, and death are all subjects which should be talked about and “normalized” so that the attention can be put on enjoying and enriching these last years of life with loved ones.

This is where a family’s lifelong personal doctor or attorney, investment advisor or financial planner played an important role in the past, that of a trusted advisor during difficult life events. In the times we live in, that isn’t as common any longer. So it’s important to develop a relationship with an older, trusted person who can give you wise, objective advice and/or create a couple professional relationships that can serve you in that capacity. Here are our action steps for August. 

AUGUST ACTION STEPS

  1. Do you have an estate plan? If so, good for you! If not, why not? Everyone needs to give a little attention to deciding what is important to them in the case of their death. Even people in their 20s and 30s need at least a will to voice their final wishes. If you have an estate of any monetary value, then you most likely will want a living trust.
  2. If not, NOW is the time to begin work on your estate plan. One of the most familiar issues I hear from family members is “mom and dad haven’t made any arrangements” or “I have no idea what mom wants or where her important papers are.” So set an example! Don’t leave your spouse or kids wondering what your final wishes are, or what to do with certain assets, collectibles or heirlooms. At least, create a simple will that states what items you want to go to whom. If you don’t care, then state that fact. Find DIY books by Nolo here, a long-time legal publishing company.
  3. The point is to put your desires in writing.  If you have sizeable assets, then a will is not the best way to pass them on to your heirs. A lot will be lost in probate or estate taxes. A  better alternative is to create a living trust to distribute your assets upon death. Consult a legal professional to determine the best route for you. Truly, one of the biggest gifts you can leave for your spouse or children is a basic estate plan. This includes your wishes for funeral  arrangements, beneficiaries of your assets or treasured heirlooms you are passing on, and desires for emergency/hospital care/advance directives.  Thinking about our death isn’t easy for most people, but planning for it helps in the long run and prevents confusion. If there are several siblings, an estate plan can prevent conflict between family members because you have already spelled out the details for everyone. No one has to rely on conflicting accounts of, “mom told me this-or-that…..” or siblings disagreeing on important issues when they are in mourning and need to be supporting one another emotionally. Begin by outlining a few notes on a blank sheet of paper and come back to them periodically to add more detail or make changes.
  4. Are your parents or grandparents still alive? Find a way of sitting down with at least one of them (if not both) and start the conversation. Remember me saying, “one of the most familiar issues I hear from family members is “mom and dad haven’t made any arrangements” or “I have no idea what mom wants or where her important papers are?” This is SO common. More people do not have a plan than those who do. By not having some type of plan, people lose equity in their homes, lose belongings to the state, and leave one of the most sensitive areas of a human being’s life to chance! It actually creates quite a bit of peace of mind to know you have all these issues decided ahead of time. The National Institute on Aging (NIH) has more background information here on “getting affairs in order.”  If you are beginning the caregiver chapter in your parents’ or other loved one’s life, take a look at the AARP Caregiving website here for a variety of educational articles.

Once you have your plans on paper, make several copies and put them where you keep your critical papers and life insurance policies. Some people like to give a copy to the “responsible” relative that will take charge of arrangements. Others like to keep these items in a safe deposit box or a home safe. Just be sure that there is some way for your loved ones to access these important documents and be able to carry out your wishes in a loving and respectful way. We hope this is helpful to you!

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