It’s an old black and white film. The doctor, in a business suit, sits behind a desk and delivers the line, “You need to get your affairs in order.” Back then it was an aphorism -- a way not to say, “You have cancer.” But the words have meaning for us at all stages of our lives. Whether in our 20s or our 80s, we need to get our affairs in order. The documents and the plans for when we are gone are a gift to ourselves and to our loved ones.
In our 20s we may just need to find a job and develop a sound credit rating. A few years later, it’s settling down, buying a house, perhaps raising a family and managing what can be a rather chaotic transition in our lives. But at a certain age, it’s not just about planning to live, it’s about planning for those who will live after us. It’s not just about wills and related documents. It’s about making our lives successful while we are here and providing for our loved ones after we are gone.
Simplify your life! A wise man once said, “You don’t own things, things own you.” Sort, organize and give away, throw out, donate, or recycle what is not used or needed. Clothes you haven’t worn in two years, out they go! Got furniture in the basement, attic or wherever that is old and unused? Someone else can find a use for it. Piles of books you’ll never read, or read again - mementos that mean nothing to you, and less than nothing to your heirs, tools unused for years? Get them to someone who will get good use out of them.
Simplify your financial affairs. If it’s hard to figure out what’s going on with one brokerage account, do you really need three? And if you have two or three bank accounts in different places, is there a purpose? If so, keep them. If not, consolidate and keep the best one. Review expenses for things you don’t use, like the top tier cable, when you don’t watch the premium channels, or an unused health club membership. And perhaps the biggest gift to yourself and loved ones is to simplify your business affairs if you still have business interests. For lingering disputes with partners in a real estate or business investment, someone will have to sort it out; better you take care of it than leaving it to your spouse or children to resolve.
What are you good at? What do you love to do? What fuels your passion? Getting your affairs in order is about finding meaning and purpose for our lives and being grateful for what we, or friends and family do to bring happiness and joy to ourselves and others.
Make or review your will. Check to see if your will still does what you want. And make sure you have a health care directive and some form of power of attorney to allow medical and financial decisions to be made for you when you can’t make them for yourself. Check that beneficiary designation (or other transfer on death provisions) for life insurance, bank and brokerage accounts are set up to do what you currently wish. And for those whose spouse has passed on, consider looking again at your estate plan. You may want to check and see if a few simple actions can avoid probate. Plan your funeral. What do you want? Consider preplanning and pre-paying the funeral you want either directly or through insurance.
Are your affairs in order? That doesn’t mean you are preparing for death, but rather that you are prepared to enjoy life no matter your age. Take comfort in knowing that your family will not have additional financial and legal stresses when you are no longer here. Every day do a little dance, give a little love and get on with life. That’s the best part of getting our affairs in order!
EPPIA is a networking group whose members are committed to the welfare of seniors in our community. EPPIA members meet to learn, exchange information and discuss issues in the field of aging. For more information on EPPIA and local senior resources, please visit our website at www.edenprairieaging.org