In Search of Peace of Mind
The one thing that all people seek is peace of mind. There is a different road for each family, but the end game is the same.
The process of getting one’s affairs in order helps families assemble their important documents in one place and makes sure that the information is accessible and understandable.
Getting My Own House in Order
Twenty years ago, my wife and I had a young family and I was just starting to save some money, so I spent a few months pulling together our paperwork, plans and instructions so they would all be in one place. I wanted to have everything in order and to make sure our financial picture was clear and secure for my family.
I updated our wills and trusts, compiled all of our important documents, and wrote explanations why we had what we had. I also wrote instructions “what to do next.” I wanted everything to be so well organized it could be handed over to someone else if my wife didn’t want to deal with the details. So I prepared it for my brother-in-law, who is very smart and highly educated, but not schooled in financial and estate matters. Too many times I had witnessed a surviving spouse, struggling with emotions and unfamiliar issues, wondering what their spouse would have done. I wanted to spare my family that anguish if possible.
The First Step Was a Letter
As I started gathering the details and preparing instructions, as invaluable as it was, I knew the process would be incomplete if I didn’t write my wife a letter telling her how much she meant to me. The next letters were to my daughters, and finally I wrote to siblings and close friends. It took time, but after the letters were read, the smiles and tears let me know it was worth it.
Spreading the Word
As I shared the idea with a few people, it quickly became apparent that most people do not do a good job at organizing themselves and need help. Not that they can’t figure it out, rather, they just never get around to it. In one case, I was explaining this to a married couple who were clients. He was a retired partner of a national accounting firm. I offered to send my organizer to them after I had compiled it. Before he could respond his wife said, “Skip him, and send it directly to me.”
“It’s All in My Top Right Hand Drawer”
The second couple I mentioned this to was also a client. We were in their home discussing their investment accounts and I shared what I was doing for myself and how valuable I thought it was. The husband was polite but dismissed it saying he already had done everything and it was all in the “top right hand drawer” of his desk. To which his wife retorted, “Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t know where to start or what to look for. Please send me your binder”
I knew I was on the right track.
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments but what is woven into the lives of others.”
Why Go Through the Hassle?
Among the greatest gifts parents can give to their family is thoughtful direction about values. Creating a legacy is much more than leaving money or named buildings. Part of it includes teaching stewardship and how to be responsible for things large and small. Taking care of one’s family matters is a first step and an excellent teaching opportunity, especially as adult children become involved in weightier matters.
Overseeing a family enterprise can be either overwhelming or manageable. To the extent the family’s affairs are well organized, thoughtful processes are in place, good advisors are on the team, and the persons responsible are well trained, even the most complex families can sustain leadership changes without undue disruption.
To keep this concise, below I offer a brief check list, which is really a just starting point. Each family is unique.
- Wills, trusts, and powers of attorney
- Legal documents, deeds, titles, partnerships, shareholder agreements
- Corporate retirement benefits, life insurance
- Personal financial statement
- Bank and financial statements
- Mortgages, notes, debts
- Advisors contact information
Since then my list has grown and includes:
- Schedule of entities – trusts, LLCs, etc.
- Schedule of P&C insurance
- Medical and durable powers of attorney
- Final instructions, directives
- Letters to trustees and executors
- Safe deposit information
- Investment policy
- Business ownership documents
- Children data
- Family values, legacy
- Philanthropic perspectives
- Personal, family life goals
- Budgets, income and cash flow statements
Time is Short, Do It Now
We can always put off these things until tomorrow. But if you simply start, before you know it, you will be done. Start today, your family will thank you for it.
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