What were your resolutions?

Every New Year starts out with a promise of bigger and better things for our life. We are eager to get started and to make a difference. Then, somewhere along the line, generally a few weeks or months at best, we lose the focus and fall into the same ‘ol same ‘ol of the past years.

Why is that? Most of the time it is because we haven’t written down and committed to what we want. Let’s take a few minutes to start thinking about what we want for ourselves and our families in the new year.

Usually for ourselves we want the standard things. We often say that this year we are going to:

  • Lose weight
  • Eat better
  • Exercise
  • Spend more time with our family
  • Clean out that closet we ignore
  • ___________________(you fill in the blank).

Decide what it is you really want. If losing weight is important (believe me, I relate), then write down a goal for each week. I like to record these on my calendar. That way they are in front of me. I know each week I will see it (whether I like it or not). This will help you keep it in mind, and keep working on it.

So what should you do about getting started on that document organizing project you keep putting off every year? Come on, you know that it is so very important, but you just can’t seem to get going.

I am here to help. Start by writing down a goal. Here are a few examples:

  • By the end of January, I will have all my documents in one place.
  • At the end of February, I will have sorted through my documents and disposed of those I can get rid of.
  • In March, I will start to categorize my documents into four simple categories. (More on this to come.)
  • Etc…..

Did you notice something about the above list? I didn’t say I want to, or I will try, or I would like to, I said I WILL. Make the commitment, make it solid, but make it achievable.

So where are you on the resolutions you made last month?​

Till next post, keep it real.

Why Do You Refuse To Do Planning?

Most financial service professionals can quickly rattle off a list of reasons why everyone needs to have their files organized and then implement an estate plan. Even if it is just a simple will, everyone needs one. On that we can all agree. It takes lots of effort to convince someone that they need to do some pre-planning. It is very similar to trying to convince someone to brush their teeth, see a doctor once a year, or eat their veggies. They know what the right thing to do is but for some reason they refuse to do it.

Then the main question is why, according to statistics, less than half of individuals and/or families actually have done that planning? What is the deal with that? Everyone knows what the right thing to do is, but less than half do it. It’s like knowing that playing with fire will get you burned, but you play with fire anyway.

So after a good amount of research I have come up with a list of the “whys”. Here are my top five reasons you don’t follow through with planning.

1. It’s work! All of us are very, very busy. We all have lots of demands on our time. To do estate planning correctly, it means pulling out paperwork, looking up information, and thinking about what, where, how and why. No one needs extra work these days.

2. It brings successes and failures into close focus. As you review your portfolio, assets, liabilities, life insurance, annuities, and other investments, it comes into close focus that you are not where you had planned to be. It reminds you that life is not turning out as if you thought it would when you were 25. Reality is difficult sometimes.

3. You don’t think you need a plan. There is lots of information running around out there today regarding who needs to plan and when. If you are resisting to begin with, and you have what you think is an estate under the level for inheritance tax, you will not believe you are in harm’s way of the tax authority. In your mind, you are exempt since you don’t have a tax issue. This is wrong thinking.

4. You don’t want to think or talk about death. Many people avoid the subject of death and dying. You have no feel, faith, or belief and therefore feel vulnerable. Running around in your head is the “good” person and the “bad” person you think you are.

5. You are uncomfortable talking about your money. Whether you have lots of money or not very much, you are uncomfortable talking about it. As we grow up we are taught that our money is a very private thing. Therefore, you feel exposed by talking about it, planning for it, and having someone else involved with it.

If you can overcome these excuses, you will be motivated to complete your estate planning. Many times a small step can lead you to be comfortable and that can lead to a larger step. If you can identify and understand why you keep procrastinating then maybe you will do something about it.

We are all facing the same end. Those that stop kicking the can down the road and get prepared will have greater peace of mind.

Start with something simple. Organize your files. That way you can take a good look at what the reality is and then do something about it. Once the files are all organized, you can take this information to a professional and see what the next step would be. This is a very non-threatening place to begin.

Start with my Caregiver Guide to Paperwork Management. It will walk you, step-by-step, through a simple file organizing system and get you started on the right path. You can access it here:

Caregivers Guide to Paperwork Management

It won’t hurt as much as you may think….promise!!

Is a “Living” Will An Oxymoron?

Living Will. It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Living as in alive, will as in a document that goes into effect when you die. Is that correct?

You can also think of the term “will” as a desire or resolve in regards to a particular situation.

Let’s take a look at what such a situation could be.

Let’s suppose one of your relatives is in a car accident. They are physically alive with the help of machines to breath for them and keep their heart pumping, but the brain has no activity. What would be their desires if they knew they would be in this situation?

They are suffering from a terminal illness. They have endured all the treatments the doctors said might help. They have lost all quality of life, and it is hard for them to communicate. What is their wish?

Let’s say a friend had a massive stroke. They cannot take care of themself, they cannot talk, they lie in bed all day and that is it. There is no hope it will get better. If they have another stroke, it might be the death of them; however with some lifesaving techniques, they could continue to live. Do they want this?

Your family member has some sort of medical calamity and lapses into a coma. They have no hope of recovering. What would they want their loved ones to do?

These types of situations are faced by people all over the world every day. Making those decisions can be difficult, emotional, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, stressful, and can turn family members against each other.

Would you want that for your family? I don’t think many of us would. So how do you prevent this?

Let’s talk for a moment about what happens if they do not have a living will. What happens may go something like this:

The relatives, (children, nieces, nephews, siblings, parents, what have you) show up and begin to debate what the person would have wanted in this situation. Some of them will be in favor of “letting them go” (letting them die a natural death) and others will want to put them on life support “just in case” there is a chance they may survive.

The two factions will start to argue about what their wishes would have been. They are arguing a life and death situation. Feelings will run very deep here. The hospital (or care facility the patient is in) will not enter into the discussion, but will tell both camps what needs to be done to enforce their point of view.

Hence, an attorney will be contacted. This attorney will draw up papers that will say relative A has more right to make the decision than relative B because……………..he is a closer blood relative, your family member liked him more, your family member told her that they wanted to have this or that, they told him they trusted him, they told her that they didn’t like A, etc., etc., etc. Get the message?

Then the different camps will all get attorneys and they will take it to court. Now a judge is involved and he (or she) hears all the arguments from each one, why, who, because, when, blah, blah, blah.

The judge will take some time to review all this, and at some point render his or her decision. This decision may or may not be what your family member would have wanted. After all, the judge doesn’t know them.

So that’s the end, right? Hardly!!! Now those that didn’t get their way file an appeal. This can go on and on and on. Remember, they honestly believe they are acting in the person’s best interest. However, their relationships with one another are torn apart.

Meanwhile, your sick family member is at the mercy of all the bickering, legal, and emotional garbage.

So, is this what you would want for your family?

That is what a living will is for. You will make this decision before any of the above happens. This legal document allows the signor to direct their care when they are unable to communicate. It allows the family to have peace about the decision because it is THEIR decision, not the family’s decision. It also allows the family to keep relationships intact and to mourn your family member (if that is the end result) together as a family.

Now for some specifics:
  • Each state has different rules and regulations regarding a living will. Although you can put one together through one of the legal websites, please have it reviewed by an attorney to make sure it will be recognized in their state.
  • These documents only become effective when you are declared (by a health care professional) unable to make your desires known.
  • You can change your living will if you so desire. If you want to have all methods of keeping you alive but change your mind and want to die a natural death, you can re-file the living will.
  • You will not just be left to die. You are given what is called palliative care. You will be cared for and kept comfortable.
  • You should carry some sort of ID or notification that you have a living will and the place it can be found. This is where the organization comes in. Along with the location, a list of people to call in cases of accident or sudden illness should also be available.

I have seen families torn apart by the lack of a living will. It is so easy to do. For the sake of your family, encourage everyone to take care of this now.

If you need help, please contact us here at Family DocuMap. We are the experts at personal and financial document management. We are here for you and for your family.

Unclaimed Property – What’s the Big Deal?

You will have to excuse me while I blog about a pet peeve of mine: unclaimed property. It is something that is so (excuse my language, but) stupid!!

I subscribe to several RSS feeds and track keywords that relate to my business. I am amazed to see so many articles on unclaimed property. What is the big deal and what is going on? Well, with a little research and a few calculations, I now understand what the big deal is. Permit me to lay it out for you.

First, what is unclaimed property? Well, the definition can actually change from state to state. But, believe it or not, there is actually a National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). Really? There is so much unclaimed property that they have a professional association? Wow, that says something!

Anyway NAUPA defines unclaimed property as:

Unclaimed property (sometimes referred to as abandoned) refers to accounts in financial institutions and companies that have had no activity generated or contact with the owner for one year or a longer period. Common forms of unclaimed property include savings or checking accounts, stocks, uncashed dividends or payroll checks, refunds, traveler's checks, trust distributions, unredeemed money orders or gift certificates (in some states), insurance payments or refunds and life insurance policies, annuities, certificates of deposit, customer overpayments, utility security deposits, mineral royalty payments, and contents of safe deposit boxes.

You notice that this does not include actual property such as a piece of land or a house. If you read very carefully, what they mean by “property” is actually cash. Unclaimed cash…….mmmmmmmm. Sounds good to me.

I wonder why unclaimed property became an issue. After looking a little further I found out that most of the states enacted their unclaimed property legislation during the 1940s. Every state has legislation that determines how the unclaimed property is managed.

I think that during and after World War II, states started noticing that bank accounts and other things had been abandoned. Could the trauma of war, families being split up, people enlisting in the service and many, many times never coming back started this issue? Then we moved into the 50s and families became more transient. Households that had very often consisted of three or more generations, no longer did. Children went off to college and didn’t come back home after graduation. The family farm became something of the past as we moved into cities and factories.

BOOM!! People can no longer be found and the unclaimed property issue springs up. No one kept records on what they had. I wonder how many granddaughters don’t have that special ring that Grandma put away in the safe deposit box but forgot to write down so someone would know it was there.

My entire purpose of this blog is to get you to realize that your clients are vulnerable to: a) being a claimant to family members’ lost fortunes, or b) having their possessions lost for future generations.

It really doesn’t hurt that much to document what is there. Why is this not done? Probably because people don’t think about it.

If you are need to document and organize someone’s personal and financial records, you must ask the question about a safety deposit box. Maybe valuables are in someone’s possession for safekeeping. Whatever the circumstance, get a list and let it be known that there are valuables other than the checking and investment accounts.

Okay, I say to myself, just how much unclaimed property is there? Well nationwide it is a very large number. The NAUPA estimates that approximately $41.7 billion is held by the states waiting for someone to claim it.

How long would someone have to claim their property? Well it appears in most states they hold on to it until you, or your heirs, claim it. That could be a very long time.

Unfortunately, in our world of instant information, some businesses have grown up because of this issue. People are spending time to track down individuals or their heirs and telling them they have unclaimed property. They won’t tell them where the property is and then they charge a fee (around 10% of the value) to “recover” it for them. With a little research you can find property yourself.

A good place to start is the NAUPA website (http://www.unclaimed.org/default.asp). This will guide you to your state’s unclaimed property department. Most of the states have a searchable website where you can put in names and it will return information if there is any property held in that name.

You could be a hero to your family. Think about maiden names, parent’s names, etc. Ask about what states your family has lived in. Then do a quick search. Could you uncover some hidden treasure? Can you imagine what that could do for you as someone who cares for someone and takes the time to go above and beyond?

Just for fun I went to several states that I knew my family had resided in. Specifically, I went to New York, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota. I entered all four of my grandparents’ names and then the names of my mother and father. This is what I found:

My father has unclaimed property in the state of Florida. Dad has been dead since 2002.

There is a potential my maternal grandfather has property in the state of Iowa. It looks like stock and is valued at over $100. Grandpa died in 1963.

I think it is at least worth looking into. You never know; I may retire!!

Stay tuned, more to follow.