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The Life Transition Blog

Getting Your Affairs In Order: Transition Planning Makes A Difference


John and Jane Smith (names and some of the personal details changed to preserve the privacy of those involved) are a lovely couple in their mid-seventies who became southwest Florida snowbirds in 1996 and permanent residents in 2002. When I met them, the Smiths were both healthy and engaged in an active lifestyle. Their two adult daughters live in Connecticut and Ohio and lead busy lives with careers and families of their own. The elder Smiths have always been highly independent and determined never to become a burden on their children. They've consulted with an estate planning attorney and have a financial advisor they trust. Mr. Smith has always handled the bulk of the family finances and it was the Smith's financial advisor who first suggested that they consult with me regarding putting all of their day-to-day affairs in order so that if something happened to John, Jane would be able to take over. As it turns out, that advice was incredibly important.

When I first met with the Smiths, they weren't sure exactly why their financial advisor had suggested the meeting since John was confident that all of their financial details were under control. During that first meeting, we discovered that while John knew all of those details, that Jane had only a vague idea of what investments they had and had no idea what the password was for their online banking service which John used to pay most of their bills. She also didn't know where the insurance policy papers were kept or much about what they covered. Finally, we discovered that Jane did not have a credit card in her own name. During that first meeting, we discussed the various things that need to be done so that Jane could take care of the family finances in the event of John's incapacity. By the end of that first meeting, the Smiths agreed that their financial advisor was right and they needed some help getting their affairs organized.

I use a very detailed approach to helping clients to organize their affairs, the goal of which is to assemble all of their critical information in one place for easy access when it's needed. As we worked through the various topics, we made a list of all of the things that had to be done, the documents that had to be found, the bills that had to be paid, and the decisions that had to be made. Over the next several weeks, I worked with John and Jane to make sure that everyone stayed on track. The end product was a computer flash drive that contains all of the critical information, including scanned copies of important documents. I also prepared one hard copy version of the information in a binder since Jane is more comfortable with holding things in her hands than with accessing them on the computer. In addition to the things you'd expect to find, like account numbers, passwords and copies of military records, this repository also lists important vendors like the air conditioning company with which the Smiths have a service contract and the name and phone number of the dog walker for their beloved schnauzer Sam. The idea is that if something happens, the Smith's daughters (or another trusted person) can quickly take over.

In the Smith's case, we needed for Jane to apply for a credit card in her own name, so that she would have access to credit if something happens to John. We also discussed the Smith's end-of-life wishes and they decided to meet with a funeral director to make pre-need arrangements so that no one had to guess what they would have wanted. Finally, we prepared documents that permitted the Smith's daughters to have access to information about their various accounts in the event that was necessary.

As the final step in our process, I facilitated a conference call between the Smiths and their daughters. The stated objective of the conference call was to bring the girls up to speed in the event that both of their parents became incapacitated at the same time. While John and Jane did not want to turn the flash drive containing all of the information over to their daughters immediately, they did want them to know that this resource existed and where to find it.

As luck would have it, within several months of completing this effort, John suffered a stroke. While he is recovering well, Jane was able to easily step in and take care of the day-to-day matters that had previously been John's domain. The fact that the Smiths had prepared for this in advance meant that both were less stressed than they would have been during an otherwise difficult period.

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