By Beth Krueger
It’s a tale of two households and, with variation, many households.
Her memory was slipping significantly. Her husband had died a number of years ago. Living independently, even with the aides who had arrived daily in increased hours, was no longer an option. Her neighbors, as well as family, had noticed that. She was moving to an assisted living complex. Relatives arrived to help her make the move and to close the small house to place it on the market. Cleaning out the many belongings was a daunting job. They discovered that it wasn’t limited to clothing, personal items, supplies and furnishings. There was a surprise. Paperwork of operating a household—account statements, invoices, etc., many unsealed in their envelopes, were everywhere, including under the cushion of her favorite living room chair. The cable company, grocer, something ordered from the hardware store, the hairdresser and more. Family was familiar with the major elements, such as bank accounts, utilities payments, power of attorney and other advance directives in place, etc. but this proliferation of paper with status unknown became a scene out of a forensic files episode—the household version.
In our second family, the couple regularly updated the list of numbers and locations of accounts, investments and the like. The daughter knew where to find this list. Owners’ manuals were in one place and even the pipes and valves had little cards explaining their purposes and how to take action in an emergency. As to day-to-day operations, there was a ledger of expenses. For major expenditures, a list was kept of when the furnace was replaced, when the roof repaired, how much these projects cost, and so on. Why this approach? Well, one had a bookkeeping background; they both came from households where payments, holdings and what’s where were not entirely clear. They thought they would do things differently and it gave them peace of mind. In years ahead, the next generation was grateful for this diligence.
Resource: My Family Record Book
If you and your family need to get their records in shape and have a communications plan so that all this information gets conveyed when necessary, where do you start? Harris (“Hershey”) Rosen has an answer for you. He is the author of My Family Record Book, tag-lined “The Easy Way to Organize Personal Information, Financial Plans, and Final Wishes for Senior Caregivers, Estate Executors, etc.” (paperback; available www.amazon.com). A subtitle might also be “Where are the car keys?”
This 218-page book goes beyond checklists and beyond the basics of the usual items of bank accounts, investments, tax records, and so on. The order of chapters shows Rosen’s mind at work, beginning with segments on considering and becoming comfortable with why you are undertaking this project and tips for preparing your version of the guide. Rosen then sets out timelines and what information is needed when a loved one dies and “so your loved ones can go on living,” including banking and bills, insurance of all sorts, health and medical information, and household information from alarm systems, to passwords, to home maintenance professionals, to charitable pledges. There’s also a segment on elements that should be addressed when downsizing to make that process more organized and less stressful. The final portion of the book is a treasure trove of tips for creating your guide, including how to organize the document, how to create tables, and where to find helpful resources. Like a good mystery book, don’t jump to the end but soak up the information from this voice of experience. And remember, a critical part of this project is regular updating and periodic review for changes.
A project that shouldn’t wait
Like the second family described (who would have found the book very helpful in identifying additional topics), this is a project that should not wait until senior years or when planning for retirement, but should be in place when needed. We often don’t’ get to decide, whether the circumstances involve illness, injury or loss of a loved one. Rosen told us that he realized that he had a wealth of family and household information in his head and should record it so that it was at hand when needed. The project, initially 20-40 pages, “was really for my wife,” he recalled. He also shared it with his estate attorney and talked to friends about it. With encouragement, he created a guide that was placed in a local bookstore, to great response. That led to the current book, which was three-four years in development. He would think of a topic, jot it down, fill it out, add another, and another, he explained.
In discussions about the project, many people shared that they had not organized such information at all or only had touched the surface. “Why not plan ahead?” he observed. Creating a guide for your loved ones prevents “unnecessary additional pain” of understanding the what, where, when and why of a household.
Consideration should also be given to sharing pertinent pieces of information with those beyond your loved ones, such as estate information for your attorney and executor/executrix, your planned funeral arrangements with your place of worship; financial information for your accountant.
A resident of Providence, Rhode Island, Rosen is especially qualified to offer organizational guidance. This Harvard graduate served as a financial control officer for the U.S. Army, receiving commendation for improving its worldwide accounting system. His next chapter was a 40-year career running a candy business delicious job, he said—where he instituted a system for locating any item in five factories encompassing 600,000 square feet. He also has been a popular team-teacher of management courses at the University of Rhode Island where, like this book, he raises real-life situations with his students. For those who do not have such background, we have Harris Rosen.
What have been readers’ reactions? Some ask, “Where were you when I needed you?” he noted. Others tell him that they “feel much better having taken the steps to create their own guide”—“It’s an emotional relief.” One couple reported that they bought multiple copies—for dad and for each other. Another noted, “I thought I was fairly organized in this area until I read this book and quickly realized that there were many crucial issues that I had not begin to address.” “Putting down the data is a vehicle that gives you emotional confidence to help your loved ones in going on living. All your life, you seek to protect your family,” Rosen observed. Why not take this additional step?