Putting Your House in Order

***Time for this blog? Reading…7 minutes. Activating…up to you.

In my last blog, I talked about dealing with your things. Given today’s title, you may have anticipated ideas about sorting and distributing your possessions before you die. I will address that, but not yet. Today I want to discuss a less tangible, more abstract aspect of putting your house in order.

The paperwork…

No one’s favorite topic, I know. But if we don’t do it when we can—long before the end is in sight—we will leave a stressful mess behind.

Dealing with that mess will be much more challenging than clearing out your physical stuff. When it comes to belongings, your kids can bring in a junk removal service and have everything gone in a day so they can get your house on the market.

But…

If you don’t have your documents in place, they won’t be able to sell the house you own. That is a legal process and you must have given them the authority to act on your behalf. Without your authorization, they will have to jump through hoops to be allowed to handle your affairs. Settling your estate will cost extra time, trouble, and money.

Documents you need in place… 

How can you ensure that your survivors are able to sell your house, pay your outstanding Visa bill, and manage your investments until they legally inherit the estate? That is the role of your Will—to give authority to someone you name to wrap up your financial affairs after you’ve died. In your will, you specify how you want your estate distributed. The person who you name, known as the executor, is in charge of making it so.

And what if…

Suppose you aren’t yet dead but need your family to take over managing your financial affairs. This is a realistic possibility, given the increasing rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia these days. 

How are assets managed and bills paid in a situation where you’re physically or mentally impaired? You can’t do it, but nor can your executor because the will only comes into effect after you have died. And your bank will not allow family members to march in and take over your accounts, even if they arrive with a compelling story about your inability to do it.

On one hand, that is reassuring. But this rigorous protection of your assets works against you if you haven’t prepared for someone to take over your affairs when you are alive but incapable. That is why you need to draw up a Power of Attorney while you are still mentally sound. For all of us, this means doing it sooner rather than later.

The place to start…

There is other paperwork you need, but start with your Will and Power of Attorney. If you’ve completed these documents and recently reviewed them to be sure they are still current, you get a gold star!

If you haven’t tackled your paperwork yet, here’s a good question to ask yourself…

Why not?

What is stopping you?

Awareness is the first step toward getting these documents written. Never underestimate the motivating power of awareness. Once you know what’s standing in your way, you can do something about it and get on with the task at hand.

Often it is unconscious, unspoken beliefs that sabotage our best intentions. There are many ways to release or adjust unconstructive beliefs once we know what they are. This previous blog points you to several of those modalities.

Sometimes it is our assumptions that trip us up. Don’t we all know that “lawyers charge hundreds of dollars an hour”? The problem with assumptions is that we treat them as fact—and that stops us from finding out what the situation really is. So we become immobilized by incomplete information. If that’s your stumbling block, maybe this information will help…

  • In a quick search of “Calgary lawyers fee for wills,” I saw that lawyers are typically charging a flat fee rather than an hourly rate. For you, this means you’ll know how much the end product will cost. There are no surprises, and you can shop around to compare fees and what you get for them. The Internet has been a game-changer in this process.
  • Among the seven lawyers’ websites I looked at, flat fees for a simple will range from $400-$600. If you have complicated family relationships and/or finances, it will take more time and thus cost more. You would find that out in your initial meeting and should be given an estimate of the cost in your particular situation. You can decide then if you want to proceed or get another opinion. By the way, it is entirely your right to assess the lawyer at your first meeting and move on if you feel you can’t work with that person.
  • Ideally, a couple prepares their wills together and the documents mirror each other. Fees reflect this by charging couples less than double the amount for one person. Examples from my research, with the couples fee in brackets: $400 ($500); $500 ($750); $600 ($900).
  • Some lawyers offer a package deal for preparing your Will, Power of Attorney, and Personal Directive (Living Will). One example was $900 ($1200). Side note: It is not required that your Personal Directive (Living Will) be made by a lawyer. You can fill out the appropriate forms yourself and sign them in the presence of a witness. More about this another time.

The paperwork required to prepare for death is no one's favourite topic. But if we don't do it when we can—long before the end is in sight—we will leave a stressful mess behind. #death #dying

If this exploration reveals any insights you’d like to share… or questions you want to ask… please do so in the comment box below.

Please note: Laws vary between provinces, states, and countries. I’m using information from where I live to illustrate principles, but you will need to check the details in your jurisdiction. The Internet is a good resource for this.

What to do with your things?!!

*** Time for this post? Reading…3 minutes. Mind shifting…in an instant, if you decide it will.

We’re at the time of year when people are making New Year’s resolutions—or thinking they should be. I’ve never found New Year’s resolutions to be effective. Here’s why.

But the energy of the new year does seem to propel us toward change. It stirs up all the things on the mental to-do lists lurking in the back of our minds—the big and impossible-seeming jobs like losing 40 pounds, getting our personal papers in order, purging our house of all the excess.

Our brain spits out this list of onerous scenarios for what we “should do” and leaves us feeling discouraged or, worse yet, inept when we inevitably cannot muster the energy to make them happen.

Downsizing is not a constructive concept…

As we get older and anticipate departing from this world, our lifetime of accumulated objects can feel onerous, a burden, too much to manage and maintain.

“Downsizing” is a popular term among elders these days. I think, though, that it is not a helpful concept. Downsizing puts the emphasis on quantity, on getting rid of things. It causes us to feel guilty or inept for having acquired these items in the first place and then stored them for all these years. 

Downsizing is not a constructive concept. It paralyzes rather than motivates us. We need a mind shift...
Mind shift…

What if, instead of focusing on what we will get rid of, we look for the treasures in what we have. The point is to keep the treasures and move the rest along in appropriate ways.

Accept that we all have kept some junk—something that has outlived its usefulness to anyone. If you don’t want to use a chipped teapot or a saucepan that doesn’t sit flat on the burner, why would anyone else? Yet there it is, lurking in your storage room, haunting you every time you open the door.

If you can’t think of a use for it…

Forgive yourself for harbouring it all these years, say goodbye respectfully, and let it go.

Another time we’ll talk about approaches and logistics for lightening your load of excess things. For now, I encourage you to repeat this mantra daily if you’re intimidated by a “big sort” awaiting you…

Mind Shift
 

Gifting from Your Treasures

**Time for this post?  Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…2 minutes. Unearthing your treasures…up to you.

In 1994, Stephen Covey co-authored First Things First: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy. There are many concepts in that book that informed my thinking, but it was the subtitle that really stuck with me. Here’s how he explained it:

There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfillment. The essence of these needs is captured in the phrase “to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.”

The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economic well-being, health.

The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved.

The need to learn is our mental need to develop and to grow.

And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution.

For an expanded description, go here. Or you might enjoy this two-minute visual experience.

To leave a legacy…

I was about forty-eight when I read First Things First. I didn’t really understand the legacy part. Now, twenty-four years later, I get it. I’ve reached the stage of life when leaving a legacy becomes the focus. When the horizon seems near, we think about leaving a mark, about being remembered when we are gone.

Often we think of a person’s legacy as a large body of work that keeps them in our awareness long after their death. Think of Wayne Dyer, Elvis Presley, Jane Austen. But being remembered is not reserved just for famous people. We all live in association with others, and the connections we foster in our daily lives become a significant part of our legacy.

A legacy of experiences…

My dear friend Norma was a dietitian and professional home economist, passionate about her profession and her family. When Norma’s granddaughter Katie spoke at her memorial service, it was clear that cooking with Gran was a significant experience. Katie recalled standing on a stool at the kitchen counter, learning what goes into cakes and cookies, and practising how to measure accurately. Today she bakes in a gourmet doughnut shop and is complimented by her employers for her depth of knowledge. Norma was a kind, generous, and quietly determined person. I imagine Katie learned a lot more than baking techniques in the time she spent with her Gran.

Sometimes these memories stay top-of-mind, but often they fade over time. Most families have photos of good times and seminal experiences. As our children move through middle age, I think it’s constructive to reconnect them with who they were when they were young and hopeful. We can do this by sorting through the family photos and sharing the treasures.
Gifting Ideas

A legacy of material possessions…

For many people, financial inheritance comes to mind when they hear the word legacy. Money is one of the physical things we leave behind, but not the only one. Most of us have a combination of family heirlooms and our own precious objects with stories of how we acquired them.

The stories are an important part of the objects, yet they are lost when we don’t make a conscious effort to pass them along. Without the stories, our belongings become just old things.
giftinh Ideas

A legacy of what you know…

How many of us have said, “I wish I knew how Mom made _____________. I found the recipe when I cleaned out her kitchen, but it doesn’t turn out the same when I make it.”
A few years ago, it hit me that my family would put “fudge” in the blank. I learned the principles of sugar crystallization in a food science lab at university, then developed and refined my fudge-making method over the years. I use the recipe from the lab book, which is the same as almost any basic fudge recipe.

The magic is in the unwritten techniques such as washing down undissolved crystals with a pastry brush while the mixture is cooking, transferring the cooked sugar syrup to a clean bowl, cooling until barely lukewarm, and having a strong stirring arm. All of these support the formation of fine crystals. The result is, my family will tell you, the smoothest most-gorgeous fudge you will ever find, says she in all modesty 🙂

Everyone has these recipes. Think about it and I’m sure you’ll come up with at least a few of yours that can’t be duplicated without extra instructions. Maybe it’s something you learned from you mom and it has never been written down. Which reminds me, I must get my mom’s potato salad recipe down on paper with the particular methods that make it like no other. My kids ask me to bring it to family meals, and they will be disappointed if they can’t reproduce the unique texture and flavour when I’m no longer here to do it.

Sharing our treasures…

Here’s my share. Click on the snowman to find out how to make the fudge that’s in the tin. You’ll get a copy of the recipe sheet (maybe more properly called a booklet!) that I prepared a few years ago so my kids can make fudge as I know it.

So…what treasures do you have to share? Not just recipes, but anything that came to mind as you read this blog. Delight and inspire us by leaving your shares in the comment box.