The Dreaded Conversation: Getting Your Affairs in Order

Steve McDonald By Steve McDonald
Bond Strategist


Here’s a tale from the retirement belt about “final details.”

In a recent conversation with one of my almost-retired friends, we talked about a topic all of us dread… the conversation you have with your doctor when he tells you to go home and get your affairs in order.

There’s obviously nothing any of us can do about when or how the end comes. And I’ve had too many near-death experiences in aircrafts in the Navy to worry about something as easy as dying in bed.

But the “getting my affairs in order” part hit home. That night, I tried to list all the accounts and documents my partner, Eileen, would need access to when I passed. I quickly realized, not only could I not find all of them, but I had forgotten about a few.

One of the big problem areas is my automatic payment accounts. You know, the ones we set up back in the ‘90s or 2000s and haven’t thought about in years – utilities, insurance, mortgages, etc.

I haven’t looked at a mortgage statement except during tax time for years. I don’t owe enough on either home to worry about them, but I couldn’t remember which mortgage company held which home. And I definitely had no idea how to find the account online.

I have three brokerage accounts, all managed paperless and online; two IRAs I never look at; life insurance; a 401(K); and 10 different things paid monthly and automatically on my credit card or from my checking account. And not one of those accounts had a paper trail.

This online and paperless thing is great and makes life easy, but have you given any thought as to how your spouse will piece things together after you check out without paper statements?

And don’t forget, our financial decision-making abilities begin to decline at age 50, and dementia and cognitive decline accelerate after age 60.

Most of us will live well into our 80s – some to 100. How much do you think we’ll forget between now and then? It’s scary.

The Swedes have a tradition called dostadning, or death cleaning. It’s the process of decluttering and simplifying our lives as we age. It’s something, based on my experience, we all need to consider.

Just as a test, take a few minutes tonight and see if you can reconstruct all your financial life – your accounts, bills and policies – not from memory but from what you have in your desk, what you have written down or what you have paper statements of. See if your loved ones could put it all together without you.

Believe me, this will make dostadning look pretty good.

Simplify and document your life while we can still remember where everything is.

Good investing,