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The Serious Side of Life

Since I've last written, it's been a tougher time for me than usual. I've lost my faithful dog Murphy- the only dog I've ever had- I never had a dog as a kid. A few weeks later, my Mom passed. She lived a good life, into her 90's, and it was just her time... which doesn't make it any easier for those left behind. I've spoken with two clients, with me for decades, well embroiled in the nasty, devastating story of cancer. It's been a rough patch, and the sad thing about it all, is I'm not alone- many of you reading this are in my relative age bracket and are or will soon be in a relative same place.

I've always heard from my elders and teachers that death is a part of life. The only thing that wasn't in the lesson were the ramifications of being the one left behind- not just the heartache of losing someone you love, but the actual, physical, legal ramifications of the job of cleaning up the mess left behind when someone close passes away. I don't mean mess in a derogatory way, I mean taking care of the stuff that has to be done when we lose a dearly departed and you are named as the one tasked with taking care of the final arrangements, the legal aspects, cleaning out apartments and garages, and trying to figure out what to do with everything . Do you give it away, donate it, keep it, throw it... you get the drift. It's a mental, emotional and physical roller-coaster, and it feels like it goes on forever. So, having gone through it more times personally and professionally than I care to remember, I pose to you- what have you done to make it easier for those you leave behind?

Let's talk estate planning- it all starts with your will, your instructions to those taking care of your affairs as to how you would like it to be done. Not just who gets what, but all the fine details about how you would like your worldly possessions distributed- to your children, friends, charities, house of worship, school, fire department, ASPCA... you get the idea. The four documents virtually everybody should not be without is your will, power of attorney, living will and health care proxy. An explanation of each of these documents is far longer than the space allotted to me, and I encourage you to consult your legal counsel and financial team to have them explain just how important these documents are, and how they apply to your particular situation. I have unfortunately been tasked with helping to settle estates without them, and I can't begin to tell what a financial and time-consuming drain it is when one passes without properly preparing. Here's the key- it's not about you... it's about those you leave behind. Those (usually your children) people who have to clean out the closets and garages, find all the assets, discover the things you hid to keep safe, and have to play the most emotionally charged jig saw puzzle you can ever imagine. Do them all a favor. While you have the time and the good health, clean out the stuff you don't need now- don't leave it for them to figure out what you wanted to happen to your beloved memories. Drag out those photographs you had before digital photography, and write on the back who the mystery person on the reverse side is, an approximate date and place. A picture of a group of trees may mean the world to you because of the trip, but to another person, it's just a clump of trees destined for the trash pile. Most of all, consider giving your stuff to the people you would have left to eventually now- isn't it better to see the joy of receiving than waiting until your gone? If you don't really need it, I'm sure you can enrich the life of another by giving it away now. I usually close by "see you on the tee," but this month, I think I'm going to sit out the game. Thanks for listening...

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