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It Can Be a Gift from the Heart    

by Harris N. Rosen

Spring cleaning isn’t just about tackling the dust bunnies and changing comforters and draperies, or even doing the deep basement dive. It is also a time to think about cleaning out our brains of information that is clogging up the little boxes and compartments where our brain stores important information.

If we are the keeper of the household, quite a lot of data is stored in our brain. It’s not only about the big things things like where is our will or deed to the house, but also small items, such as who trims the trees or fixes the furnace, and where are the codes to home alarms and passwords to critical accounts and systems. For most of us, that information is here, there and everywhere—in file cabinets, applications on our phones, in a box in the basement, or maybe, even beginning to be forgotten.

For anyone with the responsibility for an aging parent or who is the financial or household manager of a relationship, it is critical to learn this information, especially as one gets older, and organize it in a centralized way. Documenting these important things is not just a good thing to do; it is a kind thing to do as well. It is a gift, even, for those that help us with our lives, and for those that come after ours have ended.

According to a Harvard Medical School publication, “Up to 50 percent of widows and widowers have symptoms typical of major depression during the first few months after a spouse’s death, and a 2006 review noted that 15 percent of people are depressed at the one year mark.” A written record of important information will give survivors and executors as much confidence to face the future as we are able to provide. That good feeling is quite a gift.

What kinds of information should be recorded?

  • Desired funeral arrangements including if a prepaid plan exists or not, anatomical gifts, the reception, calling hours, suggested information for, or even an entire obituary, appointing a house manager, what happens at the funeral home and with clergy; even whom to call and when upon death

  • How to get money to pay bills; how to transfer money from investments and accounts to a bank checkbook; who should handle this in the future

  • Investment accounts, reports and advisors

  • Legal papers and evaluations

  • Location of paid and unpaid bills, especially taxes

  • Financial information including sources of income, assets and current and recurring bills

  • Professionals to meet with: attorney, accountant, realtor, appraiser and any professional advisor

  • Information about checking, credit and ATM card accounts, including which to cancel and/or transfer to another name and which not to and why not

  • Lease data for car and phones

  • Whom to call for insurance that is carried for life, auto, medical and possibly long term care and personal liability

  • Medical data: the names and phone numbers of doctors and their specialties, and medications

  • Whom to contact for home and appliance repairs and a recording of appliance model and serial numbers

  • Information on your house: the location of important papers such as house purchase and the deed, the alarm code, the location of emergency shutoffs and who has keys to the house

  • And while computer and software passwords are obviously important, so are the answers to security questions and how to get help for both hardware and software problems

This spring, rest with peace of mind knowing that vital information is available, and family members and survivors can be empowered with knowledge which shows your love and protection when you can’t physically to do so yourself. This will be a gift that keeps on giving.

Harris N. Rosen has spent his life making order out of chaos. He is a trained mediator, settling more than 200 cases for the state of Rhode Island and the Community Mediation Center of Rhode Island. He is the author of My Family Record Book. More information can be found at MyFamilyRecordBook.com.