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For Mother's Day, help mom get organized

By Jason Alderman

Mother's Day is May 8. In addition to traditional gifts like candy and flowers, consider spending a few hours helping your mom organize her financial, legal and medical records so she – and you – know where she stands. Being prepared will make it much easier to take appropriate actions should an issue ever arise.

Here are a few key areas to sort out:

Retirement income sources. Gather these documents so your mom will know better how much income will be available throughout retirement:

  • If she's still working, your mom should already receive an annual statement from Social Security showing estimated benefits at varying retirement ages. (You'll also need your dad's statement to determine any potential spousal or survivor benefits for which she might be eligible.)
  • Annual statements from pension plans for which she's eligible, showing updated benefit estimates. This might also include potential spousal death benefits if your father has a pension.
  • IRA, 401(k) or other retirement savings plan statements.
  • Bank statements for checking, savings, money market and CD accounts.
  • Company stock and bond certificates and statements for other investment accounts.

Outstanding debts. Also gather monthly statements and outstanding balances owed for major expenses including home mortgage or other property loans, home equity loan or line of credit, car loan or lease, credit cards, medical bills and personal loans.

Other important documents. Your mom should have documents instructing how she'd like her affairs handled, both while she's living and after death. Look for:

  • Medical, homeowner/renter, auto, life, disability and long-term care insurance policies.
  • A will (and possibly a trust) outlining how she wants her estate managed after death.
  • Durable power of attorney and health care proxy specifying who will make her financial and medical decisions if she becomes incapacitated. Also, a living will tells doctors which medical treatments and life-support procedures she does or doesn't want performed.
  • Birth certificate, marriage license, Social Security card, funeral and burial plans, safe deposit box information and other important paperwork.
  • Contact information for professional service providers, including doctors, dentist, pharmacy, lawyer, financial advisor, bank or credit union, insurance companies, pharmacy, etc. Also give these providers your own contact information in case of emergencies.

Review all important documents regularly and make updates whenever her situation changes. For example, make sure that designated beneficiaries for your mom's will, life insurance and retirement plans accurately reflect her current wishes.

If you need help guiding discussions on your mom's current and future needs, Social Security's special website for women provides information on retirement, disability and other issues (www.ssa.gov/women). They also have a Retirement Estimator that automatically enters her earnings information from its records to estimate her projected Social Security benefits under different scenarios, such as age at retirement, future earnings projections, etc. (www.ssa.gov/estimator).

Another good resource is the Women's Savings Initiative, a program jointly developed by Heinz Family Philanthropies, the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement and Visa Inc. This free program features a book called "What Women Need to Know at Retirement," which you can order on CD or download as a PDF or audio file at www.practicalmoneyskills.com/resources.

Discussing finances may not be as much fun as candy and flowers, but your mom will appreciate your concern for her financial future.




This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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