Most mistakes can be fixed. With regard to your financial safety, there are a few things you can goof up that can cause long-term and sometimes irreparable mistakes. What really matters when it comes to financial safety?
Financial documents My two millennial children aren't into paper documents. They've fully given themselves over to the cloud. I get it. I've physically lost airplane boarding passes, shopping receipts and insurance cards, only to be saved by finding the electronic version on my email.
However, in 2020 you still need to be able to clutch a few key docs in your sweaty palm. Hard-copy documents will help you prove your identity and justify well-deserved benefits if your identity is stolen or key electronic keys are irreparably compromised. Here's a list:
Original birth, adoption, marriage and death certificates and Social Security cards (and copies kept in a different location).
Current and expired passports and passport cards (and copies kept in a different location).
Last will and testament.
A list of your credit card numbers, expiration dates and CVC codes, because these are no longer available on your statements.
Military discharge information, including DD214 and Certificate of Eligibility.
Social Security retirement benefits estimate. (Just one for each family member. Info is online, but a printed-out copy can be useful if identity theft occurs.)
Tax return (returns and W-2 forms for the last few years).
Financial and investment-related statements. (Just one of each will do.)
Original loan documents (student loans, mortgage, car, etc.)
Original policy documents for insurance, such as life, home or health. (You don't need the bills, etc., but the original policy info is important in case company ownership changes or you are disputing a claim.)
Many people don't have printers at home anymore, so it's worth the money to put statements on a thumb drive and pay to print at the library or Staples.
Designation for kids' guardian If you have kids, you need to pick a guardian in case you both die in an accident. Then you need to discuss that responsibility with the person you've chosen and put it in writing in your will. As your kids get older and their needs change, you may want to revamp your guardian choice. For example, your parents may be too ill to care for your older children or your sister's parenting style might no longer jibe with yours. A guardian doesn't have to be a family member. You can choose friends as long as you clear it with them first. I don't think it's necessary to formally tell unchosen relatives, "You're not our kids' guardians." But you definitely need to clear potential guardianship with the person you are naming.
The chance that you both will die when your children are little is incredibly low, but it's not zero, so this crucial action must be discussed, completed, written, signed and revised as necessary.
Education and training Friends, spouses, cash, assets and hairlines come and go, but a college degree or welding cert can never be taken away from you. The undeniable permanence of these accomplishments is comforting. Although most educational documentation is online today, it's worth keeping printed copies of degrees, diplomas, certifications and test grades. You can bet I still have the printout I got when I passed the 10-hour certified financial planner test. Keep hard copies of hard-won qualifications, and be sure to do the renewals and continued education that keeps them current even if you don't anticipate an immediate need for them.
Health It's no secret that health directly affects finances, but a few issues necessitate precise management. Chronic, life-threatening disease is one. When you or a loved one is diagnosed with an illness cancer or diabetes, the financial aspects of the disease can be daunting. The person who is ill may not be able to manage the record-keeping and tracking required to get the best care for the least money.
Ask a family member or trusted friend for help. And take heart that, even if treatment options seem to be coming to an end, if you can hold on a little longer, new treatments are continually discovered that might help.
The potential for suicide is another vital issue. If someone in your family is persistently depressed or upset, avoid leaving them alone. Lock up your guns and lethal medicines and take the keys with you when you are out. A person who is chronically determined to take his or her own life may perhaps not be able to be deterred. But for a person going through a temporary hard time or in a chemical withdrawal period or on a new medicine, the desire may be short-lived. Making it hard for them to physically act may buy time for a change in the circumstances that led to the desire. Things change, and when they do, that person may no longer think about committing suicide.
So much paper, so little time. The "should-dos" of life — from flossing to oil changes — overwhelm me. It's hard to know where the priorities should be. In "Doesn't Remind Me," the late Chris Cornell sings about "the things that I've loved, the things that I've lost, the things I've held sacred, that I've dropped." Try to hold on to the sacred parts of your financial life that help you stay financially healthy.
Kathryn Hauer, a Certified Financial Planner™, adjunct professor, and financial literacy educator has written numerous articles and several books including the “11-Step, DIY, Comprehensive Financial Plan Workbook” and “Financial Advice for Blue Collar America.” She works to help clients and readers understand and act on complex financial information to keep them and their money safe. She functions as a strong advocate and guiding light for her clients as they move through a murky and unfamiliar financial world. Learn more at her website.