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Help Your Mom Get Organized for Mother's Day

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Mother's Day is May 11. If you're wracking your brain for ways to show your mom appreciation for all the sacrifices she made while raising you, here's a thought: Why not offer to spend some time helping to sort through her financial, legal and medical paperwork to make sure everything is in order?

While flowers and candy offer immediate gratification (feel free to get her those as well), I'll bet your mom will truly appreciate the long-term value of getting her records in order now so that she -- and you -- will be able to take appropriate actions later on, should the need arise.

Some of the areas you might want to organize include:

Retirement income sources. Gather these documents so your mom will have a better idea how much income she'll have available throughout retirement:
  • Register your mom (and yourself) at mySocialSecurity to gain access to personalized estimates of retirement, disability and survivors benefits, lifetime earnings records and estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes paid.
  • You'll also need your dad's statement to determine any potential spousal or survivor benefits for which she might be eligible, so sign him up as well.
  • IRA, 401(k) or other retirement savings plan statements.
  • 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. To track down old pensions, first contact the employer; if that doesn't work, contact the Public Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which protects and guarantees most pension plans (including those that closed or went bankrupt), PensionHelp America or the Employee Benefits Security Administration.
  • 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 to be 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.
With all these documents:
  • Review them regularly and make updates when major life changes occur.
  • Make sure that designated beneficiaries for your mom's will, life insurance and retirement plans accurately reflect her current wishes. For example, if a beneficiary dies or a new grandchild is born, she may want to amend the documents.
  • Check that her homeowner's insurance reflects inflationary increases to the value of her home and its contents.
  • Make backup copies of everything and stash in a few safe locations. Consider scanning copies and storing on an external drive that's safely stored.

Contact information. Gather information for your mother's professional service providers, including doctors, dentist, pharmacy, lawyer, financial advisor, bank or credit union and insurance companies. Also give these providers your own contact information in case of emergencies.

Other resources. If your mom doesn't have a will, durable power of attorney and health care proxy, another great gift idea would be paying for a consultation with an attorney specializing in estate planning. Free or low-cost legal assistance is often available for lower-income people through organizations like LawHelp.org, Legal Services Corporation and the American Bar Association.

Social Security has created a special website for women that provides information on retirement, disability and other issues -- in English and Spanish. You can also order or download their informative, free publication, "What Every Woman Should Know."

Another good resource is the Women's Saving Initiative, a program jointly developed by Heinz Family Philanthropies, the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) and my employer Visa Inc. This program features a free book called "What Women Need to Know About Retirement," which you can download as a PDF or audio file.

And finally, help your mom estimate her retirement needs using online calculators like these:
  • Social Security's Retirement Estimator, which automatically enters earnings information from its records to estimate projected Social Security benefits under different scenarios (age at retirement, future earnings projections, etc.)
  • AARP has a Retirement Nest Egg Calculator that helps calculate how much she'll need to create a secure retirement.

If you need professional help, consult a licensed financial planner who can design a personalized retirement strategy. If you don't know one, try the Financial Planning Association.

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 legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.

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