Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Ages author Sara Zeff Geber, has been featured twice on Forbes.com! One article is on the importance of sending important documents to the cloud and one is on future-focused projects to do while in quarantine.
The pandemic has shone a light on the need for families and older individuals to ramp up their game in preparing for the unexpected. One of the ways we should all be doing that is by locating and reviewing our estate documents and securing them in the safest place possible. Adults of any age should have an advance directive, and for anyone over 50, it’s also important to have a will, a trust (if warranted), and to assign a power of attorney (POA) for finances and health care decisions.
Most older adults I talk to have done at least some of the above, but often they haven’t looked at the documents for over a decade and some tell me they don’t even know where they are! That can be a problem for a variety of reasons. Certainly, the most urgent task in this area is to locate, review and update those documents. The attorney you worked with will have copies of your documents if you can’t find them; by law they have to keep them on file. Look them over and ask yourself if what you decided those many years ago holds true for you and whether the people you named in your POAs are still your choice today.
Once you are satisfied with your updated choices, the best way to store them and share them with the people in your life who will one day need access to them is too keep them in well-protected storage in the cloud. Of course, you can also keep paper versions as well, if you like, but it makes no sense today to have that be your only repository of these important documents.
There are a number of options for securing your documents electronically. Probably the easiest and least expensive is a program like Dropbox Basic. The free account provides up to 2GB of storage, which is enough for storing most personal documents, and a limited number of photos. With Dropbox Basic you can access your files from multiple devices anytime, anywhere, and you can sign in to dropbox.com to access everything you’ve stored on Dropbox from any browser on any computer. Dropbox has a desktop app and a mobile app and it can be used on both Windows and Mac platforms. If you find you like Dropbox and want more space, you can always upgrade to a paid plan. The paid plans start at $9.99 per month and give you considerably more storage and options. Other options for pure cloud storage would be Google Drive, Box, OneDrive and a few others.
Cloud storage programs are excellent at protecting your documents from harm and making them accessible to you from anywhere, but for sharing purposes they are only as good as your ability to communicate to your loved ones and agents who will need access to your documents in the event you are incapacitated. For many people, a better option might be a platform that is designed especially for storing and sharing estate documents.
If you have worked with an estate attorney in the last five years, you may have been offered the opportunity to use LegalVault, a service sold exclusively to estate planning firms and their clients. Many law firms of all sizes subscribe to LegalVault so they can upload their clients’ legal documents for easy access by the firm and by the client. The client gets an emergency access wallet card with basic emergency contact information. Online, the client can then add their own important documents like birth certificates, insurance policies, travel documents, etc. for access anywhere.
Another recently-launched program, accessible to anyone, is Pillar, which tags itself as a family-first digital platform for storing legal, medical, and financial documents. In addition to estate docs, this might include birth certificates, passport images, diplomas, and other one-of-a-kind, personal documents. Pillar also offers a secure, online dashboard on which you can collaborate with trusted family members. This is especially important when caregiving becomes complex and multiple people get involved or when family is widely spread out geographically. Along with a dashboard for cataloging and organizing, Pillar offers tools such as a step-by-step guide on what to do as family members age, fraud monitoring, and a library of resources for learning more about caregiving and what to do in emergencies. If the opportunity to organize and store all your vital documents in one secure place, with access for those you trust, is appealing to you, Pillar may be the answer. Their subscription plans start at $9.99 per month.
Another consideration for the digital age in which we now live is how we are going to pass along our digital assets when we die. In today’s world, it’s critical to appoint someone you trust to be your “agent” for your digital life and your executor for your digital estate. This person will need access to your passwords. Your estate documents should include language giving your chosen person authority to access your accounts and also to use, control, or deactivate these accounts and any digital devices.
The days of keeping documents in a big binder or in a filing cabinet are definitely behind us. Life is just too complicated for that anymore!
As you look around for projects to dive into during the enforced isolation and shelter-in-place directive, look around your home and ask yourself “is this the house I can safely grow older in?” This may be the perfect time to make your home more age-proof and suitable for you and your family as you get older.
Here are some of the areas that might need attention, especially in an older home. Many of these can be done easily with minimal equipment.
Lighting. Ensure your home has a well-lit path to maneuver around the house.
· Replace dim light bulbs with brighter ones. Install dimmers on the lights so you can adjust the lighting as you require and save on electricity costs.
· Make sure you have a light switch within reach of the bed.
· Install night lights in all bathrooms and in the kitchen.
· Install additional switches for lamps and overhead lighting in more convenient places. Modern remote-control switches reduce the need for extensive rewiring.
Furniture. Keep only what you need, and recycle (sell, give away, donate) the rest. As the years have gone by, have you purchased or inherited more furniture than you need? A cluttered home can be a dangerous home. Why not go through your house and tag those pieces that are not in keeping with your lifestyle today. If the object has sentimental value, take a picture of it and move on. If it has been in your family for a long time, offer it to a niece, nephew, or some younger person in your family who could use it to furnish their home. If they don’t want it, give it to a charity.
Entryways and Doors
· Replace door knobs with levers.
· If you have stairs, check the condition of the railings. Railings deteriorate over time because they are exposed to weather in all seasons and to repeated stress from long-term use. If there is any stairway lacking a railing, consider installing one.
· Evaluate your entryway for more serious modification at a later date if the need arises. If you have stairs, find out what it would take to install a ramp. If a ramp cannot be installed, inquire about installing an electric porch lift. New devices are being designed and marketed for older adults every year, so if you don’t need it today, there may be a new device by the time you do.
Bathroom. An uncluttered and well-equipped bathroom will offer you independence and safety as you get older. Consider the following:
· Install grips and grab bars at a comfortable reach from the toilet and tub
· Purchase a foldable tub seat to have on hand
· Replace knob faucet handles with single-lever models
· Replace your old toilet with a more modern version with a taller seat
At a later time, you may want to make these more in-depth modifications:
· Redesign the vanity to allow a chair to roll underneath
· Redesign your shower to be curbless, with a wide entryway for chair access or to allow an additional person to aid you in the shower
· Remodel a ground-floor bathroom to accommodate you and a caregiver
· Reduce furnishings to free-up more space to maneuver
· Get rid of unnecessary clutter
· Install closet bars at various heights
· Ensure you have a bed at the right height for you to easily get in and out
Kitchen. These modifications and enhancements will allow you to prepare meals and dine independently for as long as possible.
· Make sure there is good lighting
· Adjust cupboards so shelves are at reachable heights
· Place microwave oven and toaster-oven at counter level
These are more in-depth remodeling ideas that will need to wait until contractors are working again. They also will likely entail building permits
· Install counters at varying heights to allow for seated or standing food prep
· Under-counter space should have room for a chair
· Clear pathway from food prep area to eating area
Outdoors. If you want to grow older in the home you now have, you will probably want to have easy access to enjoy your back and/or front yard well into your older years. These modification can allow you to do that, no matter your level of mobility:
· Create no-step entry to the yard, patio, or verandah from your house. Install railings by any stairs that cannot be avoided
· Install motion-triggered lights
· Ensure opportunities to relax in both sun and shade
· Include comfortable, easy-access chairs and/or a chaise for relaxing and reading
· Have raised beds built for gardening, if desired
· Install a seated-level potting bench, if desired
Additional ideas for making your home age-friendly and safe:
· If your washer and dryer are in the basement or garage, move them to the main level of the house.
· Install slip-resistant flooring in kitchen and bath
· Remove throw rugs
· Because bare floors are best for mobility devices, consider removing carpeting and replacing with hard flooring
Some of these modifications may have to wait until more businesses open their doors and expert help can be hired. This list still allows you to take a comprehensive inventory of all the areas of a home that need attention to become truly age-friendly, whether you attend to them now or in the future.
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