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Financial Education for Everyone

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April 25, 2014

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, 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 at mySocialSecurity (www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount) 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.
  • Annual statements for pension, IRA, 401(k) or other retirement savings plans for which she's eligible. (Check your dad's statements too in case she's eligible for spousal death benefits.)
  • 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 plans, safe deposit box information, etc.
  • Contact information for professional service providers (doctors, pharmacy, lawyer, financial advisor, bank, insurance companies, etc.) Also give these providers your own contact information in case of emergencies.

Review these 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 financial discussions, Social Security has created a special website for women (www.ssa.gov/women) that provides information on retirement, disability and other issues – in English and Spanish. They also have a Retirement Estimator (www.ssa.gov/estimator) that enters her earnings information from their records to estimate her projected Social Security benefits under different scenarios (age at retirement, future earnings projections, etc.)

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 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 at www.practicalmoneyskills.com/resources.

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 (www.plannersearch.org).


This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered health, 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.