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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published August 17 2008

Useful guide helps elders get organized

Dear Readers: I’ve had the opportunity to review a new organizer for legal papers such as a will, power of attorney and health directive, along with bank accounts and other information a person’s legal heirs may need, and I’m quite taken with this model.

Titled “Putting Things in Order: A Journal to Organize Your Life for the Next Generation,” this combination guide, co-written and designed by Ellen Baumritter and David Finkle, has an appealing physical charm. It resembles my mom’s Betty Crocker cookbook with its spiral binder and tab format.

With sections titled “Valuables & Possessions,” “Financial Matters,” “Funerals, Wills & Related Matters,” “Personal Matters,” “For the Next Generations” and “Directory & Resource Guide,” the book covers most issues you would want to write down in one place so your family doesn’t have to go on a frantic hunt should you have a health emergency or die.

Obviously, a spiral notebook and some pocket folders would work, but having the book is quite motivating – as in guilt-inducing. Once you buy it, you feel you should use it.

Each section leads with a quote from a famous person, relating to the issue at hand. Under “For the Next Generation,” they quote Phyllis Diller as saying, “Always be nice to your children because they are the ones who will choose your rest home.”

There’s humor entwined with advice from the authors/designers as they address each topic in turn. The section dividers have pockets, which is something I’ve felt was missing in some similar books I’ve seen. You may want to tuck in photos of possessions you are describing in one section pocket, or notes about where your family should look for an item in another.

The sections provide good memory joggers for the user. Did you remember to write down all bank account numbers? What about that IRA? Would you think to write down some meaningful thoughts and memories for your children to read after your death?

The open format, with suggestions and options, is useful and unintimidating. The resource guide in the back gives Web sites that surviving family members may want to use for more information.

“Putting Things in Order” is a neat little organizer that many will find useful. It’s published by Chronicle Books and is available for $19.95 at bookstores and online.

Benefits checkup reminder

From time to time, I like to remind readers to get a benefits checkup. It can be easy to let these things slide by as birthdays pass, and you may find you are missing out on a benefit that you are entitled to. For a free checkup, go to www.benefitscheckup.org. You do not need to give a Social Security number or any other identifying information.

The site was created by The National Council on the Aging to help older adults find out which benefits they qualify for. There is a short questionnaire to fill out. Shortly after completing that, you’ll see a list of programs you may qualify for, including phone numbers, addresses and instructions on how to apply. It’s a smart thing to do.

Bursack is the author of a support book on family elder care. To submit questions to “Minding Our Elders” and view past columns, go to www.inforum.com and click on columnists. Readers can reach Bursack at cbursack@forumcomm.com or write her at The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.