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Thief!

Posted November 14, 2018

Something is stealing your human capital.

Human capital is intangible collective resources possessed by individuals and groups within a given population. These resources include all the knowledge, talents, skills, abilities, experience, intelligence, training, judgment, and wisdom possessed individually and collectively, the cumulative total of which represents a form of wealth available to nations and organizations to accomplish their goals.[1]

As a financial planner explaining this idea of human capital to someone, I define it as everything that you as an individual bring to bear for the benefit of yourself, your family and your community.  Everything includes knowledge, wisdom, life experiences, sense of community, love for your culture, support of family, spirituality… and yes, it of course includes earning power.  The list goes on.  The important takeaway is that human capital is not only the amount of financial capital your very existence generates, but also everything about you that adds to the greater good of everything your existence touches.  There is a recognition that we do not live our lives in a vacuum; we also recognize that just because human captital is intangible, that does not mean it is of no value.  In many cases, human capital, when quantified, may be more valuable than capital assets.

In the mid-1990s OxyContin became a “go-to” narcotic to alleviate the suffering of chronic pain.  In his book Pain Killer:  An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic, Pulitzer Prize nominated investigative reporter Barry Meier describes OxyContin as “a gateway drug to the most devastating public health disaster of the 21st century.”  Oxycodone was historically used to provide immediate relief for moderate to severe pain after surgery and to alleviate pain during the final stages of chronic illnesses that result in death.  OxyContin was first marketed by Purdue Pharmaceutical Company in 1996.  The appeal was that it was pure Oxycodone prescribed at a higher dosage, but with a time release coating.  The appeal of such a formulation and the marketing “hooks” were that pain relief could be provided over an extended period of time and there was a reduced chance of abuse because the full effects of the narcotic were not immediately felt…something addicts desired.  Doctors prescribed pain relievers derived from Oxycodone (as well as synthetic versions of this narcotic) in doses that “titrated to effect” to make life bearable for those suffering from chronic pain.  As patients’ bodies adapted to the relief provided by the narcotics, higher dosages were required and willingly prescribed by some doctors in known increments to provide the relief desired.  The term opiophobia, the irrational fear about the addictive powers of opioids, was a label ascribed to doctors that were reluctant to use the powerful narcotics to treat pain.  In the 1990s opioid advocates within the medical and pharmaceutical fields supported a decrease in prescription monitoring.  During the same time period, pain level was designated the fifth vital sign; the first four vital signs measured and monitored by health care professionals are pulse, blood pressure, temperature and respiration.  The fifth sign is a subjective “qualitative” measurement that is quantified by the level of misery indicated on a scale of stick diagram- like smiley faces.  By the early 2000s, the abuse and diversion of prescribed OxyContin and similar narcotics derived from the poppy plant were rampant, and OxyContin became known as “hillbilly heroin.”  Approximately 20 years after designating pain level as the fifth vital sign, several delegates at a 2016 American Medical Association meeting strongly supported no longer monitoring pain as a fifth vital sign.[2]

The Opioid Crisis is a systemic risk to human capital and by extension, a systemic risk to financial life planning.  Why systemic?

  1. In 1998, Dr. Frank Fisher wrote 46% of all prescriptions for OxyContin in the state of California. The prescriptions were written for patients in a state program specifically designed for low income healthcare recipients.  He was arrested and charged with murder.  A nearby pharmacy filled four times as many oxycodone type painkillers as any other pharmacy in the United States.[3]
  2. By 2002, only six years after it was introduced to the market, $1.5 billion of OxyContin was sold to the public[4]
  3. Between 2007 and 2012, 780,000,000 pain pills with oxycodone or hydrocodone were prescribed in West Virginia. That amounts to 433 pills per person.  1700 people died from fatal overdoses of prescription opioids.[5]
  4. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is a postnatal drug withdrawal syndrome in newborns caused primarily by in utero exposure to opioids. In the United States, the incidence of NAS increased 383% during 2000–2012.[6] In April 2018, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources issued a press release that stated the incidence rate of NAS was over 5% of for live births.  Bill J. Crouch, West Virginia DHHR Cabinet Secretary believes the state is in the “midst of a child welfare crisis.”[7]
  5. In 2015 Americans were 5% of the global population, however they were consuming 80% of oxycodone and hydrocodone opioids produced globally; they accounted for 30% of all prescriptions.[8]
  6. In 2016, 64,000 people died from overdoses; 42,000 attributed to opioids.[9]
  7. On April 19, 2016 the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act became law. The law defined the phrase imminent danger to the public health or safety as “due to the failure of the registrant (distributers of prescription medications/middlemen) to maintain effective controls against diversion or otherwise comply with the obligations of a registrant under this title or title III, there is a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat that death, serious bodily harm, or abuse of a controlled substance will occur in the absence of an immediate suspension of the registration” (emphasis added).  This change, along with other changes to verbiage in the original Controlled Substances Act, made it more difficult for the Drug Enforcement Agency to thwart the flood of opiates to prescribers and pharmacies when the Agency suspected a pipeline of prescription painkillers resulted in higher rates of diversion or abuse.[10],[11],[12]
  8. In July of 2016 Adapt Pharma made a donation of 50,000 doses of naloxone (brand name, Narcan), a nasal spray that reverses the affects of heroin and prescription pain killers, to high schools through the state departments of education, community organizations and first responders.[13], [14]
  9. By 2017 OxyContin sales were over $31 billion.[15]
  10. Emergency rooms report treating an average of 1000 people per day for opiate abuse.[16]
  11. While prescriptions for OxyContin have decreased over the years, illicit use of Fentanyl is driving up death count.[17]
  12. Beginning in 2017, several states, towns, cities and Native American tribes filed class action lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies and distributors for downplaying, deceiving or outright concealing the risk of addiction.
  13. By 2018 over 250,000 people died from prescription painkillers.[18] This statistic addresses deaths, but not lives destroyed.
  14. By 2018, although domestic sales of OxyContin decreased, the narcotic is still marketed overseas.[19]
  15. Today 40 states and the District of Columbia have “Good Samaritan” laws that protect individuals that report or experience overdoses. In order to save lives and provide follow-up care for Naloxone use, immunity is offered to varying degrees for individuals that call 911 in “good faith” to report over-doses.[20]

What used to be thought of as a potential problem for patients experiencing chronic pain is now a mainstream epidemic that grips loved ones; the reach of the Opioid Epidemic is likely governed by less than six degrees of separation.  Who do you know that has been trapped by the downward spiral of opiates?  Have you ever diverted funds in your budget from a retirement account or vacation to help someone receive treatment?  Has jewelry gone missing?   Do you have a neighbor that buys clean hypodermic needles at the local pharmacy so that their adult child can get high safely?  Is there an increase in crime in your local area because drug rehabilitation centers are filled to capacity, pharmacies are being robbed, abandoned properties are now drug houses, the unemployment rate is higher than average (even at recession levels) and homelessness is rampant?  On October 24, 2018 the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act, also known as the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act was signed into law.  The breadth of the bill informs us of the extent and reach of the crisis into our lives: it covers issues of support across the demographic spectrum.  The Act can be reviewed at https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/6/text.

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Individuals that are personally affected by or provide financial assistance to family members that are affected by this contagion are highly encouraged to address the issue with their financial planning professional. My premise is not that your financial trusted advisor is a behavioral health professional; do not expect behavioral health advice. However, if helping yourself, a family member or a friend results in unexpected financial and emotional burdens that effect your ability to navigate your financial planning waypoints, seek your planner’s support in your efforts.  Seek your planner’s objective support as you work together as a team to determine whether your planning objectives and goals must be modified or re-ordered on your priority list.  Client comfort level dictates how much information is shared.  One recovering OxyContin and heroin addict described the epidemic as “our national treasure being ‘squalored’ away on this affliction… (It is about) human capital, financial capital, overall production… as well as time and destruction of the family structure that can span generations!”  When developing personalized financial planning waypoints and developing financial planning legacies, we build them on a foundation strengthened by what we love, what we value and priorities.  One look at the list above, which is a tip of the iceberg that tells the story of the damage our families, friends and country contend with, compels us to recognize that diversion, dependence and addiction to opioids is a strain on: newborns and adults; private and public organizations; individual high school students and several generations within the same household;  the poor and the wealthy; and law enforcement and community outreach programs.  It is not a stretch of the imagination to conclude that the intangible elements of human capital (knowledge, talents, skills, abilities, experience, intelligence, training, judgment, and wisdom) are diminished, if not eliminated, by misuse of narcotics.

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Human capital is a part of your life planning portfolio.  Be sure to consider it as you cherish the present and plan for your future.  Everything about you and the important people in your life that add to the greater good of everything your existence touches is worth redeeming if stolen by, what I believe has become, the systemic thief that keeps on thieving:  opioid abuse.   Subsequent posts will cover costs of and barriers to recovery, to what extent opioid addiction has been considered a disability, corporate social responsibility, and much more.

-Terry

[1] Richard Huff, “Human Capital”, Last updated October 4, 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/human-capital
[2] Adam Bisaga, MD, Overcoming Opioid Addiction, (New York:  The Experiment, LLC, 2018) 1.
[3] Huff 135
[4] Meier 175
[5] Meier 175
[6]Ko JY, Patrick SW, Tong VT, Patel R, Lind JN, Barfield WD, “Incidence of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome — 28 States, 1999–2013”,  2016, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6531a2.htm    .
[7] West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources. “DHHR Releases Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Data for 2017”, 4/11/2018    https://dhhr.wv.gov/News/2018/Pages/DHHR-Releases-Neonatal-Abstinence-Syndrome-Data-for-2017-.aspx.
[8] Bisaga 2
[9] Meier, x
[10] Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016, https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress /senate-bill/483/text.
[11] Bill Whitaker reporting, “How the DEA’s Efforts To Crack Down on the Opioid Epidemic Were Derailed” 60 Minutes,  S50, air date October 13, 2017, https://www.cbs.com/shows/60_minutes/video/K1vW4pnExDfDERlpajr8qds9Vm38rRpb
/how-the-dea-s-efforts-to-crack-down-on-the-opioid-epidemic-were-derailed/.
[12] Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein,”The Drug Industry’s Triumph Over the DEA”, The Washington Post, October 15, 2017, http://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/ 2017/investigations/dea-drug-industry-congress/?utm_term=.22fbe7ea4f76.
[13] Kimberly Leonard, “Coming to a High School Near You: Drugs that Reverse Heroin Overdoses” January 25, 2016, https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-01-25/overdose-reversal-drug-naloxone-offered-free-to-high-schools.
[14] Donna Shalala, “Clinton Foundation Programs at Work”,   September 1, 2016, https://stories.clintonfoundation.org/clinton-foundation-programs-at-work-fda2ba0cf84c.
[15] Meier 174
[16] Meier 172
[17] Meier 173
[18] Meier 172-175
[19] Meier 175
[20] National Conference of State Legislators, “Drug Overdose Immunity and Good Samaritan Laws”, June 5, 2017, http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/drug-overdose-immunity-good-samaritan-laws.aspx.

Your Cyberspace Assets

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I am always fascinated by a great action packed or science fiction movie that appears to foreshadow the direction our country is going when it comes to technology, global geo-political-military affairs, or the human condition and how we relate to each other.  Whether it’s Soylent Green and the current state of processed foods, The Running Man and today’s prime-time reality shows, or Wall-E and the passengers on board the spaceship Axiom that were fixated on their virtual reality screens, I initially tend to say, “That’s pretty interesting but that will not happen”.  Years later I conclude “yep, we went there!…and in short order, too.”

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This week I am reminded of the relentless targeted advertising John Anderton in the Minority Report endured as he walked through a shopping plaza trying to evade law enforcement.  After discovering that Facebook wanted to have access to user banking information for targeted marketing purposes, I re-watched Minority Report…this time with a keen awareness of the fact that the information that we do choose to share by way of converting that information into digital assets in the cyber world does not belong to us once it is uploaded.  What is duplicated or created when we upload information to cyberspace, these “digital assets”, in many cases, are no-longer exclusively controlled by us, the owners.  In our haste to take advantage of and enjoy the conveniences of easily accessed information, entertainment and productivity in its various forms in cyberspace, we cede our exclusive rights to control what we upload.  We cede that control to the digital platforms that provide the services, storage space or communication ability we wish to use.  When did we voluntarily place limitations on our electronic communications, social media accounts, net working website accounts, frequent flyer miles, cash back points, i-Tune accounts and the like?  Answer:  When we impatiently searched for and selected the “I accept” button for the respective programs, sites or software.  That multi-page document is called a Terms of Service Agreement or TOSA.  It is not just about disclaimers, ethical use of the platform, or how they might share your information for marketing for legally required purposes.  The TOSA is also about what you own and what you don’t own when digital assets are created as a function of your use of the site or service.  Let’s:  1) define some of the important terms; 2) determine where we, as consumers, generally stand when it comes to the TOSA,; and determine what we can do during the financial and estate planning process to protect the digital assets we have simply as a function of using today’s technology.

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The simplest definition of an asset is property that is useful or has value.  Real assets refer to real estate, buildings, inventory precious metals, and other items that have intrinsic value.  Financial assets refer to investments, currency, and items that are used for trade through the financial markets…they ultimately have no intrinsic value but represent a contractual claim and are typically liquid and easily traded.  Digital assets are documents and other audio-visual content that are stored on computers, phones, websites, storage devices like hard drives, email servers, social media accounts…you get the picture.  Cryptocurrencies are digital assets.  Your files stored in “the cloud” are digital assets.  So are web domains.  In their digital form, these items are intangible.  Some have sentimental value, and some have monetary value.  Examples of digital assets that may have monetary value include frequent flyer points, credit card “cash back” balances, Pay Pal balances, and domain names.  In today’s digital world, access to these assets can become limited if not flat out denied based upon the Terms of Service Agreement signed by the original user.  In 2016, an Intel Security survey revealed that the average business employee had 27 passwords.  In 2017 the password manager LastPass placed the estimate at 191.  According to the January 2017 Pew Research Center Internet and Technology report “Americans and Cybersecurity”, 39% of respondents use the same or similar passwords for several different accounts.  These passwords statistics have the potential to add up to a lot of TOSAs and digital assets.  It is worth looking at some of the characteristics of TOSAs.

As mentioned earlier, TOSAs outline your rights, responsibilities and liabilities.  When you skim through the tedious “small print” and hastily press, “I accept” because there are no mendacious motives on your part, you are also accepting the entirety of the default settings.  These default settings cover your rights before and after your death.  In general, social media accounts retain the digital assets posted, and the custodians (or social media companies) can use or dispose of the assets as they see fit.  You may also have to sign a licensing agreement, which gives you, the user, permission to access digital assets in your accounts until death, at which time the right to access terminates.  Typically, music share plans have licensing agreements.  Because TOSAs restrict access to the user during life, and prohibit third-party access after death, it is important to proactively designate provisions for digital assets in estate planning documents.

The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) is an organization comprised of lawyers that work together to draft and propose legislation that clarifies and brings a measure of standardization to state statutory laws.  Although federal laws determine who has access to your accounts, the ULC recognized the need for a fiduciary, (ie, agent, attorney in fact, personal representative, court appointed guardian and trustee) to have appropriate access to and control over digital assets in the same manner as other assets.  In 2015, The ULC created the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), which addressed this need and provided a measure of standardization across states and US territories.  Specifically, it:

“…extends the traditional power of a fiduciary to manage tangible property to include management of a person’s digital assets. The act allows fiduciaries to manage digital property like computer files, web domains, and virtual currency, but restricts a fiduciary’s access to electronic communications such as email, text messages, and social media accounts unless the original user consented in a will, trust, power of attorney, or other record.”1

RUFADAA does not include financial assets:  for example, the act covers access to an investment account online, not the right to manage the assets within the account.  It is also important to recognize that RUFADAA DOES NOT apply to EMPLOYER digital assets.  Therefore, you want to avoid placing personal communications and audio-visual documents on electronic devices that belong to your employer, like a phone, tablet, or office computer.  In effect, the fiduciary can manage, conserve and access digital property just like real and tangible property.  While the RUFADAA does provide a measure of consistency in rules and procedures from state to state, it is imperative that you check with your specific state of residence when drafting your estate planning documents; not all state standards are identical since the state rules must ultimately address and reflect state specific legislative experiences, needs and concerns.

Handling the preservation, liquidation, and potential bequeathing of digital assets are estate planning waypoints.  Here are just a few of the questions you need to ask yourself and discuss with your financial and estate planning professional.

  1. How many personal and business online accounts do I have? How many passwords do I have?  Create an account and password list.  Consider how to best secure that list, whether it is using an online management service or placing the list in a safe.  There are also services available that help locate digital assets.  DO NOT place an itemized list in a will because after your death, your will becomes a matter of public record.
  2. Do I own an online business? What about a personal or business blog?  All of the uploaded content is copyrighted.  Consider whether or not these digital assets need to be integrated into a business succession plan or assigned to heirs.
  3. What do these digital assets mean to me? This question really gets to the heart of why financial planning is life planning and is not a financial exercise exclusively for the wealthy.  Sentimental value is real.  The photos, videos, meme’s…they meant enough to share with friends, do you care to have them archived for your loved ones?  There is no right or wrong answer…there is only your answer.
  4. Who do I trust to do what I want with my digital assets? Whoever you choose will be your digital executor.  Not all states allow for specific digital executors, so be sure to consult with an estate planning professional to understand what your options are in your state.  Discuss your wishes and the location of the digital assets and password documents with this trusted family member, friend or associate…your chosen fiduciary.

Some suggested action steps:

  1. Complete an online tool, which is an electronic service provided by the custodian. It is separate from and overrides the TOSA and the estate planning documents.  Be sure that whatever provisions you call for in the provider’s access authorization tool match the provisions outlined in your estate planning documents.
  2. Depending on your desires and the nature of the digital assets, you can grant full access, partial access, or a copy of records. In the case of emails, you may have a choice between allowing access to a catalogue (a list of dates, times and email addresses of communications) or full access to the entirety of the catalogue AND content of the emails.
  3. Incorporate your answers and some of the appropriate action items above in to your existing estate planning documents. Seek professional estate planning advice to determine how to use your will, POAs, DPOAs, and trusts to facilitate your desires.  No two financial or estate plans are the same.  In the event of your death or temporary incapacitation, knowing that your digital assets can be managed in accordance with your wishes and not default settings selected in haste provides peace of mind.

We are more dependent on information in digital form for business and pleasure than ever before, and our dependency will continue to increase.  The Uniform Law Commission created and updated the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act to address and standardize state fiduciary law in our technology driven world.  RUFADAA addresses internet user control of digital assets, uniformity of state fiduciary laws, and federal privacy laws.  Whether or not retinal scans for the purposes of targeted marketing to consumers while they are walking down the street are in our near future is something I cannot answer.  In a rush to get real time information and services, we are tempted to select “I accept” to Terms of Service and Licensing agreements in haste, without realizing that the digital assets we are creating are:  1) not ours forever and 2) not easy to get to when we are gone.  Financial and life planning won’t save us from having to read the details of TOSAs and licensing agreements, but we do have the tools available that help us seize and maintain control of our digital assets where we can.   Terry

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  1.  http://www.uniformlaws.org

Decluttering For Dollars

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Wow!  My heart jumps with just a little bit of excitement when I discover some cash in the pocket of a jacket that I have not donned for a couple of years.  Have you ever picked up laundry from your local drycleaner to find a twenty-dollar bill pinned to the claim check!? Winning!  (Insert visual of you doing the running man and flexing your muscles!)  Sometimes I place the funds in a “change” jar along with other treasure found between the sofa cushions or under the car seats.  If I find a fair amount of “change”, let’s say five dollars or more, I set aside the recovered funds for a specific savings goal.  I also give consideration to decluttering the area where the money was found.  The final thought leads me to this question:  When was the last time you checked your state’s department of revenue or controller website for unclaimed property that belongs to you?

If you have ever changed your residence, changed employers, not filed taxes because you were not required to file, or had accounts at or ownership in a company that went bankrupt, you should take a look at government unclaimed property websites for intangible property that belongs to you.   Inactive or closed consumer accounts with remaining balances are considered “abandoned” or “unclaimed.”  Each state is required to set up laws that require:  1) businesses to transfer the unclaimed property to a designated division or agency (the state controller, for example) after three years of inactivity; 2) the state to hold the assets for the benefit of the consumers, and potentially their heirs, until the items are claimed; 3) the state agency or unclaimed property organization to return the assets to the rightful owners upon verification of identity; and 4) the state agency or unclaimed property organization to maintain a database and a process for attempting to locate the owners and heirs of abandoned property.  Vehicles, real estate and most physical property are not considered unclaimed property.  Refer to individual state statutes and unclaimed property divisions for specifics on laws, procedures and policies.

In fiscal year 2015, state governments returned $3.235 billion dollars to rightful owners, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), a non profit organization comprised of professionals that are responsible for administration of state unclaimed property programs.  During that same year $7.763 billion was collected!  These funds go unclaimed because the business entities that owe the funds lose contact with the individuals that own the funds.  NAUPA recommends consumers cash checks received in a timely manner, respond to legitimate requests for account balances and stockholder proxies, record safe deposit box information and give an extra key to a trusted person, and prepare a will that delineates how your assets are to be distributed.  Talk with your financial planning and/or estate planning professionals to assist you in developing an estate plan that best preserves your privacy and ensures your assets are distributed as you wish.

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Check the websites for the following organizations to determine if you own a portion of the billions of dollars waiting to be claimed by rightful owners.  While this is not an exhaustive list, it’s a good starting place.

  • Your state’s (current and previous) department of revenue or controller for refunds from bank accounts, insurance proceeds, securities (stocks, bonds, and mutual funds), items abandoned in safe deposit boxes and utility and phone company balances.  You may also find other undeliverable funds like uncashed payroll checks, insurance payments and travelers’ checks.
  • The US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division for unclaimed wages from a previous employer
  • Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation for unclaimed pensions
  • Internal Revenue Service for unclaimed refunds
  • US Department of the Treasury Bureau of the Fiscal Service for unclaimed property owed to you by foreign governments or from foreign transactions

A list of more organizations that facilitate the collection and delivery of unclaimed property can be found at www.usa.gov/unclaimed-moneyAnd remember, the government is not going to call you about unclaimed funds, so BE CAREFUL to avoid scams.  Do not send money or provide personal information to someone that promises to send you “free money.”  Review the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information website at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0048-government-imposter-scams for tips on avoiding government imposter scams.

Consider the amount you discover and how best to use the funds in accordance with your financial planning goals.  Use the funds to supplement a rainy-day savings account, fund a retirement account, start an education account, pay for school supplies, or donate to a non-profit of your choice.  You may decide that it is just the right amount to go out for coffee with a friend, ice-cream with the kids, or a family day at a local museum.  After all, I am a firm believer in investing in relationships with the ones we love and our communities.  Whatever you decide to do with the funds, the key take away is that they are YOUR funds, so put them to work as you see fit.  Think of the search for unclaimed property as a simple treasure hunt-like exercise in decluttering your financial past and making the most of a sweet surprise along your journey to your financial planning goals.  – Terry

Waypoints

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A waypoint is a point of interest or an intermediate stop along a journey.  Ideally, the relevant waypoints have been determined and the final destination has been identified BEFORE a journey begins.  What we have to remember is that in financial planning, as it arguably is with all planning, a waypoint is not a final destination.  For instance, what follows is a “hypothetical” situation.  The financial and life planning waypoint based upon this person’s priorities is to complete a will and trust documents to designate where assets will go and have a measure of privacy upon her death.

It’s New Year’s Eve.  I resolve to make the appointment to see an attorney to draft a will.  But then, I reschedule, because I forgot about a track meet, tae kwon do tournament, and a major project I must complete…Oh yes, and taxes.  A month later I reschedule, only to find out that I am not available for four weeks, but I eventually settle on the date that the attorney has an out of town conference.  When we finally meet three weeks later, I leave her office with paperwork to complete.  Progress.  I put the paper in the “to do pile….”  The city re-named my street, I need a tetanus shot because I stepped on a jack, and the dog lost a fight with a skunk.  The hot water heater just exploded, and my twins decide they want to go to an ivy league college clear across the country, so we tackle the FAFSA, hunt for scholarships and review cashflow for the next four years.   I am emotionally drained after losing an old friend to an opioid addiction and providing respite care for a loved one, so I decide to make an appointment with an insurance agent for long-term care.  It’s been a tough year, so we decide to take a family road trip vacation…cancel the long-term care insurance appointment…we’ll get to it next summer…

We must resist the tendencies to get too comfortable at a waypoint on our journey, meander from waypoint to waypoint, ultimately “losing sight” of our reason for the sojourn, or simply peregrinate within the financial and life planning universe, hopping from location to location with no apparent course or destination in sight from the outset.  So how do we avoid complacency, meandering, or a grand financial and life planning peregrinate that leaves us unsure about:  1) what we have; 2) who we can trust with our goals and dreams; and/or how we can develop a strategy or course with personally relevant waypoints to reach our goals and dreams?

First, trust yourself and validate your own feelings about who you love and what you value.  This can be an emotional exercise, because in a world of 24-hour entertainment, outrageous “caught on camera” acts shamelessly splattered across the internet, and family, corporate, and political expectations, you may be wary of what others think about who you love, what you value, and how you choose to prioritize them.  Thorough financial and life planning at some point along the way forces us to grapple with family dynamics, money, death, and much more.  Whether your life “is a dream” or “it is complicated”, begin to address your personal needs and wants for yourself, your family, your career, your community and your legacy.  This list is not all inclusive, but it is a good start.

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Second, be clear in your mind and brutally honest with yourself about what you know and what you don’t know.   Commit yourself to learning and finding financial planning professionals that will work together to help you successfully navigate from waypoint to waypoint during your financial and life planning journey.  Like any voyage, you may appear to lose sight of the destination because of a challenge (family, financial, physical, etc) that requires immediate attention or is simply a distraction, but it is paramount that you are intentional about the activities that keep you on course.  Example activities might include that first call to the estate planning attorney to set up a will, going to the HR representative to start your 401K contributions, or cutting up unnecessary credit cards…or maybe you just need to gather and organize your financial statements.  What’s great about many of these starting points is that they can be accomplished concurrently.  Commit time, whether it is 15 minutes or an hour…daily or weekly, to invest in yourself, who you love and what you value.  Stay the course through knowledge and action.cropped-pexels-photo-1251832.jpeg

Third, expect course corrections because…that’s life!  Let’s keep it real, shall we?  Whether you are just starting to intentionally plan for and take action to pursue financial planning goals or are re-committing yourself to the task for the 100th time, start where you are.  Keep yourself spiritually centered, mentally strong, socially engaged and physically fit…all to the best of your ability.  Enjoy your family, pursue your passions, and give of your time, resources and energy.  The concepts of the “time value of money” and “risk versus return” are critical in the world of finance.   Complacency, meandering, and a grand financial and life planning peregrinate can have a detrimental effect on your long term financial planning efforts but are not necessarily cataclysmic events.  That being said, the earlier you start, the better chance you have of reaching your financial and life planning goals.  The key is to purposefully embark on a course to reach goals that are in line with your priorities, with the understanding that any course must be monitored, reviewed and adjusted, as necessary…the sooner the better.

It is my hope that the Peace of Mind Waypoints blog encourages readers to engage in activities that will help them live their best lives.  Validating and prioritizing wants and needs, being honest about proactively effecting change to reach goals, and expecting the need for modifications when necessary are starting points…for everyday…for any journey.   Enjoy your journey – developing life legacies supported by who you love and what you value…one financial waypoint at a time.  – Terry