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Are You Prepared for Your Future?

The best-selling author Esmeralda Santiago, 63, ponders questions on retirement and beyond

Esmeralda Santiago

Photo: Dave Lauridsen

En español | My husband, Frank, and I stood in our living room surveying the accumulation of 30 years of marriage, two children, careers, a household of furnishings, books and souvenirs. We’d just returned from emptying his parents’ house.

I turned to him and vowed: “We won’t leave our children to pick up after us.”

See also: Esmeralda Santiago delivers an enthralling tale in Conquistadora.

Eight years earlier, Frank and his brother, Philip, had guided their parents, Bill and Rose, through their long-term care plans. A lawyer prepared the documents, but the brothers were left with questions no one wants to ask their parents: Have you thought about the quality of the rest of your
life? Do you have enough money to travel and enjoy other activities? Who should manage your finances? Who should make decisions on your behalf if you’re incapacitated? How much medical intervention are you willing to undergo?

Bill and Rose had two modest homes, a car and a savings account. They sold the house with steep stairs and renovated the smaller one-level home. After their parents’ deaths, Frank and Philip had to decide what to do with the belongings collected over a 68-year marriage.

“Should we sell the stamp collection?” asked Frank as he leafed through a book.

“What do we do with these photo albums?” wondered my sister-in-law Anne.

I packed up the glass and porcelain figurines for Goodwill. Like Bill and Rose, I want to be surrounded by the things that trigger memories and bring me comfort.

Back at home I go through the house, choosing what to keep, what to give away and to whom. While I work, I try to answer Frank’s and Philip’s questions. As I age, will I be able to manage the stairs to my office, where I write? Have I set aside enough money so that I won’t be a financial liability to Frank or my kids?

Inside a drawer I find my will, handwritten and woefully out of date. How could I ignore this crucial document?

Tomorrow I’ll drop off a bag full of clothes at the Salvation Army and boxes with books and CDs for the library book sale. Later this week, I’ll meet with the lawyer and a financial planner.

These first steps will help unburden my children and lead to my future independence. There’s comfort in that knowledge, and in the ability to make conscious choices that will determine the rest of my life.

You may also like: Profile of Mary Cruz, who has enough money for the basics but seeks expert financial advice to plan her future.

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