Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why I'm a Suze Orman Fan

It's not that other people haven't personally given me good financial advice over the years. It's not that sensible financial advice isn't available from many sources and keyed to many education levels and social styles. The reason I'm a big Suze Orman fan is that her urgency about my future pushes me to care.

This is a big deal. She goes on PBS and begs us to get wills, trusts, durable medical powers of attorney, and living wills, and her urgency opens a pit in front of us that we have not wanted to face. Still don't want to face, to be honest. How many of us actually have wills? Living wills? Durable powers of attorney? What about trusts? How many times must we listen to her message before we act to protect ourselves? As many times as it takes, which is one reason Suze hasn't retired to spend the rest of her life boating. She knows we listen and then we do not act. So she keeps trying.

Suze Orman has gotten rich selling personal finance books and having her own television show, no question. But do I care? No one forces me to buy her books, and no one forces me to watch her on television, either. Sure, she "sells" a kit that contains the documents, too, as a gift if you donate to public broadcasting. I have compared her documents and they are word for word what appears in the same documents drawn up by a lawyer. Word for word.

I first remember encountering Suze Orman doing a PBS television show. Possibly I had by then read one of her books, but if so, neither the book nor Suze herself had made a huge impression. But she certainly did that night. She stressed how a comfortable life could be hugely disrupted simply by not having a few legal documents. She pointed out that because today people wear seatbelts in cars and cars have multiple airbags and other safety features, dying in a car crash isn't as likely as being very seriously injured. If that happened, what rights would my spouse have to direct my care, or to take over my share of our finances? None, without going to court.

Both questions are critical. I need a living will, so my spouse and everyone else will know what I want, and so my spouse can successfully direct my care if I become incapable of doing so. We all know what a mess some families get into when wishes are not known and family members fight amongst themselves. There also have been many cases of medical personnel overriding a person's wishes. In a living will, I can assign decision-making and make my wishes known. For instance, feeding tubes sound pretty nasty to me, but pain-relieving drugs seem like a good idea.  

The second point Suze made is just as important. If my spouse has my durable power of attorney, and I survive the car crash and the hospital but need to live in a different home, my spouse can sell our jointly owned home and buy a place with an elevator or a spa, or whatever I need. Or he could sell my car and buy a van with wheelchair or motorized cart assist technology. Or he could sell my stock and pay to have an elevator installed in our current home, and a wheelchair ramp to the front door. Without that document, he'd have to go to court to make each and every financial decision on my behalf, or get appointed my conservator, or take orders from someone else whom the court appointed. That nightmare can be avoided with a single document.

Despite her brilliant logic, it took me a long time to get both documents. Yet Suze has never backed away from urgently recommending them, and every time I've heard her do so, I've gotten that much closer to doing what after all is purely in my own self-interest. 

During the pledge break of that long-ago PBS show, Suze pleaded with us all to protect ourselves. The urgency of her message resonated with me, but I'm just as stubborn as the next person and it took me years to act. Specific advice she has given about saving and spending varies with the economy, but this chunk of advice is evergreen and clearly from the heart.      

That's why I'm a fan of Suze Orman. And that's why I, too, urge you to immediately get yourself the legal documents that will protect you and your loved ones in the event of a catastrophe.

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