Helping people get their stuff together

Lincoln woman teaches how to arrange those important documents
By: Cheri March The News Messenger
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When Marcia VanWagner’s father died, it took her mother six months to find the couple’s marriage certificate – a necessary step to apply for survivor’s benefits. And VanWagner’s parents were meticulously organized people. “I thought, ‘There’s got to be an easier way,’” said VanWagner, a retired Army nurse living in Sun City Lincoln Hills. Shortly after, she developed the Legacy Ledger – a binder that clearly arranges legal, financial and personal documents – and began teaching organization classes with her new business, “Getting Your Stuff Together.” “The unexpected happens unexpectedly,” VanWagner said. “So I say, expect the unexpected. To me, the class provides peace of mind. You get all this stuff together and you take control of your life.” VanWagner will teach “Organizing Your Estate,” a two-part class, from 9 a.m. to noon on Monday and Tuesday at the Orchard Creek Lodge in Sun City Lincoln Hills. The upcoming workshop is limited to Sun City residents, but VanWagner said she can arrange a workshop for any group of 10 or more people. “I’m not an attorney and I tell people clearly that I’m not an attorney,” she said. “I’m just an organized person and I like doing this stuff. Organization is my middle name.” When grieving a loved one’s death, the last thing a person wants to do is stress about documentation, she said. “A woman called me up one morning and said, ‘My husband died last night. What should I do?’” VanWagner said. “She didn’t know what papers she needed. She didn’t know what to do first.” The Legacy Ledger brings together everything necessary to settle an estate, from birth certificates and insurance information to powers of attorney and final instructions. It includes a master sheet with locations of original documents and instructions for getting into the house in an emergency. The sheet can be copied and mailed to an estate executor and relatives. In her class, VanWagner explains how to scan important information and keep it on a flash drive that can easily be accessed by family members or grabbed in an emergency. She also encourages people to take charge of their finances, so if the spouse that usually handles money dies, the other is not left in the dark. VanWagner said it’s common for people to put off estate planning because it involves confronting their own mortality. For instance, only 50 percent of Americans have written a will. Most of us realize we’re going to die, she said, but we don’t think it will be tomorrow. “But what happens if I get hit by a car and go into a coma?” she asked. “Who will make decisions for me? Unless you’ve signed a little piece of paper – an advance health care directive – it’s not going to be your family.” “And if you have not written your own will, the state has written one for you and you might not like it,” she added. The process is as important for the young as it is for older people, she said, referencing the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman without a will who became the center of a lengthy right-to-die debate. “These are all just-in-case things,” VanWagner said. “People always say they’ll get around to it, but you never know when you’re going to die.” For more information about “Getting Your Stuff Together,” call 408-0667 or e-mail To register for the workshop in Sun City on Monday and Tuesday, visit the Orchard Creek Lodge or Kilaga Springs Lodge activities desks. Cost is $40 per person and $25 for materials.