Once your estate planning documents are prepared and executed, you will probably feel a sense of relief and accomplishment. It is well deserved. You can be confident that your wishes will be carried out, costs and delays will be minimized, your dependents will be provided for, and beneficiaries and their share of your estate are clearly identified.
But some work still remains to be done.
All too often when someone dies or becomes incapacitated, relatives are completely unprepared to deal with the sea of decisions and practical details that must be attended to. For example:
- What funeral arrangements should be made?
- Where are the will and other estate planning and important legal documents?
- What individuals and organizations need to be notified and where is their contact information?
- Who is to care for children and pets?
- What property is owned and where it is located?
- What bills and debts need to be paid?
- How are bank accounts and safety deposit boxes to be accessed?
- What services, subscriptions, and memberships need to be canceled?
- Are life insurance or other death or disability benefits available? How is a claim to be made?
- What is to be done with the person’s social media accounts?
- Is there an attorney, financial advisor, or insurance agent who can help?
You can reduce the burden on your family of managing and winding up your affairs by leaving them instructions that answer these and other questions they are likely to encounter.
Getting your affairs in order is a two step process that requires you to:
1. Gather your important papers and put them in a secure location.
2. Prepare instructions for the person or persons who will manage your affairs if you are incapacitated or wrap them up when you pass on.
Getting your affairs in order may seem like a depressing task. But many people find it brings them great peace of mind to know they have done everything possible to reduce the burden on their loved ones.
Here is a checklist of “important papers” that your loved ones may need to manage or wrap up your affairs. Depending on your family circumstances, you may decide to include others.
Estate planning documents:
- Living trust
- Other trusts of which you are the settler, trustee, or beneficiary
- Health care directives
- Durable power of attorney for finances.
- Prepaid funeral contract
- Burial plot deed
Personal legal papers:
- Birth certificate
- Social security card
- Marriage certificate
- Prenuptial agreement
- Divorce settlement agreement and divorce judgment
- Adoption papers
- Military discharge
- Mortgage documents
- Recent appraisal
- Partnership agreements
- LLC operating agreements
Valuable personal property:
- Certificates of authenticity
- Copies of beneficiary designations
Stocks and bonds:
- Loan documents
- That you owe to others
- That others owe to you
- Personal income tax returns for last three years
- Gift tax returns
Where to put them?
Once you have gathered your important documents, you want to put them in a safe place. A waterproof, fireproof safe is an excellent choice for all documents, particularly for those that could be needed immediately on your incapacity or death. These include your will, living trust, durable power of attorney for finances, and health care directives. You can then provide another trusted individual (e.g., an adult child or your agent or executor) with access to the safe.
Safe deposit box
A safe deposit box can be used to store important documents. However, often the box is not immediately accessible after your death or incapacity. Thus, it’s not the best place to store anything that might be needed immediately including estate planning documents and instructions for the disposition of your body.
Cloud storage is also an option for saving important documents. Documents stored online are protected from natural disasters and can be accessed from anywhere at any time. However, you will have to scan the documents before they can be uploaded. For some purposes, originals may be required. Thus, cloud storage may be more of a backup than your primary storage method.
To help you with this task, I have prepared A Guide to Putting Your Affairs in Order. This booklet contains a checklist of important papers that you should keep in a secure place and an outline for preparing a detailed instruction manual for your loved ones.
For my booklet, “A Guide to Putting Your Affairs in Order, scan the QR code below. We look forward to helping you.