Generally, we think of “putting our affairs in order” as something we do after we get the terminal illness diagnosis from the doctor. There are many reasons not to wait for that time to get your affairs situated, but I’ll leave that for another time. Today I want to talk about what it actually means to get your affairs in order. First, though, let’s see why it’s important:
Have you ever been the one “in charge” after someone has died? No? Imagine this: your nearest and dearest loved one has passed away. You’ve talked to the hospital and picked a mortuary, so that’s a process that’s been started. It’s really hard to talk about your loved ones “body” or “remains” while you’re still trying to process the loss in the first few minutes or hours. But then you feel like you have to DO something, so you head to the house to see if you can find the “important papers.” Two things can happen at this point:
Scenario one is that you arrive, and already know where the estate plan is, and head right for it. With it are all of the life insurance policies, retirement and bank accounts, instructions, pre-need funeral planning receipts and contact information, and smaller things like an address book to get in touch with all his/her friends, a locked box (which you have the key) with all of the computer passwords, safe combinations and the like. There seems to be a lot to do, so you contact the estate planning attorney, who, after asking you a couple questions, says, “there’s nothing to worry about and nothing to do. Take care of you, your family, and the final arrangements. Then call me back in a couple weeks if you have questions, but the instructions should all be there…just don’t worry about it now.” So this is what you do, as you start calling friends and family members and bracing for the days ahead.
Scenario two is that you arrive, and don’t know where anything is. Does s/he even have life insurance? Where are the bank accounts? Was there a will? Where is it? You start tearing apart the desk, closets, cupboards,…and find nothing. Now you’re grieving, in shock, have a million things to do, and now you can’t find anything. This adds to your stress, so you call in other family members, who are now tearing apart the boxes in the garage. Everything is chaos, and still no information. It’s overwhelming to the family.
Which would you prefer your loved ones experience?
The former? GREAT choice. Now, here’s what to put in the file:
- Your estate plan, with trust and will.
- Your powers of attorney.
- Your life/long-term care insurance information.
- Your retirement information.
- Bank account information.
- Pre-need funeral planning documents.
- Investment account documents.
- Deeds of property, such as homes, vehicles and boats.
- Health, disability, auto and property insurance documents.
- Income source documents (social security, employment, investments, child/spousal support).
- Credit card statements and evidence of other debt.
- Important papers, such as marriage/birth/death certificates, passports, tax returns, military or genealogical records.
- Names/contact information of trusted professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, financial advisors, gardeners, house cleaners or caregivers, home repair professionals (electrician, plumber, roofer, chimney sweep, etc.).
And one final thought: make sure you have at least one trusted friend or family member who knows where it is and what’s in it.