Organizing your important papers and getting your personal and financial affairs in order is a smart idea and a wonderful gift to your loved ones. Here are some tips to get you started.
The first step in getting your affairs in order is to gather up all your important personal, financial and legal information so you can arrange it in a format that will benefit you now, and your loved ones later.
Then you’ll need to sit down and create various lists of important information and instructions on how you want certain things handled when you die or if you become incapacitated. Here’s a checklist of areas you need to focus on.
Make a master list of names and phone numbers of close friends, doctors, and professional advisers such as your lawyer, accountant, broker, and insurance agent.
Include a list of medications you take, along with any allergies and illnesses.
Include such items as your birth certificate, Social Security card, marriage license, military discharge papers, etc.
List all the places you keep under lock and key such as safe deposit boxes, safe combination, security alarms, etc.
Make a list of all your digital assets, including everything from social media accounts to online banking accounts to home utilities that you manage online. It should include usernames and passwords. Use Rutgers Digital Assets Inventory Worksheet as a guide.
If you have a pet, give instructions for the care of the animal.
End of Life
Indicate your wishes for organ and tissue donation and write out your funeral instructions. If you’ve made pre-arrangements with a funeral home include a copy of the agreement, their contact information, and whether you’ve prepaid or not.
Will, Trust, and Estate Plan
Include the original copy of your will and other estate planning documents you’ve made.
Related: How to Write an Online Will
Financial Power of Attorney
This document names someone you trust to handle money matters if you’re incapacitated.
Advance Health Care Directives
This includes a living will and medical power of attorney, which spell out your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment when you can no longer make decisions for yourself.
Make a list of all your bank accounts, brokerage, and mutual fund accounts, and any other financial assets you have.
Debts and Liabilities
Make a list of any loans, leases or debts you have – mortgages owed, car loans, student loans, medical bills, and credit card debts. Also, make a list of all credit and charge cards, including the card numbers and contact information.
Related: Should You Prepay Your Funeral?
List any retirement plans, pensions, or health benefits from your current or former employer including the contact information of the benefits administrator.
List the insurance policies you have (life, long-term care, home, auto, Medicare, Medigap, prescription drug, etc.) including the policy numbers, agents, and phone numbers.
List real estate, vehicles, and other properties you own, rent or lease and include documents such as deeds, titles, and loan or lease agreements.
Include the location of your tax records and your tax preparer’s contact information.
Get Your Affairs in Order and Keep Them in Order
Keep all your organized information and files together in one convenient location, ideally in a fireproof filing cabinet or safe in your home. Also be sure to review and update it every year, and don’t forget to tell your kids where they can find it.
If you need help, get a copy of “Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To” at Nolo.com for $17.50 for the downloadable versions, or $20 for a printed copy.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.
Jim MillerContributing Writer
Jim Miller is the creator of Savvy Senior, a syndicated information column for older Americans and their families that is published in more than 300 U.S. newspapers and magazines. Jim is also a contributor to NBC’s “Today” show and KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, and is the author of The Savvy Senior, The Ultimate Guide to Health, Family and Finances for Senior Citizens.
Jim is frequently quoted in articles about issues affecting senior citizens and has been featured in numerous national publications, including Time magazine, USA Today and The New York Times. In addition, he has made multiple appearances on CNBC, CNN, Retirement Living Television and national public television. Read more from Jim Miller.