We accumulate a lot of documents over a lifetime — things like birth certificates, diplomas, deeds, wills and insurance policies. If you’re like most people, you probably have papers stuffed in drawers, filing cabinets or boxes in the attic. If you ever needed an important document, do you think you could find it? What’s more, if you passed away, would your loved ones be able to find what they need?
Organize Your Important Documents
Important documents and contact information should be kept in a secure but accessible place in your home. This includes personal documents, such as your passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, will and burial instructions. You should also include information about your retirement benefits, income taxes, bank accounts, credit cards and online accounts. And don’t forget the names and phone numbers of your attorney, accountant, stock broker, financial planner, insurance agent and executor of your will.
To make this a little easier, we’ve developed a fillable form called Where My Assets Are. Fill it out, print it and use it to organize your important papers. It will help you or your loved ones locate these documents when they are needed. It’s a good idea to review and update this information regularly.
Be aware that if you keep a safe deposit box, it may be sealed when you die. Don’t keep burial instructions, power of attorney or your will in a safe deposit box because these items may not be available until a probate judge orders the box to be opened. However, a joint lessee of the box, or someone authorized by you, would be permitted to open the box to examine and copy your burial instructions.
Get Your Affairs in Order
Read our publication Getting Your Affairs in Order and A Guide for Survivors for guidance about preparing your survivors, organizing your files, and who to contact if a loved one dies.
Can’t emphasize enough! Last summer, my late brother, a somewhat aloof, working class guy (widowed/childless) with a nice house and decent SSA, living out west far from the rest of us since the 70s, died suddenly in his new retirement home in the southwest. Thank goodness for his smart planning after his wife’s death, to create with a trust/estates attorney an ‘estate book’ which we knew to locate upon entering his home after his death. The info in it cleared up speculations, answered questions, replicated original docs in safe keeping, etc. For this foresight he has our family’s eternal gratitude. As executor, I will still be handling taxes, etc. for another year, but I can only imagine what a mess this might have been without his “guidance”.