The best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones is organization and documentation of your important life information. Life documents include your will or estate plan, health directives, funeral plans, financial information, as well as personal and family information to be preserved for future generations. It might be uncomfortable to think about, but having this information in order will ease the burden on your loved ones and give you peace of mind.
Organization of your vital life documents will help:
Identify planning items that need to be addressed.
Prevent family battles regarding your intentions.
Avoid unnecessary attorney fees, expense of replacing original documents, and penalties from late payments.
All of this results in savings of time and money.
How do I get started?
The first step is to gather important documents. These may be in paper or electronic form. Make an inventory list of all the major things you own (your assets) and all your debts (your liabilities). Your assets include such things as your homes, cars, boats, businesses, banking or investment accounts, and retirement accounts. Your liabilities include such things as mortgages, personal or auto loans, business loans, and rental obligations. Be sure to note account numbers, contact names and phone numbers. Other important information to include are insurance policies, personal information (passports, social security cards, birth/marriage/divorce certificates), medical information and directives, as well as your will, trust agreements, power of attorney, guardian designations and funeral wishes.
It’s likely that all this information will not be stored in the same place. It could be in home files, home safes, safe deposit boxes in banks, or with your CPA or attorney. Therefore, it’s critical to note where these items are stored and how to access them. Don’t forget passwords, social media login information, safe combinations, and keys.
The age misconception
Some people think this is something only seniors need to worry about. In fact, young adults entering the workforce, newly married couples, and especially new parents should start documenting assets (such as a new home and financial accounts), liabilities (such as mortgages and car loans), employment information, and other items noted previously. Certainly as we grow older, our lives become more complex and it is increasingly important to put a system in place to update this information.
There are many tools available to record your life documents and information, ranging from fancy software programs to simple checklists. The important thing is to make sure you’re addressing the missing pieces AND you’re documenting it in some manner. You can find checklists through a web search and I can recommend tools depending on your situation if you need help.
Once you have gathered and documented everything, the most important step is to communicate it to family or loved ones. What good is all this work if no one knows where it is or even that it exists! Give copies of your inventory list to a trusted family member or friend. Show your older kids where everything is.
If you haven’t had the need for this information in an emergency, count yourself lucky. However, if you’ve ever had to help find documentation for family or loved ones, you know how difficult it can be. It’s better to have it in place before you need it.
So don’t delay – get started now!