Everyone knows they are going to die sooner or later. While we all hope it is “later”, we should put our affairs in order for the benefit of our loved ones. Great comfort can be achieved by knowing that advance planning for the inevitable will have eased the trauma of your passing for your family.
All too often, when a family member dies, relatives have no idea where the deceased’s important papers are located. As a result, this creates an additional burden on the grieving loved ones. By putting our affairs in order, we can simplify the necessary responsibilities our family members will be required to handle.
Below are some of the key aspects to consider in putting your affairs in order:
Create a will
Conference with your attorney to draft a list of your final wishes, i.e. burial preferences, asset allocations, etc. Visit the page on ‘What you need to know to create your Will’.
Consider creating a living will
This instrument will appoint someone of your choice to make decisions regarding life-sustaining medical care in the event of your incapacitation.
Consider a Durable power of attorney
This is given by you to a person of your choice to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to communicate. A living will and a power of attorney are often referred to as an “advance directive”. Most of us do not want to consider what may happen if we become unable to make decisions ourselves or think it will never happen.
There have been cases, as reported by the media, of family disagreements over the decision to terminate life support. You may remember the case where a woman had been in a coma for twenty years. She was, of course, unable to communicate. Her husband wanted her to be removed from life support; her parents disagreed and this battle went to the courts. The United States Government even got into the fray. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the husband and the woman was allowed to die. This case brought to the general public the importance of having a living will and power of attorney stating your wishes when you are unable to do so.
Review your Finances
Review your existing finance and fiscal standing. This will provide a clear outline for the surviving family of what needs to be addressed.
Debts: This information should be located in a place known to your beneficiaries. List whatever debts your spouse or estate may be responsible for after your death such as property tax, liens, etc.
Assets: List all assets for your beneficiaries, such as:
- Deposit/Savings Accounts
- Checking account
- Mutual Fund accounts
- Life insurance policy or policies
- Certificates of Deposit
- Stocks and bonds
- Real estate holdings
- Mortgage information
- 401(k) & 403(b) Plans
- IRA, Roth IRA
- Social Security benefits
- Medical insurance coverage
- Veteran’s benefits
- Any miscellaneous investments
Credit cards: Ensure details of your credit cards are accessible with outstanding balances
Be sure to list any and all assets not covered by the above – including documented personal loans to friends or business associates.
Gather together all applicable personal documents
It will greatly help your family if all your personal and identity documents are itemized and stored appropriately so that they can be easily accessed. These include such as the following:
- Birth certificate
- Social Security information
- Divorce decree
- Military discharge papers
- Naturalization or Citizenship papers
- Adoption papers
- Income tax returns
- Property deeds
- Trust documents
- Safety deposit details & key
It is advisable to store these important documents in a safe place, especially if they are all together. A safe or fireproof box is recommended.
Organize any miscellaneous insurance coverage documents
These days we carry all sorts of insurance coverage. It will assist the family if you have clearly organized your insurance policies.
- Any additional Health Insurance policies
Make a list of your key associates & advisers
It can also help to make information readily available of your key contacts such as:
- Executor of your will
- Accountant or Financial Planner/Broker
- Insurance Agents
- Bank Manager
- Business Associates
- Employer & Union Contacts
- Organization memberships
Make a list of online memberships/log-ins
These days we all have so many online services and forums that we access. Be it Internet banking, municipal portals, media sites – news, Netflix, etc, Facebook, Trip Advisor, Google+, that it is advisable to make a secure list of all your accounts and the access information. This will enable the family to access and deactivate accounts as appropriate. DO ENSURE this data is kept very secure.
Consider how to protect your identity
Identity theft has now become a real issue, and we frequently hear stories about people who have had their identity stolen and used to procure services or goods. As mentioned above, we all conduct such ‘virtual’ online activities, and it can be difficult for families to protect this once someone dies. Identity thieves will even scour obituary notices to unwittingly pounce upon the identity of the recently bereaved. This is made all the easier today in our digital world. You may wish to specify that you do not wish an online obituary to be posted. Read further about How to Protect the Deceased from Identity Theft.
Document your key personal information & history
It can help with the immediate process of filing a death certificate and an obituary if you document out the key specifics of your personal information and your history. This would include listing down the following:
- Full Legal Name
- Other/Maiden Names
- Social Security Number
- Date of Birth
- State & City of Birth
- Mother’s Maiden Name
- Father’s Name
- Marital Status/Spouse or Partner Name
- Wedding Date and Place
- Children’s Names
- Armed Forces History
- Driver’s License Number
- Passport Information
Everything we have listed here may seem quite overwhelming to start organizing, but putting your affairs in order can greatly reduce the stress for your surviving family.