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Maura Curran, Attorney
Jupiter, FL 33458

How to Avoid High Octane Stress and Organize Information for Your Family

Think, for just a few moments, about what would happen if you suddenly became incapacitated or died. Would your spouse or family know what to do? Would they know where to find important records, assets, password, usernames, and insurance documents? Would they be able to access (or even know about) online accounts or files on your computer?

Would they know whom to ask if they need help? Would they miss assets or insurances you’ve paid for? Not knowing what’s out there, where to find it, and how to access it is extremely stressful and burdensome. If you put all of your information in a safe place and let loved ones know where it is, you’re providing for and protecting your family, instead of dumping stress on them at an already stressful time. Putting the effort in now, to establish a formal document inventory, will alleviate unnecessary anxiety and turmoil at one of the hardest times of their lives.

Key Takeaways

  • If you should suddenly become incapacitated or die, your family would need to know where to find the information they need.
  • Let your loved ones and trusted helpers know where to find your document inventory.
  • Do not assume your process will be readily understood by others; hold a trial run to make sure they can find and understand your records.
  • Keep your inventory current with a bi-annual or annual review.

Here’s the Information Your Loved Ones Will Need

There is a large volume of documents and information that your family would need during a calamitous event such as incapacitation (even temporary) or death. This basic list will help you start thinking of the critical information you would want your family to have within reach.

  • Legal documents (will, living trust, and health care documents; adoption, marriage, divorce, military discharge certificates; insurance policies, deeds, and car titles)
  • List of medications (with dosages) you are taking
  • List of your advisors (estate planning attorney, CPA, banker, insurance agent, financial advisor, and physicians)
  • Insurance policies (health, disability, long-term care, business, life, auto, homeowners, renters, and umbrella)
  • Year-end bank and investment account statements as well as the most recent quarter’s statement
  • Storage facility location, access method, and inventory
  • List of all assets and accounts, including location, account numbers, date purchased and purchase price
  • Safe deposit box location, list of contents and location of key
  • List of companies or people to whom you owe money (mortgage, credit cards, friend, etc.)
  • List of people who owe you money
  • Death, disability, pension, and insurance benefits from organizations
  • Past tax returns (6 years)
  • User IDs, passwords, and PINs for all financial, email, social media, photo sharing, bookkeeping, computer, and other online accounts

What You Need to Know

Your document inventory requires a methodical listing of both hardcopy and digital forms. While the effort will be more challenging at the start, the maintenance of the inventory is much simpler. Be mindful that your digital footprint will likely grow much faster in the future than it has in the past, but you’ll be able to keep up with it.

Additional Actions Necessary to Protect You and Your Loved Ones

  • Give current copies of your health care documents to your physicians and designated agent(s).
  • Keep your original documents in one safe place, like a fireproof safe. Make copies for the notebook described next.
  • Buy one or two three-ring binders to organize your personal and financial information. You can enter it by hand or create spreadsheets on your computer, but having it all in one or two binders will make it easy for your family to find and use. If you leave it on your computer, they may never find it. Include locations, contact information, account numbers, and approximate amounts.
  • Include a list of online accounts and how to access them (including passwords).
  • Clean up your computer desktop and put important files in an easy-to-find desktop folder.
  • Have a trial run. Ask your spouse or other trusted helpers (such as your successor trustee or executor) to pretend that he or she needs to access needed information.
  • At least once a year, but preferably every six months, review and update your notebook, computer desktop files, and usernames and passwords for online accounts.

We know that this paperwork is a pain and easy to put off, but rest assured that you’ll feel so much better when it is all in place – and so will your loved ones. Any questions about what documents to save and for how long – or – questions about making sure your estate planning documents are up to date so they work when you need them? Feel free to call our office. We’re always happy to help.