The Documents You Need Before You Die
It isn’t enough really to just make a will, appoint an executor and assume it will all take care of itself; by spending a little time and effort, we can make things much easier on families that are already grieving. Remember that if they don’t know where your important papers are, or if they even exist, anything you have in place to help will be lost. In these times, we also need to consider anything online as well and ensure that your loved ones have access to everything.
Most experts recommend creating a comprehensive folder of documents that family members can access in case of an emergency, so they aren't left trying to find and sort through papers to find a will, bank accounts and insurance papers.
You should store the original documents in a safe fireproof box at home, a lock box at the bank, with your lawyer or with someone you trust. It is also a good idea to have an extra copy somewhere safe in case of fire or some other emergency, as well as, a copy that is more easily accessible. You executor, at the very least, should know the location of this file.
Documents You Need To Organize:
- A copy of your will is the most important document to have available. It is also important to note where the original is stored.
- If not included in the will, a letter stating your wishes about guardianship of under-age children is essential. While this is not always binding by law, courts will usually take into account your wishes. The prospective guardians should be consulted in advance to make sure they are ready and able to carry out your wishes.
- A Letter of Instruction – if there is anything that could be misconstrued or challenged, a letter of instruction will help clarify your wishes. It could also include your wishes on funeral arrangements, but anything you want to be passed on could be included.
- A copy of life insurance policies.
- A copy of health insurance policy.
- A copy of funeral insurance policy or any funeral plans you have so they are easily accessible.
- A copy of cemetery deeds.
- Details of superannuation, retirement accounts and other similar information.
- A list of all bank accounts and credit cards with the financial institution, the account name and number - both brick and mortar banks, as well as, online.
- A copy of any outstanding loans whether official or loans given in good faith.
- Copies of birth, marriage and divorce certificates as these may be needed to verify name changes. A copy of a passport is also useful.
- Any stock certificates or other assets.
- Power of Attorney or Living Wills.
- A list of passwords, user names etc so important accounts can be accessed.
- Anything else that you feel is appropriate or that will need to be found after your death.
Some other thoughts:
A detailed document of family and personal history will mean your family will never wonder about your life and could perhaps answer any medical questions that come up in the future.
Copies of property deeds, vehicle titles and the last 3 years of tax returns can all help make a stressful time a little less so.
A list of phone numbers and the contact person (if appropriate) for social security, insurance companies, lawyer etc makes contacting everyone less traumatic.
It would also be helpful to leave a list of friends, work colleagues etc that the family may not necessarily know so that they could be contacted.
Keep a hard copy of all documents, letters etc as formats and technology change. USBs, CDs and DVDs may not be around in a few years and if all else fails a hard copy will always available.
As difficult as it is to be prepared, a few hours of work on your part, can save your loved ones many hours of hunting for important documents and trying to figure out what you have, where it's located and what your wishes are.
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