There’s no better time to start preparing your affairs than right now. For many, it can be uncomfortable to think about, or a task that continually gets put off until some distant tomorrow, but an emergency or accident could happen at any time. If you don’t get your affairs in order before it’s too late, your family will be the ones paying the price. It’s a story that’s been reported on multiple times—major insurance providers refusing to issue unclaimed payouts to policyholders’ families.
As recently as 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported that ten states had accused insurance companies of intentionally withholding unclaimed money from deceased policyholders’ families. In the same article, the WSJ wrote, “state treasurers currently hold $32.9 billion in unclaimed bank accounts and other assets.” Obviously, if people knew there was money to be claimed they would claim it. Failure to plan and organize affairs before the time of death, however, leads to confusion and sometimes a loss of everything you’ve accumulated over the course of your life. The passing of a family member is already overwhelming enough without the added pressure of sorting through files, papers, and storage containers
What to Store:
The more centralized the storage, the better. A great option is a portable fireproof safe. Be sure to include:
- List of insurance policies and company contact information.
- List of outstanding debts along with payments made and contact information.
- List of bank accounts.
- Copy of durable power of attorney and living wills.
- Copy of each of your wills with location of the originals.
- Copy of safety deposit keys.
- List of investments and retirement accounts.
- List of health providers, prescriptions, and doctors.
- Copy of social security number with an original in a bank deposit box.
- Birth Certificate, copy or original.
If you have things in more than one place, make a physically printed, or a flash-drive stored, list of the places your important documents are. Also, within this list, include a checklist of things you want your family to have access to so they know they aren’t missing anything when they do go over it. Give a copy or a flash-drive to those you trust or to be even safer, give the list to your lawyer who will share the information with your family in the event of your death.
Different types of Documents:
Maybe you know what each type of document does, but in case you don’t remember, here’s a quick reminder:
- A will or a trust allows you to dictate who your money/property goes to after you death. You’ll want to store an original copy in a very safe place, keep it with an attorney.
- A living will allows your medical wishes to be carried out if you are incapacitated. This allows you to decide on whether or not you’d want to be kept on life support, which takes tremendous pressure off of your family members if they ever find themselves in that situation.
- A durable power of attorney for health gives you the chance to name someone you trust to carry out medical decisions if you are unable to make them for yourself. There is also a legal version of the durable power of attorney, which allows someone to act on your accord if you cannot make your own legal decisions due to Alzheimer’s, dementia, or anything else that may happen.
- A general power of attorney gives your beneficiary the authority to act for you legally until you become unable to make your own decisions.
- Bank registration allows your spouse or child to access your bank accounts after you die along with any safe deposit boxes. This makes it more convenient because if their name is not registered with the bank they will need to go to court to gain legal access.
- House/land ownership deeds, stocks, bonds, vehicle titles, and mortgage accounts are self explanatory, but be sure to let your family know you own these things so they will not be overlooked. If they are unaware of these assets they may never find them.
Again, I know it’s hard to imagine the scenario of your death, but if your family depends on you financially, then the normal family grief could be turned into a financial nightmare. Owning multiple homes, cars, a large stock portfolio, retirement accounts, or bonds can make this process extremely difficult. The earlier planned the better. Preparation on your part will ensure your family is taken care of even after you’re gone.
Max Gottlieb is the content manager of both Prime Medical Alert and Senior Planning in Phoenix, Arizona. Prime Medical Alert allows seniors to age in place while Senior Planning offers free aid to seniors looking for benefits, new housing, or care options.