Putting Your Affairs in Order: Safeguarding Your Loved Ones with a Comprehensive Document Checklist

Aug 16, 2023

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

Preparing for the inevitable is something most of us would rather avoid thinking about. However, organizing your financial documents is an essential task that should not be overlooked, especially when it comes to planning for the unexpected. In the unfortunate event of your death, having your financial documents organized can provide peace of mind and make the process easier for your loved ones. By keeping your important documents in order, such as wills, insurance policies, and investment statements, you ensure that your wishes are known and can be carried out efficiently. Additionally, organizing your financial documents can help your family navigate the complex financial landscape and avoid unnecessary stress during an already difficult time. Taking the time to organize your financial documents is a responsible and considerate action that can greatly benefit your loved ones in the event of your passing.

Which Essential Documents Should You Include? 

The first step is to compile a comprehensive list of all yourfinancial accounts and assets, locate where to find them, and record the essential information for how to access each one. Following is a list of documents you’ll want to include:

  1. A Will: A legal document that outlines your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets, guardianship of minors (if applicable), and appointment of an executor to carry out your wishes.
  2. Trust Documents: If you have set up a trust, include the trust agreement and any amendments. This document details how your assets are to be managed and distributed.
  3. Life Insurance Policies: Include copies of any life insurance policies along with contact information for the insurance company. This will help your loved ones file a claim and receive the death benefit.
  4. Financial Account Information: Compile a list of your bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and any other financial accounts. Provide details such as the account numbers, institution names, and contact information.
  5. Property Deeds: Include copies of deeds for any properties you own, whether it’s your home, land, or other real estate assets.
  6. Vehicle Titles and Registrations: Gather documents related to any vehicles you own, such as car titles, registrations, and insurance details.
  7. Tax Records: Include copies of your tax returns for the past few years. This will provide your loved ones with insight into your financial situation and any potential tax obligations.
  8. Digital Assets: Provide information about your digital assets, such as login credentials for email accounts, social media profiles, online banking, cryptocurrency accounts, and any other online platforms or memberships.
  9. Health Care Documents: Include health care directives (Living Will or Advance Health Care Directive) and a list of any medical conditions, medications, or allergies you have. This will help your loved ones make informed decisions about your health care.
  10. Funeral and Burial Instructions: If you have specific wishes for your funeral or burial arrangements, include them in this document. You can outline preferences for services, burial or cremation, donation of organs, or any other specific requests.

It’s also advisable to consult with an attorney to ensure that your documents are properly prepared and legally valid. 

Options to Consider For Securing Important Documents,

After you’ve gathered all your physical and digital records, make sure they’re safely stored so your executor, representative, or a trusted loved one can easily access them. In order to ensure your personal and confidential information is protected, you must make sure the documents are secured and don’t fall into the wrong hands. To prevent this from happening, you should consider the following safeguards:

A Secure Digital Storage: Use a password-protected digital storage solution, such as a secure cloud-based service or encrypted external hard drive. Make sure to share the login credentials and any necessary encryption keys or passwords with a trusted individual.

A Safe Deposit Box: Consider storing important documents, such as wills, trust documents, property deeds, and insurance policies, in a safe deposit box at a bank. Ensure that authorized individuals have access to the box and are aware of its location.

A Digital Password Manager: Use a password manager app or software to securely store and manage login credentials for online accounts. Share the master password or account access with a trusted individual.

A Physical Safe or Lockbox: Keep physical copies of important documents like birth certificates, marriage certificates, social security cards, and financial account statements in a secure safe or lockbox at home. Make sure the key or combination is accessible to someone trustworthy.

A Financial Advisor or Accountant: Notify your financial advisor or accountant about your intended representatives after death and provide them with necessary information and documents related to your financial affairs.

A Digital Legacy Services: Consider using digital legacy services that allow you to store and manage your digital assets and passwords securely. These services often provide options to designate trusted individuals who can access the information upon your death.

An Estate Planning Attorney: Consult with an estate planning attorney who can guide you on how to securely store and organize your personal financial information. They may also keep copies of important documents in their records.

Steps For The Safe Handling And Transfer Of Your Documents

  1. Create a document that includes the location of your financial documents, such as safe deposit boxes, passwords, and access codes to online accounts. Ensure this document is kept in a secure location, such as a safe or with your attorney.  This allows your family to access your financial information and assets quickly and easily without having to search through your possessions or contact multiple financial institutions to obtain the information. 
  2. Inform a trusted loved one or your executor about the existence and location of your financial documents. Provide them with a copy of the document containing passwords and access information.  This prevents your financial information and assets from being lost or forgotten, which can lead to costly delays in obtaining access. It also ensures that your financial wishes are carried out as you intended, rather than leaving it to chance or relying on the opinion of someone else.
  3. Designate an executor or representative in your will or trust document who will handle your financial affairs after your death. Provide them with a copy of the relevant legal documents.  Having a designated executor or representative will ensure that the proper paperwork is filed in a timely manner and that your wishes are honored in accordance with the law. It also helps to prevent family members from disagreeing on how to handle your financial affairs, which can lead to costly legal disputes.
  4. Review and update beneficiary designations on your financial accounts and insurance policies to ensure they reflect your current wishes. Life changes such as marriage, divorce, births, and deaths can impact your intended beneficiaries. By regularly reviewing and updating these designations, you can ensure that the right individuals receive your assets and prevent unintended consequences or disputes after your death. It helps to keep your estate plan up to date and aligned with your current financial and familial circumstances.
  5. Consider consulting with an estate planning attorney to ensure your financial affairs are structured appropriately and your documents are legally sound.  An estate planning attorney will be able to provide guidance on how to handle your assets, develop a strategy for minimizing taxes, and create a will or trust that ensures your wishes are carried out. They can also help you select a designated executor or representative who can understand and carry out your wishes in accordance with the law.

Consult The Services Of Estate Planning Attorney Michelle E. Murphy 

The assistance of qualified estate planning attorney Michelle E. Murphy, is a valuable asset when gathering and securing your documents. Because of her extensive experience and education, she is well equipped to provide you with sound recommendations on the best way to manage your estate, name executors and beneficiaries, and help you organize and maintain your financial documents. In this way, you won’t have to worry about your family going on a scavenger hunt to find them or delay receiving benefits. Whether you need assistance organizing or safeguarding your financial records, or drafting a will or trust, Michelle is available to handle all of your estate planning needs. Give her a call today to schedule a free consultation!