In December a friend of mine’s coworker was hit by a car and killed while crossing the street; he was 35 years old.
On January 5th a member of my husband’s family was found dead in her apartment. This person, whom I’ll call Marie, was 58 years old, single, no children and lived over 200 miles from her nearest relative. The family has no idea what her last wishes were, if she has a will, life insurance or even a bank account. They don’t know where Marie’s important papers are, who her landlord is etc., etc. My husband and his sister have spent the last week trying to find answers to these questions and they’re far from done. As you can imagine this has been traumatic for them on so many levels.
These are both tragic events causing sorrow and pain for the victims’ families and friends. Don’t make it harder on you or your family by not being prepared! We’re all going to die, we just don’t know when so as hard as it is to face that truth, we must be prepared.
I’m not an attorney but like all of you who have experienced the death of a very close relative and now with what my husband is going through I suggest you get organized as follows:
- Determine who you’d like to manage your estate (no matter the size) and provide them with vital information. I’m not suggesting you give them a key to your safety deposit box or the password to your bank account. Simply make a list of the following and tell them where they can find this list:
- If you have a will/trust (and you should) where is it or what attorney’s office has it.
- Where to find your health care proxy/living will (you should have one of these too). This should not be kept in a safety deposit box. If this document is needed during non-banking hours (which was when my family needed one) you won’t be able to get it.
- Names and account numbers for your bank accounts, money markets, certificates of deposits, IRA, stocks, bonds etc.
- Who holds your mortgage, home equity loan, car loan, student loan, etc.?
- If you have a vacation home be sure you provide this information for that property as well.
- Do you have a life insurance policy and if so where is it? Does your employer provide a life insurance benefit? Where can that information be found?
- If you own your car where is the title? Where is the registration?
- Where is your social security card, marriage certificate, divorce certificate, passport, etc.?
You can also Google “last wishes planner” and you’ll find several planners to choose from that will give you a guideline to follow. Some are extremely detailed. Don’t be overwhelmed by the details, use the pieces that are meaningful to you and ignore the rest. In this case gathering some of the information is better than nothing.
Some of you may be asking yourself where you put your Social Security card, passport, car title, etc. If that’s the case, you can still make a list of what you have (even if you don’t know where it is) and then start organizing your vital papers.
A fire/water proof box, like the one pictured, is a good place to keep important papers. These boxes come in different sizes and cost approximately $50 – $60. They can be found where you buy office supplies or online.
If you don’t have a fire/water proof box create a file for these papers until you can get a box. You can start by simply labeling a file folder “important papers” and put everything in this one folder. You might also create a file labeled “Robert – start here”. If Robert will be in charge of your estate put the list of what you own, your will/trust and health care proxy in this file then tell Robert where this file lives. You’ve now given him a map of your estate and final wishes and made every one’s life easier. Of course you can take the organization of these documents to a higher level, but what’s important is that you and “Robert” now know where everything can be found.
Get started on this today!