Give a nice gift to your family: put your things in order

DEar Savvy Senior: I would like my personal, legal and financial information to be organized so that my children know what happens when I am no longer there. Can you offer any advice on the best way to do this? – Emma unorganized

Dear Emma: Organizing your important papers and putting your personal and financial affairs in order is a smart idea and a wonderful gift for your loved ones. Here are some tips to get you started.

Get organized

The first step in getting your affairs in order is to put together all of your important personal, financial, and legal information so that you can organize it in a format that will be useful to you now and to your loved ones later.

Then you will need to sit down and create various lists of important information and instructions on how you want certain things to be handled when you die or become disabled. Here is a checklist of areas you need to focus on.

Personal informations

>> Contacts: Make a master list of the names and phone numbers of close friends, doctors, and professional advisers such as your lawyer, accountant, broker, and insurance agent.

>> Medical information: Include a list of any medications you are taking, as well as any allergies and illnesses.

>> Personal documents: Include such things as your birth certificate, social security card, marriage license, military discharge papers, and more.

>> Secure places: List all the devices and receptacles where you keep important items locked up, such as safes and safes (with any combination), security alarms, etc.

>> Digital assets: Make a list of all of your digital assets, including everything from social media accounts and online banking accounts to the home utilities you manage online. It should include usernames and passwords. Use the Rutgers Digital Asset Inventory Worksheet (njaes.rutgers.edu/money/pdfs/digital-assets-worksheet.pdf) as a guide.

>> Pets: If you have a pet, provide instructions for the care of the pet.

>> End of life: State your organ and tissue donation wishes and write your funeral instructions. If you have pre-arranged with a funeral home, include a copy of the agreement, contact information and whether you have prepaid.

Legal documents

>> Will, trust and estate plan: Include the original copy of your will and any other estate planning documents you have prepared.

>> Financial power of attorney: This document names someone you trust to handle money matters if you are incapacitated.

>> Advance healthcare directives: This includes a living will and a medical power of attorney, which state your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment when you can no longer make decisions on your own.

Financial documents

>> Financial accounts: Make a list of all of your bank, brokerage, and mutual fund accounts, and any other financial assets you have.

>> Debts and liabilities: Make a list of all the loans, leases, or debt you have – mortgages, car loans, student loans, medical bills, credit card debt. Also make a list of all credit and charge cards, including card numbers and contact details.

>> Company advantages: List any retirement plans, pensions or health benefits from your current or former employer, including the contact details of the benefit administrator.

>> Assurance: List the insurance policies you have (life, long term care, home, automobile, Medicare, Medigap, prescription drugs, etc.), including policy numbers, agents, and phone numbers.

>> Property: List the real estate, vehicles, and other properties you own, lease, or lease, and include documents such as deeds, titles, and loan or lease agreements.

>> Taxes: Include the location of your tax records and contact information for your tax preparer.

Keep all your information and files organized together in one convenient place, ideally in a fireproof filing cabinet or in a safe in your home. Also, be sure to review and update it every year, and don’t forget to tell your kids where they can find it.

If you need help, pick up a copy of “Gather Together: Organize Your Files So Your Family Doesn’t Have to” at Nolo.com for $ 17.50 for download versions or $ 20. for a printed copy.


Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” and the author of “The Savvy Senior”. Send your questions to Savvy Senior, PO Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.


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