Getting Your Important Information Organized

Think for a few moments about what would happen if you suddenly became incapacitated or died. Would your spouse or family know what to do? Would they know where to find important records, assets and insurance documents? Would they be able to access (or even know about) online accounts or files on your computer? Would they know whom to ask if they need help?  Putting the effort in now to establish a formal document inventory can alleviate unnecessary anxiety and turmoil in the future and bring your loved ones comfort and clarity today.

The Key Takeaways

  1. If you should suddenly become incapacitated or die, your family needs to know where to find your important information.
  2. Let your family know where to find your estate planning documents and your important papers.
  3. Have a trial run to make sure your family can find and understand your records.
  4. Keep an inventory of your important documents, keep it current and review it annually.

What Information Would They Need?

There is a large volume of documents and information that your family would need during a calamitous event such as incapacitation (even temporary) or death. This basic list will help you start thinking of the critical information you would want your family to have.

  1. legal documents (wills, trusts, durable powers of attorney, and health care documents);
  2. list of medications you are taking;
  3. list of your advisors (attorney, CPA, banker, insurance agent, financial advisor, physicians)
  4. insurance policies (health, disability and life);
  5. year-end bank and investment account statements;
  6. storage facility location, access method, and inventory;
  7. list of other assets, including location, account numbers, date purchased and purchase price;
  8. safe deposit box location, list of contents and location of key;
  9. list of people to whom you owe money (mortgage, credit cards, etc.);
  10. list of people who owe you money;
  11. death or disability benefits from organizations;
  12. past tax returns.

Also, many of your records are probably on a computer or stored online. If you scan documents or receive financial statements electronically, your family may not even know they exist. If you use a computer accounting program such as Quicken, QuickBooks or Mint, those records would be on your computer. Family photos may be stored digitally or online. Much of this information is password protected. Let your family know where to find a list of your passwords.

What You Need to Know:  Your document inventory requires a methodical listing of both hard copy and digital forms.  While the effort will be more challenging at the start, the maintenance of the inventory is much simpler.  Be mindful that your digital footprint will likely grow much faster in the future than it has in the past.

Actions to Consider

  1. Give current copies of your health care documents to your physicians and designated agent(s).
  2. Keep your original documents in one safe place, like a fireproof safe or safe deposit box. Make copies for the binder described next.
  3. Buy one or two three-ring binders to organize your personal and financial information. You can enter it by hand or create spreadsheets on your computer, but having it all in one or two binders will make it easy for your family to find and use. (If you leave it on your computer, they may never find it.) Include locations, contact information, account numbers and amounts.
  4. Include a list of online accounts and how to access them (including where to find passwords).
  5. Clean up your computer desktop and put important files in an easy-to-find desktop folder.
  6. Have a trial run. Ask your spouse or other family member (or your successor trustee or personal representative) to pretend that he or she needs to access needed information.
  7. At least once a year, review and update your binder, computer desktop files and passwords for online accounts.