Getting Your Affairs in Order

Travel abroad, skydive, climb the Statue of Liberty, visit the Louvre. Most of us have a list of things we would like to do before we die. “But what about those things you really should do before you die? They may not be fun, but they will bring you peace of mind today and provide guidance to the friends and family members you leave behind,” says Charles Sabatino, Director of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging. When you die, those responsible for handling your final affairs need to be ready for the important decisions they will have to make. Here’s how Sabatino recommends you can help them be better prepared:

  1. Discuss your wishes and review your finances in detail with your trusted loved ones. Make sure they are aware of where your assets and documents are kept. Include your children in this review if any of the money matters involve them. Make sure you have life insurance, and think about long-term care insurance.

  2. If you have dependent children, name a guardian to take care of them. If you have a disabled child, you may also need to consult a professional who can guide you through the labyrinth of Medicaid and Medicare rules.

  3. Have an attorney help you prepare a will. Other critical documents to have completed include: an advance directive, power of attorney, living will, health care proxy, and do-not-resuscitate orders.

  4. Ease the trauma of your death for survivors by preplanning your funeral. Leave instructions on how you want your body to be disposed of, burial wishes, church arrangements, obituary, etc. Be as specific as possible.
  5. Set up a file in a designated safe place at home listing all your records, certificates, names and phone numbers of helpful contacts and other important information. Here is a checklist to get you started:
    • Personal documents — passport, birth certificate, Social Security information, marriage certificate, divorce decree, military discharge papers, naturalization papers, your will and that of your spouse or other loved ones, adoption papers and burial instructions.
    • Retirement and death benefit information — copies of recent Member or Retiree Annual Statements, estimates, service determinations, deferred compensation, the name, number and address of the Retirement Plan Administrator, and documents for other pensions for which you may be eligible.
    • Income tax information — copies of both state and federal income tax returns for the last three years.
    • Property tax information — copies of tax bills, deeds, liens and other related information.
    • Insurance policies — life, auto, homeowners, property, accident, liability and hospitalization policies.
    • Bank accounts — include locations of all checking and savings accounts, CDs, safe deposit boxes, savings bonds, stocks, bonds and any other securities.
    • Credit cards — account numbers, phone numbers and addresses.
    • Contact information for friends and business associates who could be helpful. Also include names and numbers of your attorney, accountant, stock broker, financial planner, insurance agent and executor of your will.

“Remember,” Sabatino points out, “you are never too young to get started, and you should update your records at least once a year.” Download a sample Personal Affairs Organizer that you might find helpful in getting your affairs in order. One problem survivors often have is finding documents and valuable papers. You can do them a favor by filling out this form. Give copies to your loved ones, executor, lawyer and anyone else who will need this information.