When someone hears the phrase, getting their affairs in order, the first thought is death. While this is a common cause, there are others, such as the loss of family members that can motivate people to organize their financial and legal information. Organizing is a step that will help family members should anything happen to you.
The Meaning of “Getting My Affairs in Order”
It simply means getting information about your financial records, any property information, and medical or personal information organized in a way that people you trust can follow your wishes and handle the estate if you die or become incapacitated.
There are Several Reasons for Taking These Steps
The most important reason for organizing your personal and financial materials is that it will give you peace of mind. Your wishes and personal information will be easily accessible should something happen to you. Also, it will be a great help to your family and friends. Dealing with grief and trying to locate important paperwork at the same time is challenging. Having everything organized makes the situation much easier during a difficult time.
Steps to Get Organized
Not everything needs to be done in one sitting, so you can separate tasks if you prefer. The best place to start is with a will or trust. These and other important documents should be stored in a central location such as a file cabinet. These six steps for getting affairs in order before death checklist will help.
1. Hire an Estate Planning Attorney
This is a professional that can help with all the estate documents that you need to be organized. This can include a will, but it will also include a financial and medical power of attorney and perhaps a revocable trust. For basic documents, there are several online resources, but having a professional prepare your documents will give you peace of mind, particularly if the estate is substantial or there are family issues. Most will offer to do a phone call so that you can see if they are the right attorney for you.
One question to ask is whether a revocable trust is a better option for your estate. When you hear the positives and negatives, this may help you make up your mind. This may be a more expensive option, but it may be the best one for you.
The process of working with an estate planning attorney can take approximately 2–4 weeks. One of the first questions to ask is about their fees and who you will actually be working with. Most work is done within two visits. When presented with a draft, be sure to review everything before signing. Average fees range from $900-2,500 depending on the amount of real estate or businesses you own.
If you previously had estate planning documents created in the past, it may be worth having a brief consultation to include any updates. This can usually be handled for about $175-350. With all of your documents ready, the consultation should be brief and fruitful.
2. Select Fiduciaries
These are the individuals who will take care of any financial or medical matters when you can’t. Typically, terms for this person include “Executor, “Power of Attorney”, “Trustee” or “Patient Advocate” depending on the situation. Ask the individual you choose before you name them in the documents. Also, consider selecting an alternate person just in case.
3. Review Beneficiary Forms and Update If Needed
Take a few moments and review the beneficiary information with your retirement accounts and life insurance. This determines where your accounts will be directed if you die. These designations should conform with your will. Keeping these documents up to date ensures that your final wishes are carried out appropriately.
4. Review Real Estate Deeds
Property can be easily transferred depending on the type of deed. However, this may need to be something that your attorney handles. If it is not done correctly, there can be tax consequences, and it can also impact your title insurance.
5. Important Documents, Contacts, and Information to Store and Maintain
This information can be stored in a safe place, as well as digitally. Typically, this includes your will, deeds, trusts, and beneficiary forms. Other information includes:
- Birth certificate
- Marriage certificate
- Life insurance policies
- Medical insurance card
- Copy of driver’s license
- Social security card
- Medical insurance card
- Military records
- Tax returns
Other records to include:
- Passwords for online accounts
- Passport copy
- Adoption papers
- Where important keys and combinations are located.
- Divorce decree/prenup agreement
- Work permit and citizenship papers
- Vaccination records
Financial and Medical Information to Maintain
The executor will need to know the contact information for those who have been working with you on financial or property matters, including the accountant and financial advisor. They will also need to be able to access a list of financial accounts, assets, and property. They will also need to know who your doctor and dentist are, as well as any medicines that you take. Include information about your health insurance. It’s also helpful if you can provide information about recurring expenses and how they are paid whether by check, credit card, or auto bill pay.
6. Keep Everything Organized
Once it is organized, keep it updated. Many people do that at tax time. Some have a question about where to store documents. This could be in your home office, bedroom, or computer. One important note is that information should not be stored in a safety deposit box because it can be difficult to access. If the information is stored on your computer, make sure that there is a note about the passwords in your paper documents. Also, don’t give paperwork to family members as information can change over time. However, your estate planning attorney will retain a digital copy.
Additional Information to Consider When Organizing Information
- Keep lists of instructions and contact information regarding financial matters. This includes filing your tax returns and recent statements organized, as well.
- Include any information about property maintenance including contact information for the housekeeper, handyman, or lawn care professional. If you are incapacitated, this will help your family keep your property in good condition.
- Leave instructions about which bills are on autopay and which should be paid by check or credit card. Include information about due dates so that bills can be taken care of.
- Provide information about online or social media accounts including passwords. This also includes online payment processors like PayPal or Venmo.
Taking Care of Personal Property
List any items that have emotional or financial value and designate who that item should go to. The list should be signed and dated. If you can distribute items or at least talk to the person about them before your death, it makes everything go smoother.
Planning Your Funeral Service
This tends to be a personal preference. Some people want to know that the details of the service that they want are clearly outlined with songs, poems, or religious texts being read. Sometimes, people also designate the religious persons that they want to officiate. Others, however, don’t feel comfortable doing this. The most important thing is that if you have any special things, no matter how small, that you want to be included, make a note of them in your files.
Whether you want a service or not, recording your wishes will make it easier for your family. If you prefer burial or cremation, make that clear in your documents then your family can carry out your wishes. One important thing, though is not to pay for the funeral beforehand unless you have a terminal illness or are of advanced age as it can cause you to be quoted a higher price. Your estate lawyer, if you have one, can help you arrange these documents.
Veterans and their Funeral Benefits
If you served in the military and would like a military funeral service, your family will need your VA number to access this benefit. Make a note in your files so that it is easily accessible. As a veteran, certain funeral benefits are entitled to you.
Donation of Your Remains
Many people want to donate their organs if they can be helpful to others. Some don’t want this to happen. This needs to be clearly defined in your documents so that there is no question about your wishes. Your family will be able to make the arrangements according to your written statement.
Some people say that they want to “donate their body to science.” For most people, this decision requires some thought. If you do make the decision to make this donation, identify in writing the medical school where you would like for your body to go. It is not advisable to notify the school in advance. The most important thing is that your decision is clearly recorded in your documents. Also, designate someone that will see that it is carried out appropriately. Because this is a big decision for most people, let your family know beforehand that you want to donate your body for medical research. Finding out after your passing can be upsetting and cause the family to protest. In this case, the medical school will not take the body.
Getting Your Affairs in Order Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful
While you do need to keep paper copies of your records, your attorney may also keep copies as part of your files. But there is an easy digital resource to keep all of your information in one place. This is LawSafe®. LawSafe® is an opportunity to provide a digitally encrypted location to store all of your estate information in a safe place. It is easy to update information and any instructions or permissions.
While you are getting your affairs in order and after, LawSafe® makes the process easier. As an easy-to-use online portal, all of your information and wishes are kept in one place. This service is available for as little as $17 a year. All of your information is centrally located online and is easily accessible by your family on your death, emergency, or incapacitation.
Benefits of LawSafe®
The beginning is helping you to organize all of your financial and personal information in one place. But through the years, information, desires, and contact information may change. This is the hard part of keeping one’s affairs in order. The portal helps with this by providing annual reminders to update information. Also, limited access can be granted to individuals in your “Circle of Trust®”
Through the program, you can also name an independent gatekeeper. This individual will only be given access to your information when it is proven that you have died or are incapacitated. Privacy is very important.
This service is designed to save you time and money while organizing all of your important documents and information. Privacy is an important feature so that no one can access your information until the appropriate time. Take some time to explore LawSafe® and see the peace of mind that it can provide you while you are getting your affairs in order.