What it Means to “Have Your Affairs in Order”

There are simple steps that you can take in order to make things easier for your loved ones in the event that something happens to you. Consider the following example. A husband and wife have been married for fifty years. The husband has always been the “bread winner” and handled all of the family finances. Sadly, the husband passes away suddenly and, in addition to her sorrow over her husband’s death, the wife finds herself overwhelmed by the need to manage her own finances. She does not know where all of the money was invested and she is not sure who she can call.

In many families, one spouse handles the finances and assumes the role of recordkeeper. When that person dies, the surviving spouse may spend months trying to find the important papers and accounts. A similar problem arises for adult children when both parents pass away. Even more difficult is when a person dies without children, and extended family members are faced with the task of identifying the assets and debts of the decedent.

If you (or someone close to you) is a “financial head of household,” that person should work on “getting their affairs in order.” This could mean a number of things, depending on the particular situation. A good starting point would be to gather the following documents and put them all in one area of “important papers” (a safe deposit box is fine, but only if someone else will have access to it upon death):

(1) Estate Planning Documents (Wills, Trusts, and Powers of Attorney). If these documents don’t exist, seek out your friendly neighborhood lawyer to create them for you.
(2) Deeds to Real Estate
(3) Life Insurance Policies
(4) Financial Account Statements
(5) Stock Certificates
(6) Tax Returns

In addition to the above, it is helpful to make a list of the following information, and
update it annually to keep things current:

Investment Accounts: The account number and financial institution (contact person, address and phone number) for every investment you have. This would include bank accounts, Certificates of Deposit, brokerage accounts, annuities, IRAs, and other retirement plans.

Digital Accounts: Information concerning any digital accounts (PayPal accounts, social networking accounts, blogs, websites, itunes, photo accounts etc.) which you want others to have access to. Consider whether to provide user names and passwords (having in mind potential security risks).

Insurance: The kind of insurance, policy number, and insurance company (contact person, address and phone number) for every insurance policy you own. Include life insurance, long term care insurance, health insurance, auto insurance and homeowners insurance.

Business Interests: The name and contact information for the Company, the State where the Company was registered, and the number of shares you own in any corporation, LLC or partnership that is not traded on any stock exchange.

Personal Debts: Contact information for any person who owes you money, and copies of any Promissory Notes. The account number and financial institution (name, address and phone number) for every mortgage, loan, credit card or other debt you owe. Include the monthly payment amount and the day of the month on which payment is due.

Income: The amounts and sources of your income (social security, pension, rental income, etc.).

Advisors: The name, Company name, address and phone number of your attorney, stock broker, insurance agent and tax return preparer.

Funeral Preferences: The Company (name:, address, and phone number) from which you bought your funeral plan and burial plot.

Safe Deposit Box: The financial institution (name, address, and phone number) where you have a safe deposit box, and a list of what is in it.

Once you have gathered these documents and generated a list, share it with the person who will handle your affairs in the event of your death or disability. Let him or her read the list and ask questions.

Having the above described documents in one place, along with a list of the critical information can save your loved ones from hours of leg and guess work and unnecessary expense. This type of organization is a truly a gift to your family.


© Annis & Zellers, PLLC
This material is introductory and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with your lawyer for estate planning services based upon your specific circumstances.