How to Get Your Important Papers (and Your Parent’s) Organized
So far, everyone follows life’s most fundamental rule: You’re born — you get old (if you’re lucky!) — and then you die. It’s the cycle of life. No one has ever escaped it — at least not in recent times.
As much as you may wish otherwise, you have no say about when you’re going to die. Sometimes, it’s far too early, perhaps from an unexpected heart attack. Others are lucky enough to live well into their 80s, or even older! Bottom line, the timing of our death is totally unpredictable — a roll of the dice every morning. Is today the day? Or not?
Putting your affairs in order is not about death. It’s about making sure things get done your way and the right way. It is one of the most important financial and lifestyle decisions of your life. “6 Essential Estate Planning Steps For You And Your Parents,” Forbes.com, June 25, 2015
So, whether you’re young, middle-age or older, or you’re helping your aging parent, the sooner you start organizing your life, the easier it will be — and the less of a mess you’ll leave your loved ones to deal with. Better yet, while you’re living, you’ll also reduce the frustration of not being able to find that one important document you’re looking for when you need it.
I’ll be the first to admit that my own parents probably went way overboard.
Just before his brain surgery, Dad showed me where he kept all of their legal and financial documents: living wills, durable powers of attorney for finances and healthcare, wills, financial records, checkbook, credit cards, copies of bills, receipts, etc.
Then he took me for a tour of the city to show me where their primary bank was located, their attorney’s office, the bank where they had their safe deposit box, the bank that was the trustee for their living trusts, the banks where they had purchased Certificates of Deposit, and the offices of their stockbroker. And, he calmly informed me that my sisters and I were his and Mom’s co-powers of attorney and successor trustees to his and Mom’s living trusts.
My ex-wife’s family was another story altogether.
Papers were stuffed into a 2-drawer file cabinet and desk drawers, in no particular order. Stacks of other papers and envelopes were held together by rubber bands, or stuffed into old unlabeled shoe boxes. Sometimes we found other important papers, and even paper money, stuffed between the pages of the hundreds of paperback and hardback books they had. Valuable coins (my father-in-law was an avid coin collector) stored in boxes of various sizes and scattered throughout the second floor and even the attic of their house.
It took three of us weeks, working almost every day, to sort through everything. Even after we finished, we still had a nagging feeling that we might have overlooked something important.
But, getting organized isn’t important just for your heirs.
Everything my father showed me a few weeks before he passed away then made sense. Because of Mom’s various medical conditions, I took over as her primary care manager and financial manager shortly after Dad’s funeral. Thank God he showed me where everything was, and that we had time to discuss their decisions before he passed away. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had a clue as to where to start.
You might very well ask yourself if your own personal and financial records are in order? What documents do you need to keep? Where? How long? Are your records easy to find? What if you had a serious accident tomorrow? Could someone you trust step in and temporarily handle your financial affairs, even if it’s just to pay your bills? What if you should die tomorrow? Could your spouse or heirs easily find the personal and financial records they’d need to settle your estate? Or, will they find a jumble of unorganized records scattered throughout your house? At your attorney’s office? In your safe deposit box?
We’ve prepared 8 free personal and financial organizers to help answer those questions. Recommended by The Wall Street Journal two years in a row, these organizers are comprehensive, yet concise and easy-to-use. Whether you use just one or several of them, you will definitely make the job easier for someone to manage or settle your affairs. More importantly, they can help you by organizing your own affairs, giving you greater peace-of-mind.
Our organizers, like many other Internet documents, are printable PDF documents and need the free Adobe Reader to download. You probably already have it installed on your computer.
Important Note: If you have Adobe Reader DC on your computer, you can fill in your information, save it, close the document, then reopen it later to update or add new information. Get the latest version of Adobe Reader here.
Where is the best place to keep your insurance policies and other important records? Which ones should you keep? — for how long? This financial organizer answers those questions and provides space for you to write down where you keep yours.
What if you had a serious accident tomorrow? Could someone step in, pay your bills and handle your other financial affairs while you recovered? What if you should die tomorrow? Could your spouse or heirs easily settle your estate? These organizers work together to make the job easier. More importantly, they will help you manage your own affairs more easily, with greater peace-of-mind.
When things are lost or stolen, or homes damaged or destroyed, most people receive insurance payments for only 80% to 85% of their loss. Nearly everyone can’t remember everything they own at the time of loss. It doesn’t make any difference if you own your own home or just rent. Now, you can help avoid this problem with this free organizer with home inventory forms.
Doctors frequently have difficulty treating an illness, or even treat the wrong illness, because people don’t know enough about their family health history — it’s often too late to ask their parents, brothers and sisters, or aunts and uncles. This organizer can help you avoid the problem in case you come down with a serious illness.
Experts recommend that you keep information about your insurance policies in a safe deposit box, or somewhere else outside your home. Then, your policies are easy to replace if they are lost or destroyed. This comprehensive organizer keeps track of everything you need to know so your policies can be replaced quickly.
During your countdown to retirement, you’ll need to make a number of important decisions. For example, do you want to continue living close to friends and family — or move, perhaps to one of the sunbelt states where you can enjoy outdoor leisure activities year-round? Here are our suggestions about a variety of topics you may not have thought about — to help make your transition to retirement as smooth as possible.
Do your heirs know your final wishes? Do they know where you’ve purchased your cemetery plot? Or, what funeral home you prefer? Or, if you prefer to have money donated to charity instead of flowers? This booklet covers every aspect of your (and your spouse’s) final wishes.
If you run out of room when filling in your organizers, here are several blank pages to download.
- Budget Worksheets — Household Finances Organizer
- Her List of People and Organizations to Notify of Her Death — Our Final Wishes
- His List of People and Organizations to Notify of His Death — Our Final Wishes
- Household Inventory — (Almost) Everything We Own
- Lawn and Garden Inventory — (Almost) Everything We Own
- Valuables Inventory — (Almost) Everything We Own
- Rental Real Estate Investment — Our Investment Organizer
- Safe Deposit Box Inventory — Your Personal Document Organizer
- Trusts-Others — Our Final Wishes