Getting Your Affairs in Order [Checklist]
Getting your affairs in order means all the pertinent information about yourself, your medical history, and your finances is documented and organized.
Should the unthinkable happen and you pass away before it is expected, this will save your family from even more stress in the aftermath of your death.
We have all heard horror stories of individuals who lost a spouse and were completely overwhelmed by their finances. If their spouse “had their affairs in order,” it would have made it easier to navigate this difficult season and better understand where they stood financially.
Additionally, getting your affairs in order may help if you suffer a serious medical emergency, such as a stroke requiring long-term care, which leaves you incapable of making decisions or paying bills.
It’s important to understand that having your affairs in order doesn’t just benefit your family members – it will help you as well should you need to prove who you are and what you own.
Use the following checklist to get your affairs in order.
- Medical History: Keep an updated record of your medical history, including doctors (and contact information), surgeries, hospitalizations, medications, and medical insurance.
- Durable Health Care Power of Attorney: This is a document granting power to someone you choose to make decisions for you should you become incapacitated to do so, such as suffering from a traumatic brain injury or dementia.
- Authorization to Release Health Care Information: This document allows medical professionals to discuss your medical information with authorized individuals.
- Marriage and/or Divorce Papers: These certificates are required for accessing many things, including bank accounts, social security, benefits, and more.
- Living Will or Trust: According to the Weill Institute, a living will is “a written explanation of the type of care you would like should you be unable to communicate at the time of illness; specifically, this document addresses the use of artificial life support, mechanical ventilators, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), feeding tubes, pain medication, etc. It is important to note if you choose to refuse life support, this does not mean you refuse all care; you can request specific life support measures, comfort care and pain medication.”¹
- Do-Not-Resuscitate Order: If you do not wish to have CPR if your heart stops or you stop breathing, you can use an advance directive form. You can also tell your doctor that you don’t want to be resuscitated, and your doctor will note DNR on your medical chart.
- Will: According to a Gallup poll, “Less than half of U.S. adults, 46%, have a will that describes how they would like their money and estate to be handled after their death.”² If you pass away and do not have a will, your money and estate may be tied up in the courts for years, with the state deciding where your assets go. Don’t let this happen to your family.
- Final Wishes: Make a note of the type of funeral you would like to have with any special requests (such as songs or readings) to ease the planning process for your loved ones.
- Contact Information: Document contact information for your attorney and CPA. These individuals may be able to help your family navigate tricky financial situations.
Proof of Ownership Documents
To protect your assets, you need to maintain proof of ownership and make sure loved ones have access to the info. Use this property list to guide you as you get your affairs in order.
- Real Estate Deeds
- Loan Documents
- Vehicle Titles
- Farm Equipment Titles
- Cemetery Deed
- Partnership and Corporate Agreements
Keep copies of ownership documents with the rest of your essential documents.
- Tax Returns: Deceased individuals may still be audited for more than three years after death. Therefore, it is vital to hold on to tax returns. Experts suggest keeping up with tax records for seven years to be safe.
- Bank Account Information: Keep a list of all your banks and the corresponding account numbers (checking, savings, credit union), as well as their locations.
- Safe Deposit Boxes and Keys: Make a note of where safe deposit boxes can be located and where they can find the key. For a family member or trusted friend to gain access to the safe deposit box, you may have to designate this individual with the bank. Clarify this with the bank when you set up your safe deposit box.
- Life Insurance Policies: Include a copy of your life insurance policy, the policy number, and your agent’s contact information.
- Annuity Contracts: Annuity contracts differentiate between one individual contract and the next. Some annuity contracts cease payments upon the owner’s death, but others stipulate payments be paid to the spouse or beneficiary.
- Investment Accounts and Statements: Include all investment income (stocks, bonds, property) and financial advisor’s names and phone numbers. It is wise to keep a copy of one of your statements with this information.
- IRA, 401(k), and Pension Accounts: Provide information about all sources of income (pension from your employer, IRAs, 401(k)s, pension, etc.)
- Mortgage Document: Explain mortgages, how much is owed, when it is paid, and to whom.
- Long Term Care Policy: A long-term care insurance policy covers the cost of care due to chronic illness, disability, or injury. Should you need long-term care, your loved ones will need to know your policy information.
How to Store Important Documents
It isn’t enough to pull together the info above, only to store it somewhere where no one can find it. Or worse, where it can be damaged or destroyed.
Many people opt for a firebox or locked filing cabinet.
In addition to storing the physical copies, it is also wise to consider uploading the documents to cloud storage.
Then, it is pertinent that you provide access to a trusted loved one. For example, tell your son where the firebox key is located or send an email with instructions for gaining access to the materials stored in the cloud.
Finally, don’t mistakenly think getting your affairs in order is a one-and-done activity. You will need to regularly update this important document collection as needs change.
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