Organizing Estate-Planning Documents
Are you discovering that financial records — tax returns, bank and retirement account statements, pension information and Social Security updates are in random order or even in different, perhaps forgotten places? Take a deep breath. Here are some organization tips — whether you're doing it for yourself or for a loved one, like an elderly parent.
The relevant people, such as someone holding durable power of attorney, will need access to computer accounts and financial records. Here are the key pieces of information needed:
- Computer login.
- Passwords for any online bank, credit card and investment accounts.
- Copies of past federal and state income tax filings.
- Life insurance policies.
- Contact information for any financial advisors or attorneys.
- Property information, including information on mortgages, home equity lines of credit and reverse mortgages.
- Titles, registration and loan information for any motor vehicles.
- Information on any bank loans.
- Details on membership dues, subscriptions, donations or purchases deducted directly from a bank account.
- Last will and testament.
- Trust documents.
Everything in Its Place
You've tracked down the documents and sorted them, putting like with like. Stacks may include paid and unpaid bills; receipts; brokerage, pension and Social Security statements; medical expenses; and contracts.
Any online records can remain online, but make sure the system is secure and that it's backed up to an equally secure location.
Paper documents can be put into a fireproof lockbox or a bank's safe deposit box — but wills are often best stored at an attorney's office, so they are easily accessible when needed. It's also a good idea to create a log of passwords and keep it in a secure place, so an executor can easily access the accounts.
Create a system for keeping track of bills as they come in. Those who still like paper can keep them in binders, while others can create an online directory. Many financial institutions make past records easily accessible — as long as the user has set up an online account and password.
It's important to keep in mind what you find important — and what your loved ones want. Different organizational styles suit different people. For example, consider your wishes regarding a funeral, and ask your loved ones what they want. Make those details part of any paperwork that you're storing. The ultimate goal is to make sure the physical as well as digital estate documents are organized and available.