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The Most Important Documents of Your Life

~ Prepare, Share, Preserve ~

Our prior blog discussed the top ten reasons you should start gathering your assets and protecting them in an estate plan. This piece is the information on documents that will put your affairs in order exactly the way you intend to have them carried out.

Once documents have been prepared and signed, it is crucial that communication between you and your chosen emergency contacts know where to find these documents. It is recommended that a comprehensive folder of documents be created and easy to access in the case of an emergency. This folder might include:

  • The Essentials: An original will, revocable trust, personal assignments, and durable health and financial powers of attorney.
  • Proof of Ownership: House and land documentation, cemetery plots/pre-paid funeral arrangements, vehicles, stock certificates and savings bonds; and partnership or corporate operating agreements; and a list of brokerage and escrow mortgage accounts.
  • Bank Accounts: Prepare a list of all accounts and online log-in information so your family, or appointed executor can notify the banks. Be sure to list any safe-deposit boxes and register your spouse or child’s name with the bank and ask them to sign the registration document so they can have access without securing a court order. Because that there is risk to you if your adult child is on the account if he/she has creditor issues.
  • Health-Care Confidential: a living will, a durable health-care power-of-attorney (compliant with federal health-information privacy laws, so that doctors, hospitals and insurance companies can speak with your designee), along with Authorization to Release Protected Healthcare Information form.
  • Life Insurance and Retirement Accounts: copies of life-insurance policies (for which your family needs to know where the documents are and the name of the carrier, policy number, and agent); draw up a list of pensions, annuities, individual retirement accounts and 401(k)s.
  • Marriage and Divorce: be sure that you and your spouse know where the marriage license is filed away; for divorced people be sure to have a divorce judgment and decree along with these other mentioned documents as well as legal agreements that involve child support, alimony, and property settlements.

At least ten states have launched investigations on some of the country’s largest insurers that are failing to pay out unclaimed life policies to beneficiaries. The insurers believe they are lawfully determining policies based on the contracts not requiring them to pay claims unless beneficiaries come to them. Be sure to avoid such a circumstance by simply telling your family where they can find your documents. This holds true for bank accounts or any other assets.

You can store your documents with an attorney, a safe-deposit box or at your home in a fire proof safe. Just be sure to share the whereabouts, combinations, and passwords with a designee.  Review your policies and account information at least once a year to ensure the information is up to date. You need to only be sure that the most important pieces of the documents are quickly accessible to prevent search and rescue type event through too many papers.

Linda Strohschein, Attorney


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