Important Documents - What to Keep and Where

Question: What documents should I have available for my next of kin in case of my death? Where should I keep them?

Answer: You may be familiar with the Boy Scouts' motto "Be Prepared" and the Coast Guard's Latin equivalent "Semper Paratus."

Like the Boy Scouts and the Coast Guard, we should all be prepared for any situation or event, even the most unexpected and unpleasant. But death and incapacity are subject matters we tend to avoid, leaving our loved ones unprepared for our death.

If you died today, would your family or friends know what to do? Would they know your funeral and burial wishes? Would they know where to look for your important financial papers?

Would they know the names and telephone numbers of your attorney, your tax preparer, and your financial adviser? Would they know if you have a safe deposit box? If so, would they know where to find the key and would the bank grant them access? Would they know where you keep the latest copies of your will and living trust? Would they know if you have any life insurance? Would they know about your military service?

They will if you prepare them; if you write down your instructions along with detailed lists of all that matters. The easiest way is to use a guidebook like the one that the Hospice Foundation in Monterey (831-333-9023) offers for sale at cost (donations welcome). It is appropriately named "Notes to My Family" and is a checklist of what information and documents they will need.  

The format makes it easy for you to prepare your loved ones to carry out your wishes and carry on with their lives in the event of your death.

The workbook is divided into four sections, and there is room to insert pages with pockets, which you can find at an office supply store, to hold important documents. In the first section, you list personal information about your background, your family, your military experience, your schools, your memberships, and your personal advisers.  In the second section, you detail your important financial information.  In the third section, you write down information about your will, living trust, safe deposit box, and life insurance policies.  And in the last section, you can express your personal wishes for funeral and burial preferences, along with names of old friends and organizations you would like to be notified.

Where to keep your documents is another good question. Many people think of a safe deposit box at a bank or a safe at home. Others might have a pile on their desk or a file in a cabinet. Liza Horvath of Monterey Trust Management in Monterey recommends "EstateDocVault," a service she offers that allows you to safely store original documents along with electronic copies of them. The electronic documents are immediately available to first responders and loved ones. They can use a PIN number you give them to access your health care directives, names and phone numbers, and documents.