Question: I’m trying to get organized. What information should I have available for my next of kin in case of my death and where should I keep important documents?
Answer: The Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts teach you to “Be Prepared.” The U.S. Coast Guard’s motto is “Semper Paratus.” Like the Scouts and the Coast Guard, we should all be prepared for any situation or event, even the most unexpected and unpleasant. Death and incapacity can often be topics that 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 advisor? 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. A guide like the one that the Hospice Giving Foundation in Monterey (http://www.hospicegiving.org/) offers will help. It’s appropriately named “Notes to My Family” and is a checklist of what information and documents your loved ones will need. The format makes it easy for them to carry out your wishes and carry on with their lives in the event of your death.
The workbook is divided into four modules and is available on the Hospice Giving Foundation website. In the first module, you list personal information about your background, your family, your military experience, your schools, your memberships, and your personal advisors. In the second module, you list details about your assets, legal, and financial information. This is where you will record information about your will, your living trust, your safe deposit box, and your life insurance policies. In the third module, you summarize your health information. This section references important forms including the POLST (Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) and the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. In the last module, 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. Still others might scan there documents and keep them in a folder on their computer (with a backup, of course). Liza Horvath of Monterey Trust Management in Monterey recommends “EstateDoc Vault,” 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.
Kenneth B. Petersen CFP®, EA, MBA, AIFA® is an investment advisor and Principal of Monterey Private Wealth, Inc., a Wealth Management Firm in Monterey. He welcomes questions that you may have concerning investing, taxes, retirement, or estate planning. Send your questions to: Ken Petersen, 2340 Garden Road Suite 202, Monterey, CA93940 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.