The recent loss of the space shuttle Columbia reminded many of us that we can never know how long our lives will last. Young or old, death does not have a preference.
And it is never easy — regardless of the circumstances.
We have a tendency to avoid thinking about death, and in far too many instances people neglect to take care of arranging their financial records to help loved ones deal with their estates.
I’m blessed with a strong memory when it comes to remembering where things are located. I can almost always remember where I put something even if months, or possibly years, have passed since the putting. As admirable and efficient as that may be, truth is, I won’t be around to help my executor find things.
Some families share their financial information and everyone knows where everything is. I suspect this is the exception and not the rule. Most of us tend to handle our finances in a more private manner. So, should we die unexpectedly our families are left to sort through our junk to find the important stuff.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Putting together a notebook detailing important financial information and the location of significant documents would be a blessing for those charged with handling our estate. Taking the time to put the records together now will enhance your popularity after your death, certainly a difficult task that only Elvis seems to have mastered.
Without attempting to compile a detailed list of everything that needs to be in the notebook, here is a list of basic stuff. As each of our situations is different, each notebook should be customized.
Basic personal stuff
• Your full legal name, Social Security number, date and place of birth and legal residence.
• Names and addresses of spouse and children and copies of their death certificate if any have pre-deceased you.
• Location of will and trust documents — putting copies in the notebook would be helpful.
• Location of birth certificate, marriage licenses, divorce papers and evidence of citizenship. Again, copies in the notebook would be helpful.
• Names and addresses of close friends, relatives, doctors, lawyer and financial advisors.
• Burial arrangements and your funeral wishes.
• This may be a little gooey, but putting a letter to your friends and loved ones in the notebook explaining how much each person meant to you and your hopes for their future would mean a lot to them.
• A listing of all bank accounts, brokerage accounts, safe deposit boxes (and location of the key), IRAs, pensions and annuities.
• Social Security and Medicare information.
• A listing of all insurance policies — life, disability, auto, homeowner and health.
• A listing of all debts owed along with a copy of the notes, amortization schedules and other related documents.
• A listing of all real estate owned along with copies of deeds.
• A listing of all credit cards with addresses and telephone numbers of the companies.
• Copies of recent income tax returns and any gift tax returns that you have filed.
• A listing of all investments along with copies of ownership documents — stock certificates, partnership agreements and contracts.
• A listing and copies of all legal agreements such as business buy-sell agreements, non-competition agreements, alimony and child support arrangements.
• Copies of titles to vehicles and other personal property items of significant value.
By making your passing a little more efficient, you show your concern for those who survive. It’s the right thing to do.
Thought for the Moment — A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man, which debt he proposes to pay off with your money.
— G. Gordon Liddy
Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.