Monday, July 18, 2011

25 Documents You Need Before You Die

"Some people are so afraid to die that they never begin to live."
Henry Van Dyke
According to the Wall Street Journal, there are 25 Documents You Need Before You Die.
  • An original Will (be sure it is legal and notarized) stored with your attorney or in a courthouse.
  • (optional) A revocable living trust can be changed anytime during your lifetime. You can transfer ownership of various assets to the trust and serve as the trustee on behalf of beneficiaries you designate.
  • A "letter of instruction" is a supplement to a will that lists the names and contact information of your attorneys, accountants and financial advisers as well as "instructions" to follow upon your death. The letter of instruction is NOT a legal document and is not binding upon your heirs. It expresses your preferences and should be readily accessible, especially if it contains instructions on funeral arrangements.
  • A durable financial power-of-attorney form. Without it, no one can make financial decisions on your behalf in the event that you are incapacitated.
  • List all safe-deposit boxes owned. Have one or more family members registered so they can open the box without a court order. When my sister and I were registered recently BOTH my parents had to approve the change since both were registered with the bank for the box.
  • Include a copy of your marriage license and divorce decrees. Include the distribution sheet listing bank-account numbers that accompanied the divorce settlement to avoid disputes about ownership or payments due. Also include a copy of the most recent child-support payment order. In the majority of states, the obligation to pay child support still exists after death.
Proof of Ownership Documents

  • Provide documents for all home and land owned, cemetery plots, cars, boats, stock certificates, savings bonds, brokerage accounts and escrow mortgage accounts. If you fail to tell heirs
    what you own (with proof) the assets could be lost forever.
  • List all banking accounts and CDs. Include the online log-in information so family can notify the bank of your death. Abandoned accounts become the property of the state.
  • Loans you made to others are assets which should be listed along with a copy of the loan agreement.
  • List all debts you own and include the contract. This may include mortgages, car payments, bank loans, stocks on margin, etc.
Health-Care Privacy
  • Provide a durable health-care power-of-attorney form so your designee can make health-care decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated.  Otherwise federal health-information privacy laws will prevent doctors, hospitals and insurance companies from speaking with your designee. You may also need to fill out an Authorization to Release Protected Healthcare Information form.
  • Write a living will detailing your medical wishes. Do you wish to be revived if your heart stops?
  • Terminally ill patients may wish to have their doctors sign a do-not-resuscitate order.
Life Insurance

  • Include a copy of all life-insurance policies. Family members need to know the name of the carrier, the policy number and the agent associated with the policy. Don't forget to include corporate life insurance you earned with retirement.

Bottom Line

These documents are useless if your heirs don't know about them. Or if they are locked inside a safe deposit box that they don't have the key to. Make sure your heirs know these documents exist and where to find them. Store copies outside the home in case you and your documents are lost in a fire, tornado, etc.

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