Recently I learned that two friends my age passed away suddenly, with little advance warning, and I wondered how readily the surviving spouses were able to sift through financial and legal details.
During my husband’s seagoing days, it seemed a bit morbid to go through and update of wills every time his ship deployed. In reality, the process was a gift — we became used to the value of preparation. However, we’ve since slacked off.
Here’s a checklist of documentation we will all want to have in order, no matter what our age and health, if only to make matters simpler for those who have to deal with our stuff if we’re incapacitated or have passed on:
– Durable Power of Attorney: Names someone who can manage your financial affairs if you cannot; see “Aging Matters” column June 2011. A durable power of attorney has no legal authority after you die.
– Health Care Directive: Names a medical power of attorney/health care agent to make decisions for you if you are incapacitated, and can also leave instructions about your preferences regarding life support options; see “Aging Matters” column July 2011.
– Your original will: Almost everyone needs a will; my mother did not because her only assets were investments, and she had arranged for the value to be transferred on death (TOD) to her heirs.
– Original revocable living trust documents: These hold assets that would otherwise be covered by a will, and you name beneficiaries in whose interest you serve as trustee while you are still living.
– List of bank accounts: These can be established as joint accounts with right of survivorship, and that’s helpful, but at a minimum your heirs should know where they all are. Banks consider accounts dormant if there’s no activity, and the money becomes unclaimed property in the state where the bank is located.
– List of investment instruments: The same reasoning as for bank accounts applies. IRAs are considered dormant if there are no withdrawals after age 70 and a half. Dormant IRAs also become unclaimed property.
– Insurance policies and associated provisions: $400 million is owed by life insurance companies in New York State alone, but goes unclaimed because heirs don’t know the policy/policies existed (Wall Street Journal, Weekend Investor, July 2-3, 2011).
– Proof of ownership of your assets: These are titles to homes, automobiles, cemetery plots, stock or savings bonds certificates, and the like.nYour marriage license: The same applies to divorce decrees or agreements.
Typically, neither this list nor the documents themselves should be kept in a safe deposit box. A fireproof safe is a better option as long as at least one of your trusted agents knows the combination. If you do have a safe-deposit box, whoever you designate as a survivor must be registered with the bank and sign the registration document in order to have access without you.
I think I know what I’m going to be doing New Year’s weekend!