I have been meaning to write this post for a long time, and maybe you have equally good intentions of getting your will together, compiling important financial paperwork, signing a living will and making other preparations. But you get busy, and you take the bet that you’ll get to stick around for at least another day. Before you know it, another year goes by and you’re still not prepared. In fact, an estimated 70 percent of Americans die without a will.
I’m getting ready to take a big trip, which reminds me to make sure I have “my affairs in order.” It may sound morbid, but I’ve seen what happens when people don’t. My husband works in a volunteer capacity for the bereavement committee at his large company. He’s very empathic and tries to help and support bereaved spouses who are dealing with a sudden loss. It makes matters tremendously more difficult when the spouse (usually the wife) does not have knowledge of insurance policies, financial information, an updated will and other important information. Sometimes it takes months to sort this all out. Sometimes an ex-spouse or other family member is listed on an old account, or beneficiaries are different from what the spouse expected. The confusion adds on to the grief the family is already experiencing.
Years ago, my husband and I created a file called, “If we croak.” I guess it’s our way of injecting humor into a topic that would otherwise be kind of a downer. But the reality is we all have to go sometime, and we can make it infinitely easier on our loved ones if we at least have our act together.
Today is the day to get started. Make a plan to get everything together should the unthinkable happen to you or your spouse. In my opinion, one of your most important decisions, if you are parents, should be who will care for your children if you are unable to care for them. Be sure to discuss with the individuals you feel would make the best guardians. Discuss with a lawyer how to properly document your decision.
What else needs to be done? Lori from the Generous Wife shared a link to Dave Ramsey’s Legacy Drawer a couple of years ago, and I bookmarked it, because I found it to be a terrific resource. Dave Ramsey, of course, is a well-known financial expert who advocates living debt-free, and he makes the case that every family must have a Legacy Drawer where important documents can be found in 30 seconds. It’s important to note that whether you are single or have many children and grandchildren, everyone must have this drawer of important documents. He includes in this drawer the following items, and I’ve included his links for more details on wills and budgets.
I would add that you need to TALK ABOUT all of these items with your spouse so that he or she is not surprised, for instance to read your funeral instructions or find out who your beneficiaries are. If you don’t have an extra file drawer, go buy a plastic filing bin from an office supply store and keep it in a safe place. Here are Dave’s recommendations to include:
- Cover Letter – This is simply a letter stating the purpose of the Legacy Drawer and what is inside it.
- Will and Estate Plans – All information pertaining to your will and estate, including names of the executor and Power of Attorney should be located in one file. (If you follow Dave’s link above, it links you to an online will creator that works for every state in the U.S. Using an online program is the simplest—and probably cheapest—way to make sure your will is current. Of course, you can also work with an attorney to create your will.)
- Financial Account – Anything that has money in it and your name on it should be listed in the Legacy Drawer. This includes account names, amount and account numbers.
- Funeral Instructions – All details and specifications for funeral plans should be listed so the family can fulfill your wishes. If you are married, you need one for you and one for your spouse.
- Insurance Policies – All insurance information, including health, car, disability, term life, etc., should be combined into one single document for easy reference. List the type of insurance, who the policy is for, contact information and policy numbers.
- Important Documents – Any legal or other important documents you have should be noted in the file. This includes deeds, birth certificates, Social Security cards and titles.
- Legacy Letters – Since the intention behind the Legacy Drawer is to keep your legacy going after you’ve passed away, it’s a great idea to include letters to your loved ones.
- Monthly Budget – Add a copy of your written budget, so your spouse or loved ones know how to operate your household once you’re gone. This will help your family keep track of bills and focus on more important things.
- Tax Returns – Keeping tax returns in your Legacy Drawer is like an insurance policy for yourself in the event that you get audited from the IRS. Hopefully you never have to pull them out, but if you do, at least you are prepared.
- Safe Deposit Box – Keep copies of all your Legacy Drawer papers in a safe deposit box—you can never be too careful. Include information in your Legacy Drawer on where your safe deposit box is and who has access to it.
- Passwords – Write down all passwords, combinations, usernames and PIN numbers. This information allows your loved ones access to any documents, money or information that is left when you are gone.
Something not specifically listed above is a Living Will form. That’s because it is usually a part of most online will programs. But it’s very important that you have this filled out, especially if you have having surgery or will be hospitalized. You can easily find a form that is appropriate for your state online. Here is a generic Living Will form that you can fill out today.
The other conversation you should have with a financial expert is whether you are properly insured, what type of insurance is appropriate, and what it would cover if you or your spouse died.
In addition, I would add a file if you have any debts that you still owe on, from car payments to house mortgages to private or bank loans. And if you have cars or houses paid off, include that as well.
I think his list is excellent, particularly that he included instructions for a funeral. Do you want to be buried or cremated? Do you want a religious ceremony or a simple service? And what a nice idea to leave letters to all of your loved ones. Granted that could take you some time, but what a kindness to them to have your written words of consolation, and to have the opportunity to convey your legacy message directly to them.
Where should you start? Print out the list and prioritize it. I would say having a complete will and living will with a guardian in place is key. Then, compile all your financial accounts and insurance information into separate files. Finally, work through the rest of the list by scheduling time once a week or once a month to complete. Remember to set annual reminders to review your will and other documents. If you change banks, insurance policies, jobs, etc., you must update the information.
If you died today, would your spouse be able to easily locate all the information he or she needed? Would your family have a reasonable financial plan in place or be scrambling?
I won’t be posting next week due to my travel schedule. That gives you a few extra minutes to work on your Legacy Drawer! Have a wonderful week. Find something extra sweet or generous to do for your spouse this week, then let me know what it was.
Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.
Photo by Grant Cochrane courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.