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Savvy senior: how to get your things in order


Senior informed

QUESTION: I would like my personal, legal and financial information to be organized so that my children know what happens when I am no longer there. Can you offer any advice on the best way to do this?

ANSWER: Organizing your important papers and getting your personal and financial affairs in order is a smart idea and a wonderful gift for your loved ones. Here are some tips to get you started.

Get organized

The first step in getting your affairs in order is to put together all of your important personal, financial, and legal information so that you can organize it in a format that will be useful to you now, and to your loved ones later.

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Then you will need to sit down and create various lists of important information and instructions on how you want certain things to be handled when you die or become disabled. Here is a checklist of areas you need to focus on.

Personal informations

  • Contacts: Make a master list of the names and phone numbers of close friends, doctors, and professional advisers, such as your lawyer, accountant, broker, and insurance agent.
  • Medical Information: Include a list of any medications you are taking, as well as any allergies and illnesses.
  • Personal documents: include things like your birth certificate, Social Security card, marriage license, military discharge papers, etc.
  • Secure Places: List all the places you keep locked up, such as safes, safe combinations, security alarms, etc.
  • Digital Assets: Make a list of all your digital assets, including everything from social media accounts and online banking accounts to the home utilities you manage online. It should include usernames and passwords. Use the Rutgers Digital Asset Inventory Worksheet (njaes.rutgers.edu/money/pdfs/digital-assets-worksheet.pdf) as a guide.

  • Pets: If you have a pet, provide care instructions.
  • End of life: State your organ and tissue donation wishes and write your funeral instructions. If you have pre-arranged with a funeral home, include a copy of the agreement, their contact information, and whether or not you have prepaid.

Legal documents

  • Will, trust and estate plan: Include the original copy of your will and any other estate planning documents you have prepared.
  • Financial Power of Attorney: This document names a person you trust to manage the account money if you are incapacitated.
  • Advance Healthcare Directives: This includes a living will and a medical power of attorney, which set out your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment when you can no longer make decisions on your own.

Financial statements

  • Financial Accounts: Make a list of all of your bank, brokerage, and mutual fund accounts, and any other financial assets you own.
  • Debt and Liabilities: Make a list of all the loans, leases, or debts you have – mortgages, car loans, student loans, medical bills, credit card debt. Also make a list of all credit and charge cards, including card numbers and contact details.
  • Company Benefits: List any retirement plans, pensions, or health benefits from your current or former employer, including contact details for the employee benefits administrator.
  • Insurance: List the insurance policies you have (life, long term care, home, auto, Medicare, Medigap, prescription drugs, etc.) including policy numbers, agents and phone numbers.
  • Ownership: List real estate, vehicles, and other properties that you own, lease, or lease, and include documents such as deeds, titles, and loan or lease agreements.
  • Taxes: Include the location of your tax records and contact information for your tax preparer.

Keep all your information and files organized together in one convenient place, ideally in a fireproof filing cabinet or in a safe in your home. Also, be sure to review and update it every year, and don’t forget to tell your kids where they can find it.

If you need help, get a copy of “Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To” at Nolo.com to $ 17.50 for downloadable versions, or $ 20 for a printed copy.

Jim miller is editor-in-chief of Savvy Senior. Send your questions to Savvy Senior, PO Box 5443, Normand, okay 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org.