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Help Yourself and Those Whom You Love by Creating a Paper Trail

on August 1, 2012

This appeared over a year ago in our Senior Living Column in the Redding California Record Searchlight, yet we continue to receive requests for copies. It is a helpful reminder that we should take some time to prepare in case of an accident, emergency or illness.

If something should happen to you, would your loved ones know what to do? We are writing about this topic from the standpoint of handling your personal affairs, rather than the complexities of emotions and grieving. We also assume that you have an estate plan or will and have authorized a health care and financial power of attorney.

We often tell ourselves that someday we will get our affairs in order. But we procrastinate. When is someday? It needs to be yesterday in order for you to be prepared. Life’s emergencies just happen, and require planning to manage them. Planning requires organization, and for most of us, this is difficult to do. Don’t let this daunting task overwhelm you or put your loved ones in the difficult position of having to sort through a confusing maze. There are plenty of rainy days in a year as well as days that are too hot to spend much time outside. Use one of these days to get organized. If you spend some time organizing your important papers, you will save yourself and your loved ones a lot of trouble.

It is best to store your important papers in a safety deposit box at your bank. Then, purchase a fireproof, locked portable storage box. Make a copy of each document and store the copies, along with an extra safety deposit box key in your portable storage box. The box should be just large enough to hold your documents so that you won’t have trouble dashing out of the house with it in case of a fire, flood, earthquake or other catastrophe.

Here is a basic list of copied documents you should keep in the storage box:

  • Passport
  • Social Security card
  • Driver’s License
  • Health insurance card
  • Insurance policies
  • Your will or estate plan
  • All powers of attorney and health care proxies
  • Any certificates of investments (stock, precious metals, etc.)
  • Car titles
  • Certificates of birth, death, marriage, divorce
  • Custody documents
  • Military service documents

That doesn’t seem too difficult, does it? Now here comes the hard part — you should make a list of your assets and debts, as well as contact information of your health care providers, banker, accountant, lawyer, financial adviser, insurance agent and any professional whom you rely for care of yourself and your assets. Listing assets may be as simple as a copy of your bank, investment and retirement account statements. Note the contact person’s name and phone number if not already printed on the statement. Make a list of your credit card accounts, auto and mortgage loans. Include account numbers, due dates and lenders’ names and contact information. Write down the location of your original documents.

Next, grab your camera and take a picture (or video) of the contents of your house and garage. Video recording is preferable because you can narrate details such as when the items were purchased and the cost, details of family heirlooms and any special meaning, etc. Make two copies of the pictures and/or digital files and place a copy in your safety deposit box and the other in your locked storage box.

Include receipts for major purchases, such as a car, boat, guns, jewelry, furniture, electronics, etc.

Finally, make a list of your username and passwords to keep in the box. Store it in a very safe place and tell its location to only those who you trust to handle your affairs. Put the key in a secure place and keep a copy of the key in your safety deposit box.

Those whom you have designated to handle your financial affairs in the event of a sudden illness or death will be able to do so effectively because they will have all the information they need. You will have the ability to deal with a lost or stolen purse/wallet since you will have a copy of your driver’s license and a list of all your credit cards with the contact information to quickly notify the issuers. Your record (photographs, video files, receipts) of assets will be essential in expediting an insurance claim in the event of damage or theft.

Do yourself a favor, and follow these simple steps. You will help yourself and those who you love weather a crisis.

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