Getting Your Affairs Organized

Savvy Senior

Dear Savvy Senior

My husband and I (both in our 70s) would like to get our personal and financial information better organized so our kids will know what’s going on when we die. Any tips on how to get started?

Unorganized Edna 

Dear Edna,

Collecting and organizing your important papers and information is a smart idea and a great gift to your loved ones. Here’s what you should know. 

Get It Together

The first step in getting your affairs in order is to gather up all your important personal, financial and legal information, so you can arrange it in a format that will benefit your caregivers, survivors and even yourself. Then you’ll need to sit down and create various lists of important information and instructions of how you want certain things handled. Here are some key areas to help you get started. 

Personal Information

·         Contact list: A good starting point is to make a master list of names and phone numbers of family members, close friends, clergy, doctor(s), and professional advisers such as your lawyer, tax accountant, broker and insurance agent.

·         Personal documents: This can include such items as your birth certificate, Social Security number, marriage license, military discharge papers, etc.

·         Secured places: List all the places you keep under lock and key (or protected by password), such as safe deposit boxes, safe combination, security alarms, etc.

·         Service providers: Provide contact information of the companies or people who provide you regular services such as utility companies, lawn service, etc.

·         Pets: If you have a pet, give instructions for the care of the animal.

·         Organ donation: Indicate your wishes for organ, tissue or body donation including documentation (see www.donatelife.net).  

·         Funeral instructions: Write out your final wishes. If you’ve made pre-arrangements with a funeral home, provide their contact information and if you’ve prepaid or not, and include a copy of agreement.   

Legal Documents

·         Will and trust: In your files, have the original copy of your will (not a photo copy) and other estate planning documents you’ve made, including trusts. If you don’t have a will, BuildaWill.com is a good do-it-yourself resource for creating a simple will and costs only $20.

·         Financial power of attorney: This is the legal document that names someone you trust to handle money matters if you’re incapacitated. Talk to an elder law attorney to learn more.

·         Advance directives: These are the legal documents (living will and medical power of attorney) that spell out your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment when you can no longer make decisions for yourself. For state-specific advance directive forms visit www.caringinfo.org.  

Financial Records

·         Income and debt: Make a list of all your income sources such as pensions, Social Security, IRAs, 401Ks, interest, investments, etc. And do the same for any debt you may have – mortgage, credit cards, medical bills, car payment.

·         Financial accounts: List all your bank and brokerage accounts (checking, savings, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, IRAs, etc.) including their location and contact information. And keep current statements from each institution in your files.

·         Pensions and benefits: List any retirement plans, pensions or benefits from your current or former employer including the contact information of the benefits administrator.

·         Government benefits: Information about Social Security, Medicare or other government benefits you’re receiving.

·         Insurance: List the insurance policies you own (life, health, long-term care, home, and car) including the policy numbers and agents’ names and phone numbers.  

·         Credit cards: List all your credit and charge cards, including the card numbers and contact information.

·         Taxes: Keep copies of your income tax returns over the last five years and the contact information of your tax preparer.  

·         Property: List the real estate, vehicles and other personal properties you own, rent or lease and include important documents such as deeds, titles, and loan or lease agreements.  

Savvy Tips: It’s best to keep all your organized information and files together in one convenient location – ideally in a fireproof filing cabinet or safe in your home. Also be sure to review and update your information every year, and don’t forget to tell your loved ones where they can find it. For more help, Nolo.com offers an excellent resource book called “Get It Together” ($22), which comes with a handy CD-ROM, so you can organize everything on your computer and print it out. 


Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070,
or visit www.savvysenior.org 
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” books.