Are you organized if something happens to you?

July 20, 2008 – As published in the Naperville Sun
By Denice A. Gierach

If you become disabled suddenly through a car accident or health calamity, will your family or significant other know what your wishes are?  If you die suddenly, will those closest to you know what to do?  Will they know where your pertinent papers are kept or what assets may be available for your care?

While you are well and there are no health issues before you is a good time to begin to become organized.  One area that is an absolute in this process is to have your estate planning up to date.  At a minimum, you will need a will and financial power of attorney which will appoint the proper people to handle your matters for you either during life or upon your death.  A copy of these documents should be kept in a binder with your attorney’s card on the inside.  Make a list of all of your professionals who assist you such as your CPA, certified financial planner, life insurance agent, banker, physician and include the addresses and phone numbers for each such person. You should let the people appointed know the location of that binder so that it is available in the event that you need it.

In the event that you do not want to be kept alive by artificial means if your physician deems that you are in a terminal state, you should also have a living will and a power of attorney for health care, which should be kept in the same binder.  A copy of the financial power of attorney, which contains the HIPAA language that allows your agent to access your medical information, the living will and the power of attorney for health care should be given to your principal physician just in case it is needed.  If you travel, you should consider taking a copy of these documents with you, in case they are needed.

Another very helpful binder would be one that contained a list of every asset you own, including real estate, bank accounts, CD’s, mutual funds, brokerage accounts, employee benefit plans, life insurance, safe deposit boxes, as well as a list of collectibles and other personal property.  This will give the person who you appoint to take care of your interest while you are alive or the person that you appoint to wind up your estate a list of all of your assets, so that they will not have to search your entire residence and office to find them.  This will also help to ensure that no asset is missed.  Once a year, it would be a good idea to make a copy of the statements as of December 31st for each and every account, so that your agent will know the account numbers and the amounts that you have that can be used for your benefit.

Other documents that would be useful and should be kept in a binder would be your birth certificate, marriage license, divorce decree, military discharge papers, passport or green card, social security card, health insurance card, naturalization papers and copies of the car/truck/boat titles.  These documents will allow your agent to apply for the proper benefits that you may be allowed.

Many people like to prepay their funeral expense.   If you have, include these documents and a copy of the cemetery plot deed in your binder.  Some people are particular as to the instructions that they have for their funerals.  If you are one of them and want to dictate the church, clothing, if donations will be accepted, the get together for the family and friends afterwards, include your directions in your binder.

It sounds like a major project, but if you tackle it a little at a time, it will not be.  Instead of leaving a mess for your family, you have made it easy on them at a difficult time for them and you can have your wishes fulfilled.

How organized are you?