Organize Your Assets for Disaster Readiness

Physician's Money DigestMay 2006
Volume 13
Issue 5

They've been on the market for years—so-called"beneficiary books" and other template-basedfiling tools that can help an heir, spouse, orexecutor sort through a person's affairs upon their incapacitationor death. There's no question that these toolsmake a lot of sense, but they're not only for the retirementset. Any individual with assets should create aneasy-to-find, easy-to-understand file of financial informationand keep that data in a safe, accessible place athome, with their attorney or Certified FinancialPlannerpractitioner, and possibly with a trusted friendor relative who lives far away.

The following information should be organized in aprepurchased kit, a school binder, or in scanned documentsstored on a computer disk:

  • Birth, death, and marriage certificates (make anote to the holder of this file that they should immediatelymake at least 10 copies of each in case they are anexecutor or are asked to help an executor);
  • Divorce decrees with all relevant information;
  • Location of wills, trusts, and any power of attorney;
  • Advanced health care directives;
  • Adoption papers, if applicable;
  • Key identification numbers, including driver'slicense, passport, and employee identification data;
  • Recent bank and brokerage statements;
  • Detailed funeral and burial wishes;
  • Location of emergency cash;
  • Recent medical records that may be good to haveon hand if the individual is incapacitated;
  • Copies of residential deeds and mortgage data;
  • Car title, lease or loan information, and licenseplate data;
  • Insurance policies and agent contact information;
  • Photocopies of credit and debit cards, both sides;
  • A current copy of the individual's home financialsoftware program reflecting up-to-date financial data;
  • Location of all critical paper documents, includingstocks and bonds;
  • Location of safe-deposit, lockbox, and filing cabinetkeys;
  • Contact information for the individual's humanresources department at work;
  • Location of tax returns for the past 3 years;
  • All relevant contact numbers for executors, financialadvisors, trustees, guardians, attorneys, and anyother pertinent individuals;
  • All user IDs and passwords for online accounts,including access to computer;
  • Guidelines on what to do about orphaned pets,including set plans for who will care for them.

In organizing all of this information, it makessense for the individual to put themselves in theshoes of the people they've selected to handle thingsin a crisis. Since these individuals may be capablebut still upset, it's essential this information be simpleto navigate and updated as often as possible.When someone dies or is incapacitated, loved onesare typically distracted. They may forget detailsthey've been told. That's why a detailed index of thisdata (with page numbers or folder labels) is so critical.Many people think that putting together a comprehensivebinder or box of information is all theyneed to do, but a simple summary is particularlyappreciated at stressful times.

Some experts advise individuals to update their willand other estate preparations every 5 years or as oftenas change takes place. Optimally, this critical informationshould be updated every year. A person's address,relationship, job status, and financial details can certainlychange within a given year; that's why recordkeeping needs to keep pace with this information.

Reprinted with permission from the Financial Planning Association (,the membership organization for the financial planning community.

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