We often talk about the proverbial “crystal ball” in our office. If only we knew when our death will occur, we could wait until the last minute to get our affairs in order. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), very few of us receive notice that our death is imminent while we are healthy enough to take care of these things. Perhaps we receive a terminal diagnosis, but we believe we’ll “have more time” to take care of the details involved in our estate. Or, we pass away due to an unforeseen accident. The reality is we “think” about getting our estate in order but, time seems to slip away. We encourage everyone to assemble these important documents during their younger years, so when a health crisis or death occurs, there is one less stressor on the family.
Here are some helpful tips we gathered from the National Institute on Aging, as well as some of our own, that may assist you in getting your affairs in order:
1. Gather important papers and keep them in one place. Create a file and place everything in a desk or dresser drawer. Notify a trusted family member or friend where these papers are located. You also can notify your lawyer as to their location. You may wish to list the information and location of papers in a notebook. If your original papers are in a bank safe deposit box, keep copies in your home file. Check each year to see if there is anything new to add.
2. Give permission in advance for your doctor or lawyer to talk with your caregiver as needed. There may be questions about your care, a bill, or a health insurance claim. Without your consent, your caregiver may not be able to get needed information. You can give your approval in advance to Medicare, Medicaid, or your doctor. A HIPAA authorization form and/or Health Care Power of Attorney may be used to accomplish these tasks.
3. Discuss your end-of-life preferences with your doctor. He or she can explain what health decisions you may have to make in the future and what treatment options are available. Talking with your doctor can help ensure your wishes are honored, and the visit may be covered by insurance. Provide your doctor(s) with a copy of your Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will. If your health condition is terminal and you do not wish to have life sustaining measures administered, you may want to visit with your physician about executing a DNR form (Do Not Resuscitate). If you have a DNR, make sure that you have it clearly posted in your home (post a copy on your refrigerator) to notify emergency responders who may be called.
In your home file or bank box, these are the personal and financial records you should keep for you, your spouse and any minor children:
• Full legal name;
• Social Security number;
• Legal residence;
• Date and place of birth;
• Names and addresses of spouse and children;
• Location of original birth and death certificates, passports, and certificates of marriage, divorce, citizenship, and adoption;
• Employers and dates of employment;
• Education and military records, including any discharge paperwork;
• Names and phone numbers of religious contacts;
• Memberships in groups and awards received;
• Names and phone numbers of close friends, relatives, doctors, lawyers, business partners, and financial advisors;
• Medications taken regularly (be sure to update this regularly). Include vaccination records for minor children;
• Location of living will and other legal documents, including your most up-to-date will and/or Trust with an original signature. Include contact information of your estate planning attorney;
• Pre-paid burial plans and/or cemetery plot purchases
Financial records should include:
• Sources of income and assets (pension from your employer, IRAs, 401(k)s, interest, loans, leases, promissory notes, etc.);
• Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid information;
• Insurance information (life, health, long-term care, home, car, crop) with policy numbers and agents' names and phone numbers. Copies of policies should be included or their location identified;
• Names of your banks and account numbers (checking, savings, credit union). Identify account owners and any TOD designations;
• Investment income (stocks, bonds, property) and stockbrokers' names and phone numbers. Identify owner names and investment details;
• Copy of your most recent income tax return;
• Liabilities, including property tax— what is owed, to whom, and when payments are due;
• Mortgages and debts—how and when they are paid;
• Location of original deeds for your residence and other properties, including mineral interests, investments and vacation properties. Include any current lease information;
• Vehicle title(s) and registration(s);
• Credit and debit card names and numbers. Include names of those authorized to talk to the company and answers to security questions;
• Location of safe deposit box and key. Include a list of items located in safe deposit box and date the items were inventoried;
• List of your electronic passwords and account information, or where they can be found. You may wish to keep this list with your attorney;
• If you are a sole proprietor or owner/manager of a business, include location of property keys, security codes, computer passwords, location of important documents, service provider contact information, names and numbers of key employees. If you own the business with a partner(s), it’s important to have a buy-sell agreement in place that specifically addresses what happens to an individual’s ownership in the event of a partner’s death and what rights the remaining and any new partner(s) will have;
• Crop and livestock contracts.
Although this information generally is necessary to administer an estate after death, it also is important for the person you designate as your Power of Attorney, should you become incapacitated during your lifetime and need assistance conducting your daily affairs. In order to provide for you and your family while you are incapacitated, your Power of Attorney will need this information to manage your life, until such time as you are able to resume those duties.
For more information on end-of-life planning, or other estate planning matters, contact Davis & McCann, P. A., Dodge City, KS. We are members of Wealth Counsel, a national consortium of Estate Planning Attorneys and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). We focus our practice on providing clients with the best legal advice on estate planning, Medicaid and Long-term Care Planning, Family Business/Small Business Succession Planning, Probate, Trust Administration, Real Estate Transactions, and related matters.
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