(This post originally ran in July of 2011, but in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it seems pertinent to run it again–especially in light of the advice in the last paragraph.)
How many of you have legal and financial documents stashed in different drawers in different locations? Perhaps you have some in your home safe, some in drawers in the bedroom, others in the den and more in the office. What happens when you become sick or die? Does any one person know where all the documents are located? Probably not, including you.
The Wall Street Journal published a very interesting article, The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die, addressing just this problem. The article was two pages long, very detailed and well written, so let me give you a synopsis of what it said.
According to the WSJ, there are six categories of documents which should be maintained: marriage and divorce, life insurance and retirement, health care, bank accounts, proof of ownership and the “essentials.” Here is what should be included in these categories.
Marriage and Divorce
o Marriage license
o Divorce papers
Life Insurance and Retirement
o Life insurance policies
o Individual retirement accounts
o 401(k) accounts
o Pension documents
o Annuity contracts
o Personal and family medical history
o Durable health-care power of attorney
o Authorization to release health-care information
o Living will
o Do-not-resuscitate order
o Pre-need declaration of guardianship (not required in all states, but an excellent idea)
o List of bank accounts
o List of investment accounts
o List of all user names and passwords
o List of safe-deposit boxes
Proof of ownership
o Housing, land and cemetery deeds
o Escrow mortgage accounts
o Proof of loans made and debts owed
o Vehicle titles
o Stock certificates, savings bonds and brokerage accounts
o Partnership and corporate operating agreements
o Tax returns
o Letter of instruction
o Other business documents such as buy-sell or stock redemption agreements
My list includes more than the 25 mentioned by the WSJ, and your list may include others. Here is another hint from someone who lives in an area prone to severe storms and flooding. Put your documents in water-tight containers to prevent loss or damage due to water.
Now you have your list. Start organizing!