A 'piece of mind' gives 'peace of mind' to the people who pick up where you leave off
by Lynn Leonard
Imagine for a moment that you can no longer run the details of your life. Who takes over? How will loved ones know where to pick up the pieces? I recommend to anyone, regardless of financial status, that they put together a document I like to call "Piece of Mind". This literally takes all the pieces of information known only to you and compiles it into a single document...and gives "Peace of Mind" to whomever has to pick up where you leave off.
I first created this for a couple where the husband handles all the finances and the wife knows very little about the details. She expressed concern over how she could handle the finances if her husband dies first. I created a binder which contains all of these details and now she has a comprehensive "map" of their finances and both feel more at ease. Of course it doesn't take the death of a loved one to realize the importance of such a binder, especially when you consider how disability can happen at any time.
My client experienced first-hand the stress of navigating a relative's finances without the assistance of such a document when his brother became mentally and physically disabled overnight. Although he was named Power of Attorney, he knew nothing of his brother's finances or where pertinent documents were located. After several months of looking for physical stock certificates, he finally had to buy stock loss indemnity bonds at a cost of several thousand dollars to replace the missing certificates.
If the above scenarios have served as incentives for you to create your own "Piece of Mind" document, you can do so by compiling all of your financial information into a tabbed binder. I also recommend a scanned copy for safekeeping. Outlined below is a list of items that you should include.
Documents created by an attorney:
Copies of your Trusts, lists of Trusts for which you have power of appointment, Will and Codicils, Durable Power of Attorney and Guardianship documents if appropriate.
An Advance Directive, Living Will or Medical Power of Attorney can be created without an attorney and forms are available online. A great resource for these documents that also keeps current on what is legally accepted in each State is at www.caringinfo.org. An advance directive is a term that encompasses the living will and the medical power of attorney. A living will is a document that allows you to specifically indicate in writing the types of treatment you desire at the end of your life should you become unable to communicate directly with healthcare providers. A medical power of attorney is the person you appoint to manage the healthcare decisions if you are unable to communicate and is also the person that enforces your living will document.
Anatomical gifts are a special category within the medical documentation where you can specify exactly what you want to donate. This information should be documented in writing and communicated to your family, power of attorney and medical power of attorney.
Gather the complete name, postal address, social security number, date of birth, phone number and e-mail address of the individuals you name as beneficiaries in your trust or will. If you name any charitable institutions in your will or trust, gather the name of the institution and address, the contact person and the institution's EIN (Employer Identification Number).
List all professionals who manage your assets: attorney, accountant, investment manager, trust administrator, insurance professional, etc. Include their name, firm, address, phone number and e-mail address.
Information specific to you:
Your full legal name, address, social security number, date of birth, phone numbers and e-mail address. It is a good idea to put a sample obituary in this section especially if it's important how you want your life summarized and whether to announce it in the paper. If you are uncomfortable writing your own obituary, a resume is a good summary of what you accomplished in life and a launching point for someone else to write it.
If important to you, list all the details you would like to include in your service and burial. Things to consider are: location of the service, place of burial or what to do with ashes, music played at the service, if you want a reception after the burial, a memorial booklet, and so on. If you served in the military and would like them involved in the burial or service it should be indicated.
List the firm(s), contact person and phone number for all institutions where your tradable assets are held. A copy of a statement is a good idea to include in the book. How assets are titled is a very important aspect of estate planning, be sure to indicate the exact legal title of assets (i.e. individual name, joint name, in the name of a trust, etc.).
If you have life insurance policies, list each one, the issuing company, policy number, dollar amount, owner of the policy, name of the insured, names of the beneficiaries and contact number to make a claim. If you have an IRA, list where is it held, whom you've named as beneficiaries and include a copy of a statement.
List all the institutions, account numbers and titles for all your checking accounts and money markets. It is also helpful to outline your retirement income, what deposits will continue after your death and those that will stop.
Some of these items are the most important and oddly are the most often overlooked. Especially the location of all your original documents. Be sure to make a list of where they can be found.
- List of what is in your safe deposit box and its location
- Location of original stock certificates
- Copies of the titles to your home/apartment/cars/clubs
- Copies of birth certificate, baptismal certificate, passport, military discharge papers
- Passwords to online accounts
- Letter of Wishes - This is a document you can create. It holds no legal power whatsoever, but it is an opportunity for you to tell your beneficiaries whatever is on your mind. For example; how you would like things managed, behavior you expect, an explanation of how you disbursed your assets and why, an explanation of why you did certain things in your life or why you lived your life in the manner you did, etc.
Now that you've created this incredibly helpful binder be sure to keep it current and of course let your 'successor' know where you've put it. The only thing you have to do now is get on with the business of living!