One of the simple things clients can do in terms of getting their affairs in order is to make a detailed list of their assets, with account numbers, and telephone numbers, so that when something happens to him/her, family members will know where the assets are and can easily access them. Life insurance is particularly important, as their is essentially no public record of it. When family members do not know where assets are, they can resort to checking one’s tax returns to find out the source of income and dividends. Clearly, that is not the best way to handle matters, but in the case of life insurance, it will not show up on the tax returns. While one does not need to state the value of the assets, in case they do not want their loved ones knowing that information, it is helpful when doing an estate plan to know what the value of those assets are, including the death value of life insurance. Those values should be updated from time to time, as the federal and state estate tax limits usually change at least annually and it would be good to know if you have an estate tax problem.
The second thing which is important to do is to gather ones estate planning documents, including any wills, trusts, health care proxies, living wills and powers of attorney, and put them together in a safe place. Safe deposit boxes are actually the safest place to put them, as long as one puts a younger person as an owner on the box. When one passes or becomes disabled, that younger person would just go to the bank and remove the documents without mentioning the death or disability. Worst case scenario, the bank seals the box. In that case, it is quite easy to get a court order to get the box opened. A second best solution is to get a sturdy fire-proof safe to keep at home. The problem with that is that sometimes older people forget the combination. Also, if one has a home safe that is removable, that could pose a problem especially if at some point one has housekeepers or health aides coming into the home. In that case, of course, it is imperative that important documents be safeguarded, along with financial statements.
Prior to safeguarding documents, one should first make sure their legal documents are intact and up-to-date. The only document which one really should give to friends or family members while alive and well is the health care proxy and living will. In a medical emergency, it is important that loved ones can gain quick assets.
Lastly, it is important as one gets older to consider consolidating assets, especially if one has several bank accounts. Consolidation will make the lives of your loved ones so much easier when at some point they need to step in and help.