If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to have to execute a deceased loved one’s estate, then you know what an overwhelming job it can be.  Think about your own method of organization.  Do you keep all of your financial papers in one place?  Do you keep your birth and marriage certificates nearby and easily accessible?  What about insurance forms, information about retirement plans and beneficiaries, cemetery plots?  Are all of those things located with your estate planning documents?  This isn’t even getting into the more personal areas such as club memberships and online accounts and passwords.

Organizing your estate for your successor trustees can be a huge task, but one well worth the effort.  It will not only make it easier on them, it can also make life a lot easier on you.  Here’s how to do it: Use a large binder or collection of binders, and keep them clearly labeled, both inside and out.  You can use the following bullet-points as a guideline for tabbed sections (and if you aren’t sure in which section something belongs, don’t be afraid to make copies for both, with a note as to where the original is located):

  • Instructions and letter to trustee: Contact information for your Estate Planning attorney and trustees, instructions on how to begin the process.
  • Minor children: Information about your minor children, nearby guardians or relatives, medical and health insurance information.
  • Personal Information: Birth and marriage certificates, passports, family, friends and contact people.
  • Estate Planning Documents: Trust, Wills, any amendments, personal property memorandum.
  • Employment/Business Information: Contact information for supervisors, client information if you are a small business owner.
  • Health Care:  Advanced Health Care Directive, HIPAA, emergency contact information, phone numbers for doctors, health insurance particulars.
  • Financial Powers of Attorney
  • Real Estate and Tangible Property: Deed to your home, mortgage information, homeowners and fire insurance, vehicle records, artwork and antiques.
  • Bank Accounts and Investments: Account numbers and locations, contact information.
  • Monthly Expenses and Bills: A copy of one monthly statement for each.
  • Taxes
  • Retirement Accounts/Government Benefits: Account numbers, beneficiary information.
  • Life Insurance: Account numbers, beneficiary information, premium payment information.
  • Memorial and Burial/Cremation: Preferences, pre-paid arrangements, phone numbers.
  • Memberships/Secured Accounts/Passwords

Once you are organized, keep your information in an accessible place and make your executor aware of the location.  Keeping as much information as possible in a computer file is also a good idea.  Then you can easily re-print a page when something changes. Don’t forget to back up your data onto a CD ROM disk or USB Drive, and keep that somewhere else for safekeeping.

Organize now to make things easier for yourself and your loved ones.  You will enjoy the benefits now, and they will thank you later.