Estate Organizer

Making It Easier for Your Family,

 Caregivers, & Benefactors Later

Are all your ducks in a row when it comes to organizing your estate?

This confident Momma at our local park had 13 chicks!

 Do a quick survey:

  1. If you were mentally incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself, is someone appointed to make those decisions on your behalf?

  2. If needed, does your family or caregiver have your medical insurance and longterm care information?

  3. If your family or friends needed to close up your house, would they know what companies to contact to shut off utilities or discontinue subscriptions and credit cards?

  4. If you were to pass away today, would your family or benefactors know where you bank, how many accounts you have, and account numbers?

  5. Do you have any life insurance policies that would help with end of life expenses and debts, and/or funds to leave to your benefactors? 

  6. Do you have a will and does your family and/or benefactors know where to find it?

  7. Would a family member or benefactor have access to your finances to take care of funeral arrangements and household or other debt?

  8. Does your family or caregivers know if you want to be buried, cremated, or donate your organs?

  9. Do your children or caregivers know where you want to be laid to rest or where you want your ashes interred or scattered?

 

If you answered no to any or all of these questions, you need to create or complete an estate organizer. 

 

Getting one’s financial records in order in case family or caregivers need to access them due to an incapacitating event or one’s end of life is never a fun task or conversation, but it is a necessary one. Some think talking about it may bring on their demise faster, but I can attest that getting one’s financial affairs in order actually brings peace of mind. Put your estate organizer in a secure place, give copies to trusted family members (or tell them where they can find it), and then forget it about it until it needs to be updated. 

 

Some years ago, I typed out a page of my father’s financial information and sent it to my siblings, and I typed a more detailed page of my financial information and sent it to my two children. I noticed I updated it in January 2020, but I don’t remember doing that, which is a bit disconcerting. But I was pleased to see that it was fairly complete. My friend Kate Alexander and I were visiting on the porch recently, and I learned that I needed to add more information to my dad’s and my pages, such as identifying the companies I pay monthly fees to, such as utilities, phone, and cable, etc. so they can be contacted quickly to disconnect or discontinue (if need be) instead of continuing to be charged and not used. So I created an even more detailed estate organizer and updated the information and replaced the copy in my fireproof case. This time around I told my kids where the updated information is.

 

At the end of this article I’ve included an Estate Organizer form in two formats I created that you can download, print, and fill out. Or download, fill out, and print. If you save the Word document to your computer, it's easy to keep it updated.  If you are uncomfortable putting some information (like passwords) down on paper or giving others access to certain info at this time of your life, you don’t have to. Instead of putting passwords on your estate planner, mention where your passwords are located for your loved ones to access your devices and accounts when they need to.

 

The following information can be included on your estate/financial planner:

    • Identification information about you

    • Advance Directives (Living will, Medical Power of Attorney, DNR Order, or I chose to include a Physician’s Directive to my will)

    • Will (or at least where to find it)

    • Insurance (Medical, Longterm Disability, Life, Homeowners, Vehicle, etc.)

    • Banking & Investments

    • Credit Cards

    • Debts

    • Retirement

    • Real Estate

    • Electronic devices and access information (if you want to share this)

    • Family & friends’ contact information

    • Household Utilities & Subscriptions, pets record, memberships, automatic payments, etc.

    • Work Status - Employed or Retired (contact, benefits, etc.)

    • Final Instructions (Notification list, funeral service, burial, cremation, or donation, etc.)

    • Assets (optional; I included these to differentiate between Dad’s and my property since we live together) It also mentioned some items that would be given to particular persons. But if you want those instructions in concrete, include them in the will.

    • Personal messages - I asked my mother if she would write a letter to each of her four children before she passed, and we treasure those messages to us. If you choose to do this, leave these personal messages in your lock box, fireproof box, or other place for them to find after you’re gone.

 

If you don't have a will, stop everything now and make one!

I cannot stress how important it is for you to have a will, also called Last Will & Testament. When my grandfather died without a will, my grandmother’s bank account was frozen, and she couldn’t access her own funds for a while. This created a hardship for her since she still had three school-aged children at home. Without a will, the State will also decide the guardianship for any minor children or grandchildren in your care. A will would designate your wishes about guardianship.

 

Although the estate organizer form I created has places where you can list a lawyer or financial advisor, you don’t have to use either of those. In Texas, you can actually write your own will, get two witnesses to sign it, and it is legal. Wherever you are from, though, it’s important to check the state laws. A will that is legal in one state may be invalidated if you move to another state, depending on their laws. When my mother passed away, we used a lawyer to probate the will even though the law in Texas says a lawyer is not required. But that was beyond our knowledge.  

 

Losing a parent or close family member or friend is tough enough for those left behind, but this makes the process of taking care of one’s assets and responsibilities so much simpler for our grieving loved ones. I’ve heard nightmare stories of family members having to start from scratch trying to deal with property, bills and debts with no prior information at all from the deceased.

 

Let’s make it easier on our loved ones before our passing by:

    • Getting out of debt 

    • Having a will

    • Weeding out the clutter in our homes

    • Having our finances and affairs in order

    • Making the difficult decisions for them beforehand on things like advanced directives, what we want to be done with our remains, and where we want to be buried or have our ashes scattered or interred, etc.

 

Organizing these end of life responsibilities now enables our loved ones to close the book on our lives in the most orderly and least painful way possible, and it is also one of the last acts of love we can do for our family and friends.

 

 

Donna Van Cleve

September 2020

Aging, Preparedness

                                                                           

The Estate Organizer Form

The downloadable Word Doc can be edited; the PDF has to be filled out as is unless you have some magic way (or the expensive program) to make a pdf editable.  

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