We interview Karen O’ Neil who has written a workbook called, “A Guide to Getting Affairs in Order.” Everything you need to know if someone kicks the bucket.
Coming to you from the lounge of Holly’s a-political pastry pastiche
Some time ago, Karen’s ex-husband was diagnosed with 3-6 months to live. She traveled across the country to help out and he was able to tell her where everything was and what his last wishes were. He only lasted 4 weeks but there was solace in knowing that she and her family were doing exactly what he wanted. This experience inspired her to put together the workbook.
Karen makes the disclaimer that she isn’t giving out any legal advice because she’s not an attorney. She just offers suggestions and the book for people to write down where their important documents are.
It’s important to communicate and let people know what you want.
You can’t just keep all your documents online. You need hard copies.
In her system, she doesn’t ask anyone to write down any sensitive information. Instead, you should write down where you are keeping things like your Social Security card.
She recommends that you make a copy of all your financial statements. On each statement, write down who is the beneficiary of that account. Keep all your statements in an envelope or a file next to your tax files. That way you can go through the file once a year, take out anything that is no longer pertinent or any accounts you’ve closed, and add new accounts. If anything happens, the beneficiary only needs to take the death certificate and their ID to the financial institution to begin the claim process.
If the account is in your trust, then write “trust” on the statement.
Important documents you need to have in order to get your affairs in order
Everybody needs a will or trust. (It depends on the size of your estate) If you have any property, it’s best to have a trust. Discuss this with your attorney. To find a good trust attorney ask your friends who they have used.
You also need an Advanced Health Care Directive. This lets people know what you want to be done medically if you become incapacitated. Make sure to communicate with the person you designate so they are aware of their responsibilities. The obvious person is not always the best person to carry out these important tasks. You can custom make an advanced health directive to your situation. For instance, if your children are in another state, you may want to designate someone to take care of business until they arrive at your bedside. If you have one custom made, you will need to get them notarized.
The third thing you need is a Durable Power of Attorney. This kicks into place when someone goes into a coma or otherwise cannot speak for themselves. If you don’t have it in place, you may have to go to court and it can get messy.
All three of the documents above require communication with the people involved to make sure they want to do it and know the details.
Many people worry about what will happen to their pets. Karen says, “if you don’t write down your instructions the ASPCA could take them. If a relative wants the pet, that’s fine, but if no one comes forward, the pet will be taken away. You don’t have to put this in a will or trust but it can be written down in the workbook.
Do not put any of the three documents (Will/Trust, Advanced Health Care Directive, or Durable Power of Attorney) in your safe deposit box. You can put copies in there but not the originals. The reason is, the box may get sealed with all your instructions in there.
Good places to put these documents are in a fire proof lock box or your refrigerator. (It’s also fireproof) Karen says to label it “zucchini something” so that no one will try to eat it. (especially your kids)
Make sure you let people know where your workbook is. It doesn’t make sense to hand out copies because you may make changes from time to time.
If passwords are involved, keep a list where they can be found. In the workbook, write instructions on how to get on your computer to retrieve them. It’s also a good idea to write online banking information directly on copies of your statements. If you have everything paperless, make a hard copy of every account at the end of the year. (a year-end statement works)
Change of address – When someone passes away, put in a change of address manually. (use the card available at the Post Office) Mail a new change of address card every November for a minimum of 5 years. That way you are sure to receive all the year-end statements and tax documents. Sometimes money will arrive in the mail (like a pension payment) years later.
Obtain multiple copies of the deceased death certificate. (10-20 at least) It’s least expensive to get them from the funeral director. (At least 1 for every financial institution) Also, family members may also want a copy.
When someone passes, it’s impossible to remember everything. Use a spiral notebook to make notes about everything concerning the death like gifts, flowers, food, (for thank you notes) your thoughts, phone conversations, who stopped by, questions that come up, and who is doing what, Keep the notebook with you wherever you go because something may come up you may want to make a note of.
You can order a downloadable and a hard copy.
Sign up for her free report “A Checklist of What to do when someone dies” on her website. There are also links to Advanced Health Directives for different states.