You've gotten your estate planning done and collected your documents according to Step 4. Now the question is, "Where are you going to keep all that stuff?" The key to this decision is that those documents need to be found easily. It would be considerate and helpful if you put them in a user-friendly system too. Oh, and tell a couple of trusted people where they are. A friend's parents won't talk about this stuff and they have two houses so it's going to be a chore just to locate the papers. Not talking about these vital resources and documents is unnecessary and possibly troublesome.
I recommend you get a 3-ring binder for your core documents rather than put them in a nice file folder called Estate Documents. I say this based on experience - - - if the documents are secure in a binder and all in one place the Trustee can grab one thing and take care of the task at hand. (Throughout this article Trustee and Executor are used interchangeably and mean 'that important estate person handling your wishes'). For example, the Trustee will probably have to open a new checking account for the Trust. She can simply take the binder and have whatever the banker asks to see. For example, she will have the first & last pages of the Trust Document, assignment of trustee, and the deceased social security number or the trust EIN.
In the Binder I suggest you put your core documents which include:
- Trust & Abstract of Trust
- Power of Attorney
- Health Care Directive
- Your Social Security Card
- Burial instructions
- Key Contacts
- Living Will
- Power of Attorney for Health Care
- General Letter to survivors
You can buy binders with tabs for organizing these items (Google 'estate +organizer'). Or, simply make your own with index pages and labels.
In a second binder put financial papers such as:
- Last year's Year-end statements from every Money Account (savings, checking, money market, investment, stocks & bond, etc.
- Contact information for all your account representatives and holders (institutions)
- Inventory of antiques, jewelry, art, and collectables
- Balance Sheet
- List of credit cards, issuer, account number (or a recent statement from each)
The remaining documents a probably suitable for a third binder or file folders. Group things together – no need to put a prenuptial agreement and marriage license in separate folders - put them together and call them Marriage Documents. Group your Insurance Policies in a folder called Insurance. Put real estate deeds in one folder. You get the idea.
In a folder called Estate Documents put any remaining documents. Also add a note saying where your binders are and what is in them.
There you go – you're ready for anything now - and your survivors would thank you!