Getting Final Affairs in Order Before Death
When people talk about “putting final affairs in order,” you usually think about someone who’s time is near.
Whether you’re the caregiver or the terminally ill, it can be satisfying to help get organized and take inventory. This is really important if there aren’t many close relatives.
It can feel overwhelming, so you may not know where to start. Try approaching “final affairs” as 3 categories: (1) personal, (2) financial, and (3) legal.
Basic personal information is a great place to start. We usually memorize these details and take them for granted.
Create a simple file folder with:
- Full legal name
- Place and date of birth
- Home address
- Social security number
- Copies of driver’s license and passport
- Military service records
- Address book (should include contact for doctors, lawyer, accountant, financial advisor, religious leader, etc.)
- Location of important documents
- Digital profiles
Digital access is becoming more important everyday. Your Facebook account may be how you communicate and get in touch with people. If so, make sure to include your login credentials or add someone as a “legacy contact.”
Next, it’s time to make a list of what you own (or owe) and where Make a file folder with:
- Bank accounts
- Brokerage accounts
- Retirement accounts (401k, IRA, etc.)
- Like Insurance policies
- Real estate (include the addresses, copies of deeds and mortgage, and even a copy of the keys)
- Car title
- Safe deposit box (location and key)
- List of credit card and other debts
- Last 3 tax returns
And any other financial assets or obligation documents.
Ok, so now that you’ve covered the basics (personal) and we know what you own and owe (financial), let’s get into the legal.
These legal documents control what happens to your body and money, and who makes the big decisions.
- Living will. Sometimes called your DNR (“do not resuscitate”) this is the legal instruction of when it’s OK to “pull the plug.”
- Healthcare Proxy. This document names the person who can make all other healthcare decisions. Also known as a healthcare power of attorney.
- Power of Attorney. Where you give someone power to make financial decisions and transactions for you. Be careful, this is an overpowered document (very easy to create, but gives tremendous power to someone else), so use very cautiously.
- Burial Instruction. Aka Designation of Burial Agent. Put someone in charge of all burial and funeral arrangements, and specify your wishes. Sometimes this is included within the will.
- Will. This estate planning document is most familiar to everyone. Where you name who gets your assets when you die. And just as importantly, who’s in charge after you die (your executor).
- Revocable Trust. Just like a will, except you can skip probate court after death. Sometimes called a Living Trust, Revocable Living Trust, or Grantor’s Trust.
If don’t do any of these, state law has default rules for who’s in charge, who gets what, etc. But most people would not be happy with that, so better to get these legal documents done.
- Keep all these important papers in one place. Not scattered in different drawers, files, boxes.
- Make sure someone knows where they are. Ideally your emergency contact.
- Talk to your doctor about end of life preferences, make sure he’s in the loop.
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I enjoy the challenge of unscrambling a messy estate, and simplifying it to inheritance checks. Must be the puzzle-lover in me.
Besides lawyering, I’ve owned businesses ranging from an H&R Block franchise to a biodiesel refinery in Africa.
Lately, I’ve been focused on my podcast and YouTube channel, and publishing best-selling Amazon books:
I grew up and live on the Upper West Side with my wife and 2 kids. I ride Citibike everywhere, and play pickup soccer every weekend.