April 2006
Volume 2, Number 3
Table of Contents

How Clients Can Organize Their Affairs

By Daniel J. Hoffheimer


It is good practice to put one's own financial and personal affairs in good order. Such order will make life much easier and more convenient. Good order will help a client prepare income taxes each year, address one’s family's financial needs, and relieve family members of considerable inconvenience if the client should become incapacitated and at death.

The following is a list of separate files that the lawyer might recommend the client keep in the client’s personal file cabinet or desk drawer. For items with an asterisk (*), one might keep a separate file for each individual item within that category.

Separate Files

  • Safety deposit box location, number, and key.
  • Safe combination and computer passwords. (The client might want to code these somehow.)
  • Copies of wills and any codicils. (The originals might best be secured with the client’s lawyer.)
  • Copies of powers of attorney. (The originals might best be secured with the client’s lawyer.)
  • Living will, durable power of attorney for health care, or other advance health care directive. (The originals might best be secured with the client’s lawyer.)
  • Copies of trust agreements for any trusts the client has established or under which the client is the beneficiary. (The originals might best be secured with the client’s lawyer.)
  • Funeral and burial instructions.
  • Cemetery deed, contract, or prepaid funeral documents.
  • Social security records for every member of the family.
  • Marriage certificate.
  • Antenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
  • Divorce decree and separation agreement (if applicable).
  • Military discharge papers (if applicable).
  • Naturalization papers (if applicable).
  • Adoption papers (if applicable).
  • Passports for each member of the family.
  • Real estate titles and deeds for property owned. (They should be recorded.)
  • Mortgage statements.
  • Title insurance.
  • Automobile and boat registrations or lease agreements.
  • Listing of all credit cards held, including names of creditors, addresses, and account numbers.
  • Statements for checking and money market accounts.*
  • Savings passbooks and most recent statement of accounts.
  • Listing of certificates of deposit with current interest rates and maturity dates.
  • Retirement asset statements: (IRA, 401-k, Keogh, company pension plan).*
  • Statements of stock brokerage or managed portfolio.*
  • Statements of mutual fund accounts.*
  • Annuity contracts.*
  • Stock option plans.
  • Partnership agreements.*
  • Federal and state income tax returns. (The client might keep the older ones together in a "retired" file, but should keep separate files for at least the past three years.)
  • Gift tax returns.
  • Promissory notes and other loan agreements.
  • Life and disability insurance policies (with a master list of each policy.)
  • Property, casualty, health, and automobile insurance policies.*
  • List of information for the client’s lawyer, accountant, financial planner, stockbroker, insurance agent -- with name, address, telephone, email address, and fax numbers.
  • List of professional and fraternal organization memberships -- with addresses.

* Again, one should be sure to make a separate file for each one.

If one wishes to be especially careful, one will make copies of original documents, put the copies in the files, and put the originals or certified copies of some of the documents in a safe deposit box.

As an additional convenience, the client may wish to create and maintain one or more loose-leaf binders for financial statements, bank accounts, mutual funds, and other assets on which there are regular, updated statements. The client may tab each asset for ready reference and put the current statements in the binder as they are received. One should keep permanently at least the cumulative year-end statements for every year. When the statement is cumulative and shows the full year's activity, one may discard all other interim statements after the end of the year. The client may wish to keep a separate "summary" file at the end of each year so that the binder is for the current year only.


This organization may at first seem like a nuisance. However, one’s efforts will pay regular and significant rewards in the many saved hours of the client’s time and of the client’s family's time after the client has died. A great deal of frustration and stress will be eliminated.


Daniel J. Hoffheimer is an attorney for Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Copr. (C) 2006 West, a Thomson business. No claim to orig. U.S. govt. works. This article is reprinted with permission from West, a primary sponsor of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division.


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