Organizing personal information is frequently overlooked in life and estate planning. Organizers gather information and documents together for easy access in case of disability or death. Organizers also help advisors and families avoid a paper chase in case of a disaster, emergency, or health crisis. This article has tips you can pass along to your estate planning clients to help them organize their personal information and resources to prepare for the unexpected.
Organizers usually include lists of important information such as accounts maintained with banks and brokerages; addresses and phone numbers for advisors, doctors, and family; assets and liabilities; contracts for leases and services; memberships in professional and other organizations; passwords to e-mail, photo, and social media accounts; and subscriptions to magazines and newspapers.
Organizers can assemble copies of important documents such as birth certificates, deeds, insurance policies, marriage licenses, military discharge papers, and social security cards. They can include copies of estate planning documents such as health care directives, letters of instructions, powers of attorney, trusts, and wills.
Alternatives for organizers include entering information into digital documents, uploading to online archives, and handwriting into logbooks. When selecting a format, consider ease of accessing, updating, and securing.
Remember to update your organizer at least annually. Consider updates when a change in family, finances, or health requires a change in estate planning documents.
Show and Tell
Remember to tell trusted family members where your organizer is stored and periodically review it with them. Sudden illness and accidents can occur at any age, so it is important that loved ones know the location of your organizer. Start the conversation by explaining your expectations if something untoward happens to you.
Depending on personal preferences, organizers can be printed or digitized. They can be stored separately or with other estate planning documents. Keep your organizer safe and secure to prevent identity theft.
Several free and inexpensive resources are available to help you organize your personal information and documents. For example, templates for gathering financial information are available for free from law firms and financial organizations. (See below.)
Organizing important information can make life easier by allowing you to manage important information and documents. Getting organized also enables you to plan with your spouse and heirs so they can honor your wishes if you become disabled or die. Use the resources below to avoid family squabbles and share plans with your family.
Where to Learn More
- Blum, Marvin, “Filling in the Gaps,” WealthManagement.com, May 9, 2017.
- “Logging Out: Death in the Digital Age,” CNET, April 20, 2017.
- Pedersen, Cynthia M. “Estate Planning for Digital Assets,” AICPA, August 1, 2019.
- Quinn, Jane Bryant, “Make a Plan While You Still Can,” AARP Bulletin, November 2, 2017.
- American Bar Association Guide to Wills and Estates, Fourth Edition: Everything You Need to Know about Wills, Estates, Trusts, and Taxes (American Bar Association, 2013).
- Cullen, Melanie, Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won't Have To (Nolo, 2018).
- Hurme, Sally Balch, ABA/AARP Checklist for Family Survivors: A Guide to Practical and Legal Matters When Someone You Love Dies (American Bar Association/AARP, 2014).
- Pearson, Debbie, The Blueprint to Age Your Way: Gather Your Information. Document Your Wishes. Avoid the Unthinkable (Family Night Press, 2017).
Forms and Templates
- ElderKit (Fannie Mae)
- Estate Organizer (Perkins Coie LLP)
- Family Records Worksheet (T. Rowe Price Investment Services)
- Make Life Easier for Your Survivors and Executor! (Analyze Now)
- Organizing Your Financial Life: Critical Information at Your Fingertips (Merrill Lynch Wealth Management)
- Your Personal Assets and Inventory Organizer (TIAA)
- Estate Organizer Contents and Tabs: Common Law Individual (Thomson Reuters)
- Peace of Mind Planner (Peter Pauper)
- Summa Important Personal and Family Document Organizer (Blumberg)
Websites (Cloud Storage)
Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 10, Number 2, September 2020. © 2020 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.