June 01, 2015

AARP Checklist for My Family: A Guide to My History, Financial Plans, and Final Wishes By Sally Balch Hurme

Rufus v. Rhoades

“Sarah, wasn’t your dad in the military?”

“Yes, Henry, he was in the Army during the Korean conflict; why do you ask?”

“I think that you may be entitled to survivor benefits. The problem is that we need your dad’s service number.”

“Well, Henry, not only do I have his service number, I have his discharge papers.”

“That’s great, Sarah. How do you come to have those papers?”

“Before dad died, he methodically followed a series of checklists that he found in a book and pulled all of his papers and information together for us.”

“What a great thing to do. That will save you countless hours of work and, probably, a fair amount of money, as well. What book did he find those checklists in?”

“A great book by Sally Hurme. What dad did is so impressive, I am doing the same thing.”

* * * * * * * * *

That conversation between a daughter and the family lawyer does not happen very often. When we die (or even become incapacitated), we, much more frequently than not, leave our affairs in a bit of a mess. Our survivors don’t know where to find critical documents, so they may not be able to claim benefits that rightfully belong to them. When the survivor is a spouse (generally, the wife), the survivor needs to deal not only with the grief, but also the legal mess that not being able to find the right document creates.

Enter Sally Hurme. Checklist for My Family is an absolute gold mine for those of us who are even modestly disorganized. So let’s see what she has done for us.

First: her explanations. Each chapter includes not only one or more checklists appropriate to the subject of the chapter, but also a narrative of why the various items on the checklist are there. She also includes an insightful discussion of the legal requirements that certain steps require, which is not a surprise since Sally is a lawyer.

Second: the checklists. Those are the guts of the book. She intends that each of you will complete the checklists by writing in the book; she suggests using pencil so that changes can be made as life moves along.

Take a look at what the book covers:

Chapter/Chapter Heading

  1. Personal History
  2. Family History
  3. Insurance
  4. Retirement and Veterans Benefits
  5. Banking and Savings
  6. Investments
  7. Real Estate
  8. Other Assets and Debts
  9. Wills, Trusts, and Powers of Attorney
  10. Medical and Final Wishes


Let’s select a chapter at random. How about Insurance? We start with a question. Do you know where all of your insurance policies are? Homeowners insurance; life insurance; umbrella insurance; vehicle insurance for each of your vehicles (including RVs, boats, and motorcycles); health insurance. Chances are that you cannot lay your hands on one or more of your insurance policies. Additionally, do you know what coverage each policy offers and whether that coverage is sufficient, given today’s high cost of almost everything? I don’t, and my guess is that a great number of us don’t.

Sally starts the insurance chapter by describing the various kinds of insurance that you might have. Then she nudges us to consider whether the beneficiaries identified in those policies (particularly, your life insurance) are who you want them to be.

In the checklists for insurance, she is pretty exhaustive. For example, under health insurance, she lists 13 (13!) subcategories of policies that you might have. She then asks you to list, for each type of insurance, the name of the insurance company, the policy number, the premium due dates, and the contact information for the company. As appropriate (for life insurance, among others), she tells you to list the beneficiaries.

In that chapter, she gives us seven different categories of insurance checklists. Because the book is directed to us on the personal level, she does not include any professional insurance, such as errors and omissions insurance for lawyers or malpractice insurance for doctors. For those of us who are sole practitioners, we can follow Sally’s format and generate a professional insurance checklist.

Her other chapters are equally comprehensive. This is a book that we professionals should not only have, but use.

Rufus v. Rhoades

Rufus v. Rhoades practices law in Pasadena, California. He is the author of many works on international tax issues, including, along with co-author Marshall J. Langer, the six-volume U.S. International Taxation and Tax Treaties (Matthew Bender 1996, updated quarterly).