Getting your affairs in order
Preparing for the ‘what ifs’ in life
You never know what the future may hold, and the COVID-19 crisis adds another layer of uncertainty. In times like this, it becomes clear how important it is to have your affairs in order. Contemplating end-of-life concerns can be overwhelming at first, but knowing you are prepared can provide peace of mind. Planning for the unknown helps protect your assets and ease an already difficult time for your loved ones.
Here’s a checklist of important documents and decisions to make while you’re healthy.
- Designate those who will manage your estate. Select a person or people to be the executor of your estate, power of attorney and health care power of attorney. Decide who will become the guardian of your pets, if necessary.
- Create or update your will. If your estate is uncomplicated, you may want to use online software to create a simple will. If you have questions about protecting your assets and handling unique concerns related to taxes or family dynamics, you may benefit from hiring an estate attorney to draw up your will. Once your will is complete, keep one copy at home and one with the executor of your estate. Review your will regularly to make sure everything still applies to your current situation.
- Draw up a living will and designate a health care proxy. Don’t leave your loved ones guessing about the end-of-life care you would like to receive. Having instructions in place will spare them the burden of trying to guess what you would have wanted. You may be able to obtain these forms from your health care provider or your state department on aging.
- Review and update beneficiaries. Check your beneficiaries on insurance policies, pensions, 401(k) or 403(b) plans, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and annuities. Updating beneficiaries is especially important since these designations supersede your will instructions.
- Assemble a list of credit cards and debts. An easy way to check this task off is to run a free credit report, which lists your entire credit card and debt history in one place. This can help identify mortgages, vehicle loans, home equity loans, credit cards and other debt you owe.
- Organize your personal and financial records. Store your important papers and legal documents in a safe place. This includes financial account information, insurance policies, Social Security card and Medicare information, original deed for your home, property tax statements, vehicle titles, tax returns, military discharge papers and safe deposit box information. Tell a trusted family member or friend where you keep your important documents.
- Protect your digital identity. Even after passing away, your digital information lives on. Keep it secure by organizing your passwords and online records for someone you trust. There are secure, digital services that can compile your passwords so that an executor can access them if needed.
- Make a list of contacts. Include financial advisors, insurance agents, tax and estate-planning lawyers and other important contacts.
- Do an asset inventory. Start a catalog of all your physical and nonphysical assets to account for all your items of value. This list should include items worth more than $100 (e.g., jewelry, vehicles, etc.), 401(k) plans/IRA assets, pensions, insurance policies, banking and brokerage accounts.
- Include instructions for things of sentimental value. Don’t forget to provide direction for your meaningful soft assets. Having a clear plan for passing along family heirlooms and other possessions can be a helpful guide for your loved ones. These items can be a welcome reprieve and reminder of your love.
- Spell out final wishes. Let your family know whether you prefer cremation or burial and what kind — if any — of funeral service you would like. If you’ve done preplanning, make sure your family has access to the contract.