Life is too short to spend too much of our time worrying about ourselves or a loved one becoming ill or dying. There’s no escaping the inevitable, however, and it’s extremely important to prepare for anything and everything to ensure that our wishes and the wishes of our loved ones are carried out.
When it comes to assets and belongings the best preparation starts with a list. It should be organized to catalog belongings for each family member, denote ownership, express each person’s final wishes in accordance with state law, and it should be stored in a secure location. Trusted friends and loved ones should be informed, and given instructions about where the list is and how to obtain it if needed. You may choose to keep the information with a financial advisor, a lawyer, a bank’s lockbox, or even in a locked fireproof safe in your home.
Our lives are complicated, yet these four steps will help sort out the essential measures you should take to ensure all of your planning bases are covered.
Step 1: Devise a list of all of your advisors and physicians: names, telephone numbers, web addresses, and e-mail addresses. These are the primary people your appointed representative will need to contact to ensure that your wishes are properly taken care of.
Advisors and Physicians
- Financial Planner/Tax Consultant
- Insurance Agent(s)
- Primary Care Physician and other Medical Doctors
Step 2: Gather and organize all vital records and personal information. If you’re missing any or all of this information, you can contact the New York Vital Records website, which provides general information about how to obtain missing or lost vital records. This website also offers a list of related links that you can use to obtain other types of missing documentation.
- Birth Certificate
- Marriage License
- Passport/Proof of Citizenship
- Military Records
- Divorce Papers (judgment/degree/stipulation agreement)
- Adoption Papers
- Social Security Numbers
Step 3: Collect all financial and insurance records including: i) account numbers, ii) financial website addresses, iii) logins, iv) passwords, v) beneficiaries, and vi) documentation of plans and legal information should be aggregated and denoted in a clear concise list. It’s important that you maintain proof of ownership of all assets and insurance policies and that it’s evidenced in a binding legal agreement such as a Will and/or Trust. Otherwise your wishes could be contested.
Financial and Insurance Records
- Deeds and/or Title Policies
- Automobile Title
- Insurance Agreements (Health, Life, Long Term Care, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Homeowners, Renters, Automobile etc.)
- Disability Plans
- Stocks and Bond Certificates
- Deeds and/or Title Policies
- List of Liabilities and Assets (Bank Account Information)
- Profit Sharing Plans
- Retirement and Pension Details – See New York State and Local Retirement Guidance
- Tax Returns for Personal and Business (Past 4 years)
Step 4: Prepare a Living Will with your legal advisor to ensure there are written instructions on treatment and end of life decisions. Complete a Permanent Health Care Proxy with no date limitation, which appoints a proxy to make medical decisions on your behalf if needed. A HIPAA Medical Release form authorizes Medical Providers to release your medical records and to discuss your medical condition with designated agents. These forms and instructions on how to fill them out are available on the New York Department of Health’s website.
Additionally, everyone should have a Durable Power of Attorney to enable a legal representative to appoint a “trusted person” to act on your behalf if you are unable to manage your affairs on your own. Will and/or trusts are important to, as they name the executor of your estate, the beneficiaries of the properties, and if applicable, guardians of your children. Explanatory Letters should accompany your will. These describe your intentions and the reasons why you made your decisions. Lastly, the Funeral/Burial and related Religious Document to describe your wishes for a final resting place.
- Living Will
- Personal Wish Statement
- Health Care Proxy
- Power of Attorney (Durable)
- Wills and/or Trusts
- Explanatory Letters
- Funeral/Burial Plot & Instructions and other related Religious Documentation
Carpe Diem. Choose to legalize and clearly document your personal and financial wishes rather than having the state choose for you or a financial party denying a claim due to lack of proof of ownership of an asset. Start by heading to an office supply store and buying an expanding legal accordion file to store all of your important documents and your estate planning software. Alternatively, make an appointment with a trusted legal advisor to begin the estate preparation process. As of December 2015, the New York State Comptroller’s Office of Unclaimed Funds said there were 4,058,104 unclaimed fund accounts held by the state totaling $2,906,089,890 in value across five counties of New York City (Bronx, Queens, Kings, New York, Richmond). Don’t let your hard-earned assets be included.