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Create a comprehensive folder of documents that family members can access in case of an emergency, so they aren’t left scrambling to find and organize a hodgepodge of disparate bank accounts, insurance policies and brokerage accounts.

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The financial consequences of failing to keep your legal and financial documents in order can be significant. As pointed out in a recent Wall Street Journal article, state treasurers currently hold $32.9 billion in unclaimed bank accounts and other assets. Additionally, some of the country’s largest life insurers are under investigation for failing to pay out unclaimed life policies to beneficiaries. Insurers say they are behaving lawfully and under their policy contracts are required to pay a claim only when beneficiaries come forward.

Will your family members reap the full benefit of your estate planning efforts, or will they miss out simply because they cannot locate all of your important legal and financial documents in a timely manner? Of course, you don’t have to keep every single scrap of paper, but the WSJ offers a pretty comprehensive list of the 25 most important legal and financial documents you should compile, and make sure your heirs can quickly access, to include:

  1. Will
  2. Letter of instruction
  3. Trust documents
  4. Housing, land, and cemetery deeds
  5. Escrow mortgage accounts
  6. Proof of loans made and debts owed
  7. Vehicle titles
  8. Stock certificates, savings bonds, and brokerage accounts
  9. Partnership and corporate operating agreements
  10. Tax returns
  11. List of bank accounts
  12. List of all user names and passwords
  13. List of safe-deposit boxes
  14. Durable health-care power of attorney
  15. Authorization to release health care information
  16. Living will
  17. Do-not-resuscitate order
  18. Personal and family medical history
  19. Life insurance policies
  20. Individual retirement accounts
  21. 401(k) accounts
  22. Pension documents
  23. Annuity contracts
  24. Marriage license
  25. Divorce papers

The original article goes into much more detail with each, and whether you have or need each of these documents will depend on your individual situation and the various legal facets of your life, but it is a list that commands a certain attention. By putting this all together you help your loved ones to more quickly and easily pick up the pieces and put your plan into operation.

Reference:  The Wall Street Journal – Saabira Chaudhuri (July 2, 2011) “The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die


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