Creating the necessary legal documents, like power of attorney, wills and trusts, is a substantial and essential step in the estate planning process. But it is only a first step. To have an estate plan that truly functions seamlessly, that the extra step of ensuring that all of your affairs and vital paperwork are organized in one secure place, so that your loved ones can carry out your final wishes without facing the task of tracking down needed documents.
So, you've just finished executing your brand new estate plan. It includes your will, your powers of attorney, your advance directive and possibly one or more trusts. Everything is signed, witnessed and notarized. You're all set, right?
Not exactly. Performing truly complete estate planning goes beyond just getting your legal documents created, although that is a huge and essential step. To be truly prepared, and to give your family the greatest possible peace of mind, you should go the extra mile.
One area where you can go that extra mile is your final arrangements. Some states have created legal document that resembles an advance directive, except that it governs your final arrangements. Even if your state does not have such a document, you may still put your wishes down on paper. You can make certain that each detail, large or small, that is important to you is imparted to those who will have carry out your funeral after you die. You can state whether you want to be buried or cremated, what mortuary you wish to handle the arrangements, what type of funeral service you want… even what music should play.
If you have special needs for your funeral that require special documentation, make sure that is completed. For example, if you are to be buried in a military cemetery, your loved ones likely will have to produce your DD214 discharge papers.
One key with all these things is maintain them in an organized manner. A large three-ring binder can help you put everything together. Since this binder should be kept in a secure, locked place, you can also place other sensitive documents with it, including your online account names and passwords, insurance documents, retirement account paperwork, bank and/or brokerage statements, real estate deeds and a list of your professional advisors.
Compiling and securing your documents is not the final step in the process, however. You should also make certain that you inform the loved ones and/or advisors who will handle your affairs after you die as to where you have secured your binder (along with instructions on how to access it.) Once you've gone to the effort to put a plan in place to provide for your family, the last thing you want is for your loved ones to, in their moment of grief, face the stress of engaging in a massive search for needed paperwork to carry out your final wishes.