Getting Your House in Order

One day when my kids were teenagers, I started to say something about ‘After I died…’, and the look on their faces was so heartsick. I realized that although there was not much I could do to lessen their grief on the day I died, there were certainly things I could do to make the day after an easier day for them.

So I created my list.

This is not a list to share with them now because there is too much confidential information. I keep this list in my computer files. I suggest you tell your heirs that the list exists, the name of the file, and provide a password, if necessary, to access the file.

The list should be updated regularly – twice a year is best (although that’s sometimes difficult to do). The more current the document is, the more helpful it will be.

What’s on my list:

*Life insurance policies: The name of the company, contact information, account number, amount of benefit, and any contingencies – such as benefit is halved when you turn 70.

*Cemetery plot: The name of the cemetery and contact information.

*Funeral plans: Any wishes you have for the service and the burial.

*Important papers: The four important papers we all need: a will, a power of attorney, a health care proxy, and a living will. The original copies of these papers should be filed together along with life insurance policies, birth certificates, marriage certificate or divorce decree, cemetery plot, title to your car, apartment lease, home mortgage, stock certificates, savings bonds, loan agreements, the last three years of tax returns. File these together if possible; if not, state where each can be found.

*Important people: The names and contact information for your primary care doctor, lawyer, accountant, and broker, including phone numbers and email addresses.

*Health insurance: The name of the company, your ID number, and contact information.

*Bank accounts, CDs, IRAs, annuities, pension plans: The name of the institution, the account number, contact information; and for online access, your user name and password.

*Checking account: List what is automatically deposited, the amount and day of the month; what is automatically deducted, the amount and day of the month; what bills you pay online; if you write checks regularly for something ‘other’ such as to support an elderly relative or college student, state to whom and for what amount.

*Safe deposit box: The name of the institution, access information, and what’s in it.

*Safe at home: The combination to the lock, what’s in it.

*Credit cards: Make a photocopy of the front and back of each card. If you pay some bills online, then add the user name and password for each card; if you pay by check, then state where you keep the files and where you keep your checkbook. If you have certain payments automatically deducted, then indicate which card and which payments.

*If you’ve hidden anything, tell them here. People hide things all the time, money in the freezer, jewelry in cosmetic jars. This is the place to spill your secrets. If you’ve stashed your millions in the mattress, it’s better for your heirs to find out now then to discover it after they’ve donated the bed to the local thrift store.

*If you own something of value, or you think may be valuable, such as jewelry, artwork, antiques, mention that here and suggest the items be appraised.

*Storage room. The name and location of the facility, contact information, the room number, the access code.

*Your car. Car insurance: name of company and contact information; car registration, and where you keep the extra set of keys.

*Your pet: Arrangements for its care.

*Social media: Facebook, Twitter, website, email accounts. Provide user name and passwords and any instructions you would like followed in regard to these accounts.

*List anything else that’s particular to you such as season tickets to the opera or to a sports team.

*Your own company. Add information that your heirs must have.

*A second home. Keep a separate file of this information.

There are different ways to create a list like this. I created a Word document but you can go online to find outlines and fill-in pages to work with. To help you get started, you can also check out The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die and A Graceful Exit kit.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

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