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Organize personal, financial records as a courtesy to survivors

DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: My wife and I would like to get our personal and financial affairs in order so our kids will know what’s going on if we get sick or die.What tips can you offer?

— Procrastinating Paul

DEAR PAUL: Organizing your key information and getting your personal and financial affairs in order is a great gift to your loved ones.

To help you get started, your first step is to gather up all of your important personal, financial and legal information. Then sit down and create lists of important information and instructions of how you want things handled when you die or if you become incapacitated.

Here’s a checklist of areas you need to focus on:


>> Contacts: Make a master list of names and phone numbers of close friends, clergy, doctors and professional advisers such as your lawyer, accountant, broker and insurance agent.

>> Medical information: Include a list of medications you and your spouse take, along with any allergies and illnesses.

>> Personal documents: Include such items as your birth certificates, Social Security cards, marriage license, military discharge papers, etc.

>> Secured places: List all the places you keep under lock and key or protected by password, such as safe deposit boxes, safe combination, security alarms, etc.

>> Service providers: Provide contact information of the companies or people who provide you regular services such as utility companies, lawn service, etc.

>> Pets: If you have a pet, give instructions for the care of the animal.

>> End of life: Indicate your wishes for organ and tissue donation (see, and write out your funeral instructions. If you’ve made arrangements with a funeral home, include a copy of agreement, their contact information and whether you’ve prepaid or not.


>> Will, trust and estate plan: Include the original copy of your will and other estate planning documents you’ve made.

>> Financial power of attorney: This document names someone you trust to handle money matters if you’re incapacitated.

>> Advance health care directives: These documents (see — a living will and medical power of attorney – spell out your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment when you can no longer make decisions for yourself.


>> Financial accounts: Make a list of all your bank accounts, brokerage and mutual fund accounts, and any other financial assets you have.

>> Debts and liabilities: Make a list of any loans, leases or debt you have – mortgages owed, car loans, student loans, medical bills, credit card debts. Also, make a list of all credit and charge cards, including the card numbers and contact information.

>> Company benefits: List any retirement plans, pensions or health benefits from your current or former employer including the contact information of the benefits administrator.

>> Insurance: List the insurance policies you have (life, long-term care, home, auto, Medicare, Medigap, prescription drug, etc.) including the policy numbers, agents and phone numbers.

>> Property: List real estate, vehicles and other properties you own, rent or lease and include documents such as deeds, titles, and loan or lease agreements.

>> Taxes: Include the location of your tax records and your tax preparer’s contact information.

KEEP ALL your organized information and files together in one convenient location, ideally in a fireproof filing cabinet or safe in your home. Also be sure to review and update it every year, and don’t forget to tell your loved ones where they can find it.

If you need help, get a copy of “12 Critical Things Your Family Needs to Know.” This is an excellent 60-page workbook available at for $15 or $19 for the downloadable versions, or $25 for a printed copy.

Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit

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