Getting Your Affairs In Order: Securing Important Documents

A sudden loss or incapacitation is something most of us avoid thinking about, but being prepared for worse case scenarios can be beneficial. Consider this, if you were to pass away or become incapacitated, would you loved ones know where to locate important documents?

During a time of emotional distress or grieving, it is difficult to think about money and how to locate critical documents to move forward with plans. That’s why it’s important to get your documents into one centralized place. By doing so, you are not only ensuring your wishes are understood, but are also providing help to loved ones who will make financial arrangements in your incapacitation or absence.

Taking the first steps to organizing your documents

First, take proper measures to ensure your documents will be safe. Find a secure location, such as a password-protected online vault, fireproof home safe, or bank safe deposit box. Next, decide which documents should be stored in your safe place. These documents and personal records may be different for every family. There are two tiers of information that should be provided: personal records and financial records. These lists vary greatly and should be used as a starting point. More information can be added to meet your family’s specific needs. We’ll start with the personal records first:

Personal records

 Full legal name
 Social Security number
 Legal residence
 Date and place of birth
 Names and addresses of spouse and children
 Location of birth and death certificates and certificates of marriage, divorce, citizenship, and adoption
 Employers and dates of employment
 Education and military records
 Names and phone numbers of religious contacts
 Memberships in groups and awards received
 Names and phone numbers of close friends, relatives, and lawyer or financial advisor
 Names and phone numbers of doctors
 Medications
 Location of living will and other legal documents

It’s About You Tip: If you want to minimize clutter, you may consider printing out the links to online statements with their corresponding passwords.

Next are your important documents. These should be stored away in your “vault” and should include any documents containing crucial financial information. Here’s a list of suggested documents:

• Quarterly and Annual Statements: IRAs, 401(k)s, funds, brokerage accounts, statements from last quarter and statements from the end of the previous calendar year (that is, the last Q4 statement you received).

• Healthcare Benefit Information: Medicare or Medicare Advantage Plan, group health plan, individual health policies, LTC policies and contact information for insurers, HMOs, your doctor(s) and your insurance agent.

• Life Insurance Information: Document when level premiums on straight term policies end, the death benefit and present cash value on any whole life policies and the required premiums on any policy.

• Beneficiary Designation Forms: Beneficiary designations often take priority over requests made in a will when it comes to 401(k)s, 403(b)s and IRAs. Also, retain copies and review them with a retirement planner or attorney so they can help you gauge the tax efficiency of the eventual transfer of assets.

• Social Security Basics: If you have not claimed benefits yet, include your Social Security card, W-2 form from last year (or Schedule SE and Schedule C plus 1040 form), and certified copies of your birth certificate, marriage license, divorce papers, military discharge paperwork or proof of citizenship, if applicable.

• Social Security Statements: Take a screenshot or print a copy of the statement that tracks your accrued benefits.

• Pension Matters: Collect special letters or bulletins from your employer, your Individual Benefit Statement, your Summary Plan Description and contact information for someone at the employee benefits department where you work.

• Real Estate Documents: Deeds, mortgage documents, property tax statements, homeowner insurance policy and a list of the contents in your home and their estimated value.

• Estate Planning Paperwork: Your estate plan, any trust paperwork, a will and a durable power of attorney or health care directive.

• Tax Returns: At least have a copy of your 1040 and state returns from the prior year.

• List of Digital Assets: Contents of a cloud, a photo library, social media pages and all corresponding passwords.

Once you are ready, be sure to tell your loved ones where to locate your documents and give them password information or permission to access to your safe deposit box, if necessary. Your loved ones may be responsible for making decisions about your health or estate.

Getting your affairs in order is a process that many put off. If your heirs don’t know about these accounts or documents, they won’t be able to review or lay claim to them, and the assets that you have set aside could diminish. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that each year tens of thousands of workers and their loved ones leave or fail to roll over $850 million in 401(k) assets. You can track unclaimed pensions, 401(k)s and IRAs at

Note: In most cases it is possible to leave your employee pension and retirement to your spouse or child, meaning if you pass way, the payments will continue to be made to the specified heir. However, your ability to transfer such assets will depend on the type of employee retirement plan you have.


Getting Your Affairs In Order. National Institute of Aging, 22 Jan. 2015. Web.

CHAUDHURI, SAABIRA. “The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die.”WSJ. Wall Street Journal, 11 July 2011. Web.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG, LLC, is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2015 FMG Suite.


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