If you have ever lost a loved one and been asked to help settle their personal affairs, you will understand that tracking down important financial documents and finding all the assets and liabilities for a loved one can be extremely difficult. Coupled with the emotional pain in losing a loved one, it can become a very frustrating experience. No one likes to imagine their loved ones struggling to follow the messy trail through their financial lives and there are things we can do to make this process much easier for the people we care about most.
A financial notebook is an easy way to organize your financial life. This is something that will put every important piece of your financial puzzle in one place for the people sorting out your affairs. Putting this notebook together will take some time and effort but these are the things to keep in mind to make sure nothing is left out.
– Collect Essential Documents: A financial notebook is only as good as its contents and incomplete or missing documents won’t do a lot of good when people need them. A thorough financial notebook should include bank statements and account numbers, brokerage statements and account numbers, retirement plan documents, trusts, wills, insurance policies, tax returns, and information on any real estate you might own. It’s a good idea to include a personal balance sheet that you update annually showing your breakdown of assets and liabilities. Anyone opening this book should see every aspect of your financial life, so keep it in a safe place!
– Identify Key Contacts: Most people have a mental list of who they call with insurance issues, financial questions, or other items that require professional attention. Put these individuals all on one contact sheet so your loved ones can call through the list, notify them of your passing, and initiate the process of closing accounts and transitioning assets. Some common examples that would typically on a list like this would be doctors, attorneys, accountants, bankers, and financial advisors.
– Update Records Regularly: Making a financial notebook probably seems like a daunting task but once it’s put together, maintaining it is easy. Set aside a few minutes on a Sunday afternoon once a quarter to update statements, make note of any changes, and review information to make sure its current. Some financial documents can change dramatically during a short period of time and others need to be updated much less frequently. Always take the time to review your beneficiaries and make sure they are current and that they’re information is accurate.
– Show Your Loved Ones: Your financial notebook is important and it won’t do you much good if it’s on the top shelf collecting dust. Think about the people in your life you trust the most to handle your affairs when you pass away, and set up a time to sit down with that person and show them your financial notebook. Discuss your wishes with them so they aren’t left to guess the way you’d like your assets to be treated after you’re gone. If there is a charity that you feel strongly about, let them know so that they can look for opportunities to help organizations that you support in your behalf. They will thank you for taking the time to make their difficult job easier.
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