Ask the Probate Judge—Get Organized with a
Rudd, appeared January 2, 2003, Albuquerque Journal, Business Outlook
Reprinted with permission
Editor's note: This column may not be quoted or reproduced
in whole or part without express written permission of the author.
Q: My grandmother died recently and I am her executor. Her business papers were not very organized. I'm not even sure what all she owns. Any suggestions to help folks become more organized before it's too late?
What a good way to start the new year: become more organized! I resolve to do this each year, usually after I encounter my 1997 "To Do" list, half of which is still pending.
Fill out a forwarding address card at the post office for your grandmother. When you start receiving her mail, you can organize her bills, financial statements, and other papers. Search her house carefully and preserve her documents until you are sure they are unnecessary.
Being organized is important. But some people dislike thinking about death and fail to leave helpful information about their estate assets. Children may not want to broach the subject for fear of seeming greedy.
Having important information organized in one place can prove invaluable to those who must locate the assets, pay the debts, and distribute the estate after death. If people are organized during their lifetimes, their personal representatives will not have to reconstruct their financial histories.
My former client created a "panic notebook." In it he had every, and I do mean every, business and health-related document neatly arranged by subject matter in one large binder.
One section contained copies of legal documents with a note about where the originals were stored. Another section contained information about organ donation, health care wishes, and burial instructions. A third section listed all financial data, including bank accounts, stock and bond funds, and real property. This section also listed tangible personal property such as jewelry, artwork, and furniture with instructions about who should receive what. Account numbers, addresses, phone numbers, and contact names at various institutions were listed. A final section listed the names, addresses, and phone numbers of legal and financial advisors, doctors, relatives, and anyone else who inherited under his will. He reviewed and updated his panic notebook every January.
If you create a panic notebook, you need not even reveal the information right away. Just make sure your personal representative knows the location of your notebook.
If the notion of a panic notebook is too daunting, a financial checklist would be a good compromise. List all financial accounts (bank accounts, stocks, bonds, pensions, IRA's, etc.), automatic money cards, and credit cards, including account numbers, addresses and phone numbers; real estate; bank safe deposit boxes (with box number and location of key) or safe with combination; vehicles and location of titles; any mortgages, loans, and IOUs; where original legal documents are located; miscellaneous items such as utilities, health, homeowners, auto, life, and other insurance; and additional places to notify in case of death such as Motor Vehicles, any business or professional groups to which you belong, frequent flyer programs, Social Security, Internal Revenue Service, AAA, the military, and others.
© 2003, Merri Rudd & Albuquerque Journal, All Rights Reserved