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This 'n That
by Anne Vargas
“Getting ready” part two…
To reiterate, my goal is to get our affairs in order and “be ready” for the legalities (and everything else) when either my spouse or I die and to ease the way for our children in the event of mutual demise. This is a personal project but I am sharing what I learn as I go and I’m learning a lot. I started this last month with “part-one” but quickly realized it would need to be a two-part article. At least.
I began to sort through all the material I was gathering, trying to organize it into something workable. The crucial thing I discovered was how much I was unaware of and how ill prepared we are in this regard. Several readers have generously shared their own experiences in handling estates, which I appreciate. Talking with widowed friends about what they had to deal with was also helpful.
My other sources include AARP (excellent information there), Consumer Reports, Social Security Administration, our attorney, an estate lawyer I met at a dinner party, several books I purchased (I quote “Get It Together” by Melanie Cullen) and numerous websites dealing with the subject, some with very clever names (i.e.,departingdecisions. com). That website included this Before Death Checklist:
Update your Will; Designate Powers of Attorney (when necessary); Fill out Advanced Directive; Prepare a contact list; Plan and Write out Personal Wishes; Write obituary (optional); Make a list of account information; Make lists of death benefits, Insurance policies and assets. Obviously, all of this needs to be accessible with copies given to someone you trust. The most frequently repeated piece of advice for before death preparation was to get financial affairs in order.
To access the many helpful websites, go online and, in the address line, type in Death of a Spouse Information which will lead you to a sub-menu of copious articles. A particularly comprehensive one is “Financial Guide: DEATH OF A SPOUSE: Financial Steps You Can Take”.
Every source discusses the “important documents” but exactly what those are seems to vary somewhat. Some lists are brief, others quite extensive. Some important documents would be needed immediately, some later but all of them should be easily accessible with specific information as to location. This would include passwords, if required.
Here is an almost overwhelming compilation of various lists of “important documents” for use where applicable: Wills/trusts; powers of attorney; advanced directives; life insurance policy, birth certificate, marriage certificate, social security numbers for both deceased and spouse; Passports; Names of bank with and account numbers; Investment account information which would include stocks and bonds; income tax returns; driver’s license; car titles and registration; car insurance; location of deed of trust for home; mortgages; credit and debit card names and numbers; location of safe deposit box and key; military discharge papers; VA services; homeowners’ insurance; health insurance; pension/retirement plan information; brokerage and retirement accounts; bills; name of banks; bank statements; funeral arrangements and/or instructions;
Where to Write for Vital records: If you are missing some of those important documents you can contact The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) website at www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w for information about acquiring.
Death certificates: To request copies (10-12 copies suggested) the following information is needed: Full name of deceased, date of death, city and county of death. It is helpful to include Social Security number, date and place of birth.
I found this letter in my files, which further encouraged me in my project: Dear Abby: “Several years ago, I sat down with my parents and we talked about their wishes for when they die. We discussed everything from the distribution of their assets to the type of funerals they want…Mom and Dad had already written their obituaries for the newspaper. Mom listed the songs she wanted played at her services and the flowers she wants. We visited funeral homes and discussed services, burial vs. cremation. Everything was written down and I sent copies to my brother who lives out of town. Both of us want to respect our parents’ wishes. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be and when the time comes and everyone is emotionally spent, the arrangements will aleady be in place.”
“In the Event of…”
... is written on my new folder which is inside a briefcase. I am even more overwhelmed by the accumulated material than I was before and I need somewhere to keep it but it’s time to finish this. At least for now. I invite readers to submit thoughts, ideas, suggestions for a possible additional chapter focusing on end of life planning and what to do when death occurs.