Estate Planning: Tips for Keeping Your Documents Organized

Have you ever spent valuable time searching for a document, only to find that it had simply been misplaced? If so, you are not alone. When it comes to estate planning, one piece of advice reigns true: keep your personal records organized. A central goal of estate planning is to be certain that surviving loved ones, beneficiaries, and personal representatives will know exactly what to do in the event of your death or incapacitation. Rest assured that this is not an impossible task.

Estate planning consists of a variety of documents, including wills, advance directives, and trusts. Aside from creating valid and thorough estate planning documents, the administration of your estate will made easier if supporting credentials and information are easily accessible. Following simple guidelines will not only facilitate the estate planning process but leave you with the confidence that your future wishes will be carried out smoothly.

Compile Vital Documents

The first step to getting organized is to locate your important personal records. These may not be documents you use often; However, keeping paperwork in a central location will cut down on the time spent searching through clutter.

Consider labels and folders for easy file location. In addition to consolidating existing estate planning documents, round up any supporting documents, including (but not limited to):

  • Birth Certificates
  • Social Security Cards
  • Marriage and Divorce Certificates (current and/or previous)
  • Bank Statements
  • State and Federal Tax Returns
  • Proofs of Home Ownership (if applicable)

You will not be able to communicate the whereabouts of specific forms when you are deceased or if you become incapacitated. As such, it is wise to refrain from storing documents across various locations. If original certificates become lost or damaged, you may need to contact a local office, such as an Office of Vital Statistics, for replacements.

Keep Documents out of Harm’s Way

An estate plan is not just a combination of documents that dictates what will happen to your property when you are deceased. These documents take into account highly personal choices, allowing you to outline instructions regarding guardianship of minor children and pet ownership in the event of your death as well as emergency medical care preferences. Due to their significance, it is suggested that you keep physical estate planning documents (along with any supporting files) in a waterproof and fireproof container that will not be tampered with.

The instructions listed in estate planning documents cannot be carried out if the documents are impossible to find or retrieve. Disclose the location of these forms to someone you confide in. If the forms are protected by a safe or vault, be sure to leave behind any codes or passwords.

Make a Master List

One effective estate planning strategy is to create a list of your total assets. This will help you create a thorough estate plan and make it much easier to revise your estate planning documents should you lose or acquire assets.

An executor (usually named in a will) is an individual assigned to administer and manage the estate of a deceased party. One of the responsibilities of an executor is to identify all of the assets of the deceased, which may prove difficult if the executor and estate owner did not maintain proper communication. In the event of your death, a master list will help an executor and other representatives ensure that your estate is distributed according to your desires.

Stay Consistent

Personal record organization is a continuous effort. As you acquire assets and experience life changes such as marriage or home ownership, vital documents are likely to undergo revisions. Investing a small amount of time –weekly, monthly, or yearly– into personal recordkeeping can save yourself and others from a great deal of frustration.

One piece of advice reigns true both before and after completing any estate planning document: keep your personal records organized. Whether you intend to create an estate plan or have already created estate planning documents, it is equally important to straighten out your paperwork. Keeping a well-organized catalog of personal documents is a way to show your surviving loved ones that you have taken the extra step to ensure their comfort in your absence.

For assistance with preparing wills, power of attorney, advance directives or other estate planning documents in Maryland, contact the Law Offices of Elsa W. Smith LLC at 410-995-7719.