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FIRST-PERSON: If you are killed or incapacitated …

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–If you were to be injured or killed in an accident or incapacitated by a stroke, would your family know where to find the information they need to handle your affairs? Most Americans would answer, “No!” Solomon said, “A sensible person sees danger and takes cover, but the inexperienced keep going and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3).

Over the next 50 years, an estimated $41 trillion to $136 trillion will pass from the older to younger generations, according to the Boston College Social Research Institute. Those who do not leave their loved ones a well-organized estate do them a tremendous disservice.

Settling a disorganized estate is usually more expensive and compounds the emotional stress that survivors experience. So, keeping all of your important estate documents organized in one place is one of the best gifts you can give those who remain after your passing.

Now is the time to pull together and organize all important papers and documents — before the need arises (even if it means writing a new will and/or trust) — and then tell at least one trustworthy family member or close friend where all these papers and documents can be found.

There are several legal documents that your family will need to settle your estate in case of your death or incapacitation.

Your original will should be left with the attorney who drafted it. Be sure the attorney has a fireproof vault or bank vault and a good index of wills. Keep a copy of the will in a safe place at your home with the attorney’s name, address and phone number printed on the front of the will and entrust a second copy to a family member or friend. If your state does not allow immediate access to personal safe deposit boxes after the death of the depositor, don’t keep your will there.

Letters of instruction expressing funeral wishes, distribution wishes of personal items (such as jewelry, tools and so on), and listing the location of all critical papers and documents should be kept with the original will, as well as with each copy of the will. Also listed in that location-of-critical-papers letter should be the location of any safe deposit boxes. Write a separate letter to your attorney, surviving spouse, will executor and a trusted friend or family member and tell them the location of the safety deposit box key.

Durable power of attorney: Give a signed copy of the power of attorney to the person named to act on your behalf in financial matters if you become unable to do so. Also give a signed copy to your attorney, to a trusted family member or friend, and keep a copy in a safe place in your home — preferably with your copy of the will.

If you’ve set up a living trust, your attorney should have the original paperwork. Keep a copy of the trust in a safe place at home and give copies to all co-trustees and any successor trustee.

With a healthcare proxy and other written instructions, you can specify the kind of treatment you desire if a medical condition prevents you from writing or speaking. Keep these instructions in a safe, easily accessible place in your home. Also give a copy of the healthcare proxy and instructions to the person named to speak on your behalf, your attorney, a trusted family member and your family physician.

Additional medical information needs to be kept in a safe place. This would include written information explaining specific medical conditions or allergies, types and dosage of medication taken and a record of illnesses or hospitalizations within the previous five years. Your family physician, a family member and the attorney should keep copies.

Other papers: Be sure that your family knows where to find tax records; lease or rental agreements; mortgages and loans; all insurance policies, including any Medigap or long-term care; bank records; prepaid funeral and/or burial arrangement documents; Social Security records; military records including discharge papers; stock or mutual funds statements; and the guardianship designation of minor children in the case of the death of both spouses. The location of these critical papers should be listed in the letters of instruction kept with all copies of your will.

Prepare a detailed list of assets that tells where documents relating to assets can be found. Keep the original list in a safe place in your home or in a safe deposit box. Give copies to your attorney, will executor, trust trustee and a trusted friend or family member. Include the following asset information: Retirement accounts; bank accounts; brokerage accounts; deeds, titles and certificates; outstanding loans and debts; life insurance information; a family tree; vital records such as birth certificates; and personal assets.

Keep a list of all personal advisers that you use or choose to use with the original and all copies of your will. A trusted friend or family member should keep an additional copy. Include the name, address, phone number and e-mail address — if applicable — of the following: the attorney who drew up your will (or one of your choosing if the one who drew up the will is deceased or otherwise unavailable); copies of tax records from the past five years; names of insurance companies and agents; your family physician and all other preferred doctors; your pastor.

To learn more about these critical matters, please visit Crown Financial Ministries at www.crown.org. If you need help in organizing this important information, Crown Financial Ministries has an excellent tool called “Set Your House in Order.” It contains practically everything a person needs to effectively create, plan and organize his or her estate documents — and this also makes a wonderful gift for parents or grandparents.

Benjamin Franklin said in “Maxims Prefixed to Poor Richard’s Almanac,” “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.” If you haven’t compiled this information, do so as soon as possible. If you have organized your papers, you are to be commended — but make sure you update the information yearly.
Howard Dayton is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. Dayton and the late Larry Burkett joined forces in 2000 when Crown Ministries led by Dayton merged with Christian Financial Concepts led by Burkett. The new organization became Crown Financial Ministries, on the Web at www.crown.org.

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  • Howard Dayton