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Planning to Protect Yourself and Your Family

Most people would agree that planning ahead for a significant life event makes sense.  Preparation increases the likelihood that we will obtain our desired outcomes, such as gaining admission to a preferred college or an enjoyable vacation.

It is naturally more challenging to find the motivation to plan for events which seem distant, such as the end of life.  Although death is inevitable, planning for it spooks many individuals and sometimes creates an impression that if it is discussed in any manner, it will happen sooner.  The purchase of life insurance is the only preparation for the end of life which some people complete.  A Last Will and Testament might also be drafted and locked away.

Many people also delay planning for potential frailty as they age.  We all hope to live a healthy life until our last day, but medical advances are extending the lifespan of people with a variety of chronic health conditions.  Upcoming articles will focus on some of the types of planning which should be considered if individuals wish to have more of a say in what their lives will look like if frailty occurs.

Not all preparation requires a financial investment or the assistance of a professional. Family discussions are valuable, as is the preparation of an estate inventory. An estate inventory is simply a summary of all of your important information.  This summary can be a lifesaver for families when an unexpected need for acute or long-term health care arises, helping them avoid potential delays, complications, and costly decisions about your care.

If you experience a sudden tragedy, or become unable to manage your affairs due to a chronic health condition, what would others need to know? Where would they need to look to find your personal, financial and legal records? The details of this information don’t have to be shared at the time it is compiled, but loved ones should know how to access the information.

An estate inventory should include the following information:

Personal: Legal name, address and telephone number; maiden or former names; date and place of birth; Social Security number; parents’ and children’s names; past and present marital information; emergency contacts; health information including diagnoses, medications, Medicare coverage and other health insurance providers, and physician contacts; employment information; military service; and your attorney’s name and contact information.

Financial: Note the name, address, and telephone number of all institutions where accounts are located including savings and checking accounts, CDs , mutual funds, stocks, bonds, IRAs, credit cards, insurance policies (life, auto, home, long-term care) and debt (mortgage, loans, etc). Listed with each institution should be account numbers and the type of account or asset. If you have used the services of an accountant or financial adviser, include this information also, as well as documentation of any trusts that may have been established or funeral planning that has been done. Monthly income amounts (Social Security, pensions, public benefits) and the sources of income are important. Also list any other assets (real estate, vehicles, art, and antiques, for example).

Home: If you are living in your own home, or are responsible for utility bills in your place of residence, a listing of provider information is helpful. Include telephone, TV, and Internet service; gas; water; sewer; trash; electric; and home security service.

Other: Since many people handle financial transactions and bill paying online, knowledge of login information may be essential to access/manage accounts. Include usernames and passwords when documenting account information. The combination to a family safe and location of keys to any safe deposit or post office boxes should be listed in the inventory, as well.

In addition to a summary of the details listed above, your Power of Attorney or family members need be aware of the location of important documents that verify this information. Examples of these documents include:

  • Birth & marriage/divorce certificates
  • Powers of Attorney and Last Will and Testament
  • Social Security card
  • Medicare and health insurance cards
  • Stock certificates
  • Real Estate Deeds
  • Military service records
  • Titles to vehicles
  • Insurance policies
  • Tax Returns (previous five years)
  • Family death certificates

A thorough estate inventory, while it may require some time and effort to compile, is free and can provide you and your family members with peace of mind that important details about your affairs won’t be missed if an unexpected event should occur.  You will also have the gratitude of your loved ones for making a stressful time a little easier.

Karen Kaslow, RN, BSN