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Is Your Estate In Order?

Attorney guest blogger Rania Combs discusses the steps everyone should take to organize and prepare personal information so that loved ones can easily resolve outstanding affairs after death.

Are your personal records organized? If your incapacity or death required your loved ones to locate your important personal information, financial papers, estate planning documents and insurance policies, would they know where to look?

Rummaging through someone’s disorganized records is not an enjoyable task in good times, let alone in times of grief. So one of the greatest gifts you can give your family is having all your personal and financial records in order so that they can be easily accessed if and when needed.

This Personal Records Organizer (pdf), as well as the following tips, will help you get started.

Gather Personal Information

Write down your personal information, such as your full name, address, date of birth, and social security number. Reveal the location of your will, powers of attorney and health care documents. If your documents are located in a safe deposit box, indicate who has access to the box and where the key is located. If you become incapacitated or die, your employer will probably need to be notified. Indicate where you are employed, your supervisor’s name, and a phone number where he or she can be reached.

Inventory Assets

For each item of real estate you own, indicate when and where you purchased the property, as well as where documents pertaining to the property are located. If you carry insurance on the property, include the name, address and phone number of the insurance carrier. If you have accounts at banks or other financial institutions, list the name and address of each financial institution, as well as your account numbers. In a folder, include copies of relevant financial statements. Inventory your personal property such as cars, boats and jewelry. If ownership of any property is evidenced by title, indicate where the title is located.

Gather Financial Documents

Do you have a mortgage or credit card? How about a car payment? Bills won’t stop coming just because you become incapacitated or die, so it’s important to provide details of all your liabilities. Additionally, gather all your current withholding tax forms and receipts from your employer, as well as copies of the previous year’s tax returns in case they are needed.

Reveal User Names and Passwords

You probably use the internet for email, shopping, banking and social networking. Perhaps you’ve uploaded your precious family photographs to photo sharing sites or run a virtual business. If so, you are likely to have many password-protected accounts. Prepare a list of them, along with the user names and passwords needed to access them.

Provide Information About Insurance

Write down the name of your life insurance carrier, your policy number, and the name, address, and phone number of your insurance agent. Also include the carrier and account information for medical and long-term care insurance, including the name, phone number and address of your agent. If you have a health insurance plan through your employer, list details about that plan. Indicate where your insurance card is located.

Reveal Location of Safe Deposit Boxes

Do you have safe deposit boxes? Do your loved ones know where they are or how to get access to them? It is important that you specify where each safe deposit box is located, people who have authority to open it, and where the key to the box can be found.

Make a List of People with Knowledge of Your Affairs

Make a list of people with knowledge of your affairs and indicate who should be contacted in the event of your incapacity or death. The list may include your: attorney, accountant, banker, doctor, insurance agent, spiritual adviser, relatives and close friends.

Keep Your Personal Records Updated

After you’ve organized your records, keep information you’ve gathered in a three ring notebook. Then, continue to keep the notebook updated by reviewing it periodically and noting any changes. Finally, make sure a family member or trusted friend knows where you’ve kept your notebook so that that it can be easily found when needed. This is an incredibly important step. After all: your power of attorney isn’t much good if no one can find it.

Organizing your personal and financial records is a huge task that can seem overwhelming. So don’t try to get it all done in one sitting. Pace yourself. But get it done. Your loved ones will thank you for it.

Rania Combs is an attorney with a completely web-based law firm that helps Texans prepare their wills, trusts and estate plans online, without the usual overhead. For more information, visit Texas Wills and Trusts Online.

Upload your personal records to where you can securely share, store, organize, e-sign, and create customized legal documents. To find an estate planning lawyer near you, or learn more about estate planning issues visit


  1. barbara vachon says:

    I completed my power of attorney,a year or so ago, since that time my executor is ill and may not be able to carry out his duties. May I add another to serve in his place should he not be able. This document is new and was rather expensive and I would rather not do it over.

    I found “Is your estate in order” very helpful. Thank you