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Do you have these essential documents?


You have no doubt heard about the importance of having a will. Did you know there are other essential documents that will help you prepare for the future and guide your loved ones?

The Big 4
1. Last will and testament and/or trust: Outlines who gets your assets after your lifetime and appoints a guardian for any minor children or dependents you may have.

2. Power of attorney for finances: Names a person who will have the legal right to handle financial matters on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

3. Power of attorney for health care (aka health care proxy): Names one or more individuals you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot.

4. Living will/advance directive: Documents your wishes regarding life-sustaining care.

The Next Step: Keep Them Updated
Once you create these documents, be sure they stay current.
1. Review your will. Has your life changed since you signed yours? Review your will or living trust documents at least every few years or when you experience a major life event (change in marital status, birth or adoption of a child, etc.).

2. Update beneficiary designations. When you establish life insurance or retirement plans, you are asked to name beneficiaries of these accounts. Review these regularly to ensure your assets will pass to the appropriate loved ones.

Need to update your beneficiaries? Request a change of beneficiary form from your administrator by downloading a form from your provider’s website. You may be able to make your change online.

3. Meet with an advisor. See an estate planning attorney, financial advisor and other trusted experts periodically to ensure you are on track for the next stage of life. They can help you draft and update your essential documents to ensure your plans still accomplish what you want them to.

KEEP? SHRED? SHARE? WHAT TO DO WITH PERSONAL PAPERS
Chances are, you use a lot less paper than you used to. Everything has an app these days, and we use our computers or tablets to manage multiple accounts.

When it comes to important documents, however, paper is still king. But what should you do with those papers? Here are our recommendations for what to keep (and for how long), what to shred (and when) and what to share (and with whom).

Keep These
You will need these documents long-term. Place them in a fireproof safe or in a safe-deposit box.

As Long as You Live
  • Birth/death certificates
  • Social Security cards
  • Marriage licenses
  • Divorce decrees
  • Pension plan documents
  • Copies of wills and living trusts
  • Military discharge papers
  • Copies of burial deeds
  • Safe-deposit box inventory

  • As Long as You Own the Item
  • Product warranties
  • Property deeds
  • Mortgage documents
  • Mortgage payment receipts
  • Life insurance policies
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Receipts for home improvements

  • Shred These
    These documents have personal information such as your name, address, phone number, Social Security number or bank account number. Experts agree that these documents should be shredded when no longer needed.
  • Bank statements (shred after one year; hold for five years if you may be applying for Medicaid)
  • ATM statements (shred after reconciling with bank statement)
  • Credit card bills (shred after 45 days, unless needed for taxes, insurance or proof of purchase)
  • Tax returns and supporting documents (shred after seven years)
  • Retirement account portfolio changes (shred after reconciling with monthly or quarterly statement; keep proof of IRA contributions)
  • Medical records (shred after five years but keep information related to prescriptions, ongoing treatment, specific medical histories and health insurance)
  • Utility and phone bills (shred after reconciling with most recent statement, unless related to tax-deductible expenses)

  • Share These
    These are directives that normally involve another person, so you should share copies of the documents with concerned parties.

    Financial power of attorney: This allows someone to act on your behalf if you are unable to do so. The holder can transact business, including buying, selling and paying debts and handling real estate. Choose a trustworthy person, keep a copy of the document for yourself and share a copy with the person you name as your agent.

    Health care power of attorney or health care proxy: This person makes medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. Again, choose a person you trust, keep copies of the document for yourself and that person and share a copy with your doctor. You may also wish to share the details of the arrangement with your family.

    Advance directive or living will: These documents let those around you know if you want to use life-sustaining procedures in certain circumstances. Give a copy to your doctor. You may wish to share your wishes with family members.

    Bonus: Clean-Up Guide
    It is easy to know when to renew your driver’s license or debit card — just look at the expiration date. But what about your estate planning documents? Keeping these current is an essential part of creating the future you envision, but they lack expiration dates. Next time you take some time to clean up your estate plan, the chart below can help.


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    Document
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    What it is
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    Where to keep it
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    When to update it
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    Will / Living Trust
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    These documents direct your personal representative, executor or trustee on how to distribute your estate.
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    In a fireproof safe. You should also give a copy to your personal representative or trustee.
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    Every two to five years or immediately after experiencing a life event such as
  • Moving to a different state.
  • Changing your marital status.
  • Adding a child to your family.
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    Financial power of attorney
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    This document allows someone of your choice to carry out financial matters for you in the event you are unable.
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    In a fireproof safe. You should also give a copy to the person you appointed.
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    If your relationship with your chosen person changes or if this person passes away before you do.
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    Health care power of attorney or health care proxy
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    This document allows someone you choose to carry out your health care wishes for you in the event you cannot.
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    In a fireproof safe. You should also give a copy to the person you appointed.
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    If your relationship with your chosen person changes or if this person passes away before you do.
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    Advance directive or living will
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    These documents formalize your wishes on end-of-life medical care..
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    Give copies of the form to your health care provider(s).
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    After a diagnosis of a new or significant health issue or hospitalization.
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    Reprinted with permission by Ringling Museum, Sarasota, FL

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