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Where There Is More Than a Will

Where There Is More Than a Will

If you have ever served as an executor of an estate, you are aware of how much harder the job can be if the decedent's records are not available in some systematic arrangement. Death, as they say, is a fact of life. None of us likes to think about or dwell on our own death, but it can be a thoughtful gift to our spouses or heirs to leave them with an orderly record of personal, professional, and financial affairs. This is especially important for those who do not share the details with their spouses or whose spouses avoid such involvement.

The files should include, but not necessarily be limited to, up-to-date versions of the following information:

Location and number of safety-deposit boxes, keys, and passwords.

Locations of birth certificates and wills of both spouses, trust agreements, partnership agreements, deeds, stock certificates, insurance policies, bank books and current banking records, past income-tax returns and other pertinent tax-related records, Social Security records, military service records, health and health insurance records, other insurance records, living wills, and organ donation information.

List of retirement and death benefits (pension plans, 401k accounts, IRA and Keogh accounts, Social Security, insurance, and military), with addresses and other relevant information.

List of stocks and bonds with name of issuer, date bought, price, and description including CUSIP number; name, address, and phone number of broker; dates and amounts of dividends; instructions about disposal of securities.

List of real estate owned with description and information on price paid, mortgage, and tax basis.

List of other significant assets (cars, collections, etc.) with source, description, and valuation (a good way to record these is in a videotape with a voice-over narrative and/or photographs).

Liabilities (mortgages, loans, and credit cards).

Names, addresses, and phone numbers of important tradespeople and craftspeople (plumber, electrician, contractor, burglar alarm company, swimming pool maintenance company, gardener, appliance repair company, etc.).

Maintenance schedules for home and office.

Names, addresses, and phone numbers of attorney, CPA, actuary, insurance agent, and broker or financial adviser.

Biography (including education, military service, membership organizations, positions held with dates, accomplishments, and honors).

Informal notes concerning disposal of personal property and other advice or desires, including cemetery plots and burial and funeral arrangements.

The computer has made the recording and updating of much of this information easy and secure, assuming periodic backups are performed. However, instructions must be available on how to access the computer data (including passwords for protected files). Recent hard copies of the pertinent information should also be readily available.

Another useful record-keeping strategy is to maintain an up-to-date file in the computer for the current year's income and tax-related expenses. Not only does this offer an easy reference for executors to such matters, but it can also be used as an instant report for preparation of the next tax returns. Hard copies of related documents can be stored in a file folder. As soon as tax reports from banks, brokers, investments, and others come in, just a touch of a computer key plays out all the data needed by the tax preparer. The basic structure of this file can be copied at the end of the year and used for the following year after the numbers are deleted. Some off-the-shelf software programs for personal accounting perform the same functions.

One might reasonably expect that dedicated employees would be invaluable in providing information and documents about the office or offices, but one must also keep in mind that employees may lack the necessary information, or may abandon ship. Therefore, it is important to make sure that survivors have access to office records in a worst-case scenario. Such records include:

Practice continuation agreement with colleagues in the event of death or disability.

How to access the office computer system, with password.

List of employees (names, addresses, phone numbers, positions, salaries, and benefits).

Pension plan information.

Partnership agreement.

Banking information.

Office insurance information.

Office lease agreement.

Names, addresses, and phone numbers of professional consultants (lawyer, CPA, actuary, practice consultant).

Patient treatment and financial records (current and past).

Appointment book.

Accounts receivable and accounts payable.

Any data that will help establish the value of the practice.

Orderly management of these kinds of records, in addition to helping one's survivors, can also be invaluable during one's lifetime in locating needed documents and in maintaining a current statement of net worth.


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