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Documents in Order
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The only question we had at our mother’s passing was what type of flowers we should order for the service. She was a very savvy 89-year-old and had everything planned for and paid for. All of her files were in order and easily obtained. It was work for Mom to get all of that in order but, for us, it was a very unselfish act. There was nothing for us to fight over or wonder what she wanted.

It was then that I realized that doing anything less than what my mom did would be selfish. If I died tomorrow, my children would be left with a score of unanswered questions and no legal papers upon which to rely.

I thought that I couldn’t afford proper legal documentation until I was introduced to legalzoom.com, an online inexpensive way to draw up perfectly legal documents. I don’t suggest going to that website for everyone, but my “estate” is simple. In addition to a will, I drew up a living will and a durable health-care power of attorney. Copies were distributed to my children and the originals live in a fire-retardant lock box in my closet. Passport, social security card, car title, insurance papers, and condo mortgage information also reside there.

I was feeling really proud of myself until I saw an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal, July 2011, titled, “The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die.” Their list is way more comprehensive than mine. The recommendations include the following:
  • Original will
  • Revocable trust
  • Letter of instruction: names and contact information of attorneys, accountants, financial advisers
  • Durable financial power-of-attorney
  • Durable health-care power-of-attorney*
  • Proof of ownership: housing, land, cemetery plots, vehicles, stock certificates and savings bonds
  • List of loans you’ve made and debts owed
  • Tax returns for the last three years
  • Bank Accounts and online log-in information
  • Living will
  • Life insurance and retirement accounts
*According to the article, “the most important health-care document to fill out in advance is a durable health-care power-of-attorney form. This allows your designee to make health-care decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. If you are incapacitated and your family can't locate a health-care power of attorney, they will have to go to court to get a guardian appointed.”

Porter Storey, executive vice president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, recommends writing a living will detailing your wishes. We knew exactly what my mother’s wishes were when it came to end-of-life measures. Although she’d filed a “Do Not Resuscitate” with the hospital, there was a time we had to step in to have them fulfill what her directive said.

None of us enjoy thinking about our death, but a little preparation and organization will give peace to those you leave behind.

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By Dee Litten Reed. Copyright © 2011 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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