One thing about life in the sandwich and multigenerational living that always challenges me – keeping the important stuff organized. Intuitively I am an organizer, a strategic planner. Practically, I’m a semi organized slob. It doesn’t work for me, but it’s what I am. I need to fix it. I’m working on it. I think I’m getting better at it. But this is another case of please do as I say, not as I do!
On the way to work this morning D and I were talking about Mom’s important papers and whether or not D needed to organize them better. Understand that D has her Mom’s stuff all arranged in file folders stored in a neatly organized file box, with overflow organized in a storage ottoman which is easily accessible right in the space she uses for her home office. It all seems quite nicely organized to me, and certainly way better than I usually do.
Still, she was pondering out loud about the need to maybe have a binder for insurance policies and other important papers – even more organization! She speculated that she used to be very organized in her younger days and that perhaps having kids and a lousy influence for a husband (wink, grin) might have caused her to slack off over the years. I suggested that maybe with maturity comes a slight relaxing of what is dangerously close to obsessive behavior, and maybe even a more acceptably casual approach to life. For a moment I thought I had her convinced, but then I did as I so often do and put my foot in my mouth by suggesting maybe a binder with some sheet protectors would make sense; I just never learn when to quit…
Seriously though, keeping everyone’s stuff organized is very important in a multigenerational situation like ours. Working through medical and legal details with Mom just highlighted the importance of managing all of her paperwork as effectively as possible, and taught us a lesson about managing our own.
Since I’m chewing on shoe leather anyway, here are the minimums I would suggest keeping in a binder close at hand:
- Copies of current medical, life, home and auto insurance policies
- Copies of estate planning documents including wills and trusts
- Copies of other legal documents including general and health care powers of attorney involving you
- Copies of documents appointing others as trustees or executors of your estate
- Copies of documents appointing you as trustee or executor of others’ estates
- Copies of all property and automobile titles
- Copies of all mortgages, loan documents, signature lines and notes payable of any type
- A list of all retirement accounts and contact information for the custodian of each
- A list of all investment accounts and contact information for the custodian of each
- A list of all bank accounts and contact information for the custodian of each
- A list of all credit card and loan accounts and relevant contact information
- Copies of your last three years of income tax returns
Note: All the financial documents may be voluminous and could be kept in a second binder.
Originals of all these documents should be kept in a safe deposit box or other secure location away from your residence.
I would also create and save a digital copy of each of these documents in portable document format (PDF) to a thumb drive or SD card which can be carried with you whenever you will not have access to your binder(s). If you have access to secure cloud storage (Dropbox or Google Drive or MS Skydrive, etc.) it might be helpful to keep copies out there as well. That way no matter where you are, if you have access to your smartphone or a computer and the internet you can get at those essential documents. With email and/or digital faxing capability (I have both) you can send a copy of any document to anyone (think accountant, attorney, doctor) who needs it.
In our household this would involve two complete sets of documents; ours and Mom’s. I know this is easier said than done, but having access to these documents no matter where you are and when you need them makes life way easier for you and those who depend on you.
Turns out the binder idea, supplemented with a little application of technology might be a pretty good idea. It actually ends up being a great starting place for organizing paperwork in your home. With the addition of a good tracking and bill paying system and a workable budgeting process you’ll have that blizzard of paper pretty well shoveled away. Simplify this area of your life and you should feel way less stressed and a little more in control.
Hmm, maybe this batch of shoe leather was worth chewing after all, thanks D…Pops