What is a Death Dossier?" A “death dossier” — is a collection of documents related to every aspect of your financial life. Given the sensitive nature of these documents, you’ll need to be sure to secure them. But where should you put them? That depends, in part, on your state laws. In some states, it takes a court order to open your safe deposit box, so it would be better in those cases to keep an original copy of your will — and any other documents that might require immediate access — with your attorney, at home in a fireproof safe, etc. And we're seen the ads for unclaimed property, but according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, states are currently holding well over $30B in unclaimed bank accounts and other assets. In other words, the stakes are very high.
Superstition has kept me in denial for long enough. You’re heard that person at work share more than one story about a friend of theirs that put together his Will and then suddenly died, leaving everyone to ask, “did they know?”
If you have elder parents and they are still in denial about their demise and don’t have documents ready to help make the transition from life to death; you’re in for a world of work. This list below should help you. I personally work better when the outline of any project is divided into folders with brightly colored tabs.
This list comes from personal research done in order to prepare my own death dossier and also to help my parents find and update their documents. It contains the top 25 documents I've found and one extra for those of us who have a strong online profile and presence.
If you can’t get yourself to put together the proper ‘death dossier’ forms, here is a scenario if you care to take a peak, you can stay in denial though, you won't be around to see this play out.
If you own property at the time of your death, your Will provides instructions on how it should be distributed. If you don't have a Will, the state distributes your property according to its laws of intestate succession. You Can Create a Trust Instead. It's common these days for people to use a Trust instead of a Will to transfer some of their high-value assets at death. If you place your home in a trust and name your children as beneficiaries, for example, it isn't necessary to include the home in a will. And if you don't have a will at all, only your assets that aren't in a trust will be distributed pursuant to your state's intestate succession laws.
Here we go:
- Will - A Last Will is used to distribute property to beneficiaries, specify last wishes, and name guardians for minor children. It is an important part of any estate plan. Without one, the courts will make these critical decisions for you.
- Letter of Instruction - If you have the ability to put together a Letter of Instruction than you have done basically everything that is important to complete, and this top 25 documents list should go smoothly.
- Trust Documents - A trust does not replace a will. Most trusts deal only with specific assets, such as life insurance or a piece of property, while a will governs distribution of nearly everything else in your estate.
- Living Trust - A Living Trust is used to transfer property to beneficiaries. But unlike a last will, a living trust is not usually subject to probate court, which can take years and cost thousands in attorneys' and court fees. A LegalZoom Living Trust includes a free Last Will and Testament to name guardians for minor children and specify last wishes. - Comparison chart
- Living Will - A Living Will lets you outline important healthcare decisions in advance, such as whether or not to remain on artificial life support.
- Life insurance policies.
- Do-not-resuscitate order - DNR
- Tax returns – I have a nice clean box with the dates of the Tax years boldly printed on the outside. It’s my way of knowing my family will say, “Geez mom was organized.”
- 401K accounts
- List of all bank accounts - My husband, silly man that he is, trusts me 100% with the bank accounts. I didn't say 401K or Stock, just the bank accounts. If I were not to leave this information in a neat, organized and available format - and he is still living in the house, within a month of two our electricity, gas and water, cable and telephone would be turned off. It's not enough to list the bank account, but how about getting into them. Hence #11.
- All user names and passwords
- Personal and medical family history – This could be helpful, but I wouldn't spend too much time on it. These kinds of answers would be nice to have done long before you die.
- Durable health-care power of attorney - This is a good site. Estate Planning
- Authorization to release heath care information – This is important and should be done anytime you go into the hospital or are dealing with a chronic condition that would help your loved ones be better informed.
- Housing, land and cemetery deeds – I like this to be separated. Housing and Land deeds are part of our Trust, we have them already and it’s more making these documents readily available and easy to locate. Along with our denial is the fact that we have not made any arrangements for our final resting place. So what could happen if this is we tap out without this done. Here is the link to California, but you can simply type into a search engine http://www.fca.org and your own state’s name.
- Marriage license & Divorce papers - I've been married 37 years, and feel rather good about myself having our original marriage license. Not sure that my marriage would be contested, but good to have on file.
- Escrow mortgage accounts – How important is this? If you want to bless your children with the sale of your home, they need to know where this information is found.
- Stock certificates, savings bonds and brokerage accounts
- Proof of loans made and debts owed
- Vehicle titles
- Partnership and corporate operating agreements
- Individual retirement accounts
- Pension document
- Annuity contracts
- List of safe deposit boxes
And a bonus suggestion: 26. List of social media sites, blogs, websites and communities you frequent.
That list should contain the URL, log in and passwords. This sounds silly, but sadly I have received a few reminders of birthdays on LinkedIn and Facebook, after the person has died.
Now once I get all this information together, am I going to die? Yes, we are all going to die. Here is a cute quiz that comes with a your very own picture of your tombstone.
So now that we are overwhelmed with what we should get done, or help our elderly parents get done, here is a popular list of how you can unwind.
Thank you for your time!
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Getting your heart right
Who would you like to perform your funeral? What would you like said? Does anyone know your wishes? Do you have a favorite Pastor, Rabbi or is it fine that the funeral director's staff official will do the service.
Keeping my head above water
Losing a family member can feel like drowning. You can help your loved ones stay above water by having your Will and Trust, legal documents, and Health Directives in one place, dated and signed.
Hey this article hurts me as much as it hurts you. But, one good thing that has come from the research leading up to this article. This all can be done for around $300 for two people on Legal Zoom. And to think I'm not getting a commission!
Thinking about it makes me blue
I don't want to think about losing anyone. But, it seems that we only get so much time on this earth. I'm coming to grips with it and when I do I share it with you.