Thursday, November 09, 2006
Finding what you need when you need it.
The Frugal Duchess offers up a worrisome post about upselling in the funeral business. While I've never had to deal with anyone pushing video presentations on me, my family was shocked at the prices of a lot of the services that go along with having even a relatively simple funeral.

We did figure out one way to save money, though. The suggested urns were priced in the hundreds. And I thought about how my mother loved her Delft tobacco jar that she'd purchased in Colonial Williamsburg and had given it pride of place in our front room for years. "Dad, I think she'd get a kick out of it." And with a minor fee for the seal, we had a lovely and meaningful urn.

Now that I've been reading these blogs for several months, I've decided that it's not that coincidental that I really started paying more attention to my finances at the same time that my mother declined. She had planned to draw up a will, but couldn't find an attorney that would come out to meet her and was in no state to leave the care center, nor, eventually, the hospital. The one saving grace was that most of her assets had direct beneficiaries or gave my father right of survivorship. It could have been an even more difficult time for us otherwise.

So over the past few months, I've assigned my financial assets to my father and brother. That doesn't do much good, however, unless I tell them how to track them all down. I know some people have detailed binders that keep track of every possible contact and contingency, but I wanted something simple that would fit on a single sheet of paper and allow my family to deal with my affairs if anything should ever happen to me.

And so I developed the life list.

I've generalized and redacted the presentation here, but it explains the general organization. It lists which accounts I have active, the account number, and the contact information for each account. (As a general rule, I find "contact us" URLs best because they'll also include links to common questions. For my retirement and life insurance, however, I included a link to the PDF of the form required.) Then I provide an as-of-date balance, and the beneficiary. If someone would get the account based on standard order of preference, then I refer to them as an automatic beneficiary. If I actually filled out a payable on death form or something similar, then they are listed as an applied beneficiary.

Loan accounts are similar, with the obvious exception of the beneficiary field. Again, all balances are as of a certain date. I update this along with my net worth spreadsheet.

And finally, I provide a list of my current utility accounts. Although my rent and my car are not "standing accounts," I also include them here. My state's DMV offers instructions about how to dispose of plates and titles and how to change resigstration, so I include links to that and to the county website.

This is no substitute for careful estate planning. My goal for next year is to procure an official will and better documentation of my holdings, but knowing that my family has a copy of this list will make it much easier for them to take care of eventualities.



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