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Getting Your Affairs in Order - Getting Organized

What will become of the things you own -- your assets -- when you die? The following list of documents, materials, and instructions will help get you organized and will provide essential information to your survivor(s) or to those who will care for you if you are disabled and unable to act for yourself.  There are six broad categories of materials to organize.  Keep copies or photocopy important documents to keep a backup in a separate location from the originals.

Personal Contacts List

This should include, for example, the name, address, and phone number of your spouse, any prior spouse(s), children, relatives, close friends, etc.  If you store contact lists electronically, a readily available paper copy should also include your e-mail and other accounts with their passwords. 

Professional Contacts List

This should include, for example, the name, address, and phone of anyone that has knowledge of your affairs or assets - your banker, investment advisor, lawyer, former employer, accountant, insurance agent, business partner, and the like. 

Funeral, Cremation and Burial Arrangements

This should include a clear statement of your wishes for your funeral and burial or cremation.  If you have made prior arrangements, have burial insurance, etc.  this should also be noted.  It is important that your family or other loved ones know what your intentions are with regard to your funeral, burial, or cremation.  You should either discuss your wishes with them or tell them where they may find a statement of your wishes at your death. 

Lists of Assets and Liabilities

This should include, for example, a precise list of all your bank accounts, stock brokerage accounts, insurance policies, mutual fund accounts, RRSP’s, RRIF’s and other retirement plans.  It should also include a list of all your debts. 

Other Important Documents

Wills, birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce papers, military discharge papers, immunization records, stock certificates held by you, diplomas and certificates of completion of important classes, bank and credit card account numbers, passports, insurance policies, social insurance cards and numbers, health insurance information, health insurance cards, are just some of the important papers in our lives. 

Special Instructions

These should include, for example, who get your pets, who gets the silver tea service or art (if this is not already indicated in your will), who gets Mom's engagement ring, etc.  Such special instructions may be appended to your will, but usually form a separate document.  If the person executing the document resides or is domiciled in another province, then he or she could consult with the law in that province to determine whether such a list may be made binding and, if so, how.  This list only applies to items of tangible personal property such as furniture, clothing, jewelry, and vehicles, but does not apply to cash, bonds, stocks or other "intangible" property. 

Location of Documents

This should give the precise location of, for example, the originals of your will, your living will, your long term care policies, etc. 

Organizing all these materials is not a one time exercise - wills, lists and instructions should be reviewed, at least annually to make sure they are up to date and reflect your current wishes

Where is a good place to save these valuable papers?  A fire-resistant safe or box in your home.  You can purchase a fire-resistant box or safe at most large discount stores including home improvement stores and at office supply stores.   A safety deposit box at your bank is another option.  The box should be in two persons’ names with each having access to the box.  In case of death of one of the box holders, it may take months for a will to go through probate and allow the box to be opened, especially if only one person has a key and that person is the one who dies. 

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