Do you know where your car title is? How about your life insurance policy? If yes, great! But many of us don’t have a full grip on organizing essential documents like these. And probably even less so when it comes to our aging parents.
After all, if you think managing your own documents can be daunting, imagine trying to identify and locate what you’ll need for your parents after they pass away — or after they experience cognitive changes.
In these cases, they won’t be able to provide breadcrumbs. So it will be up to you to dig and dig and hope and hope. Unless you start now.
Here’s a guide to organizing essential documents, contacts and accounts. Get a grasp on these areas now – with the help of your parents.
Keep copies of these documents
- Birth certificate
- Driver’s license
- Social Security card
- Medicare/Medicaid/insurance coverage card
- Organ donor card
- Marriage certificate
- Credit cards
- Mortgage records
- Military records
Legal power of attorney, health care proxy, living will, advance directives
Other things/documents to discuss
- Safe-deposit box and key, along with a list of the contents and names of anyone who has access to it
- Any letter of instruction listing personal property not disposed of by will and wishes for distribution
- Receipts and appraisals for valuables
- Trust, banking and loan information
- Tax returns
- Insurance policies
- Stocks, bonds, real estate and other investments
- Living will, medical directives or durable power of attorney
- Birth certificate, Social Security card, marriage and divorce certificates, education and military records
- Burial plots and desired funeral arrangements
Important contacts and accounts to track
- Clergy members
- Attorney, financial planner, tax advisor, broker and/or anyone else with knowledge of or control over trusts, wills and finances
- Bank account, loan and credit card contacts
- Insurance agents
Don’t forget about online accounts
A lot of us underestimate how many online accounts we have. Gene Newman, editorial director of Everplans, an online estate planning tool, says a person can have as many as 250 online accounts in his or her lifetime, from email accounts, social media, entertainment and much more.
What happens to all of these accounts when someone dies? There is no easy answer if you don’t have a plan. Here’s what you should do sooner rather than later for yourself and your aging parent to get your digital house in order.
Identify all online accounts
Some of these accounts really don’t need to be deleted, especially if there isn’t a credit card linked to it or it has been inactive for many years. But others, like online financial accounts, are crucial.
“People have breakdowns saying, ‘We don’t even know where they bank,'” Newman says.
Share information with a trusted person
Make sure that all of your loved one’s passwords and email addresses are given to someone they trust to take over their account after they pass. This way, this designated person has access to all accounts and has the power to delete or close them after the individual passes away.
Newman notes that the designated person can also be placed as an executor on the will, if you want to make this process legal and easier. Newman adds that there are also password manager apps, like LastPass, that keep all your passwords in one place if you need to make it easier for yourself and others.
“The iPad is reduced to a placemat because grandma didn’t share the password,” Newman says. “It’s important to plan this out beforehand.”
If you didn’t do any pre-planning
We get it: The worst comes when you least expect it sometime, and you didn’t get digital account information from your parents before it was too late. At this point, however, the ways to delete online accounts are limited.
“You won’t get very far fast,” Newman says.
In the case of Facebook, there are options like naming a legacy account, which would give access to someone to different aspects of your account like changing and removing pictures and letting friends know that the person has died. “But they can’t read messages,” Newman says.
If you aren’t added onto a legacy account, this is when Facebook’s Special Request for Deceased Person’s Account form comes in.
According to cnet.com, you need to provide the deceased person’s full name, email address, date of death and the URL of their timeline.
If the request is accepted, you’ll be given the choice to either memorialize the account, which means the account is inactive but people will still be able to post on it, or to delete it.
“Each service has its own rules,” says Newman.
Michigan state law on digital assets
Select states have stepped up to weigh in on the legal ramifications of someone’s digital assets in the event of their death. Michigan is among them.
The Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, enacted in 2016, stipulates that digital assets and accounts are subject to the same rules as other assets when the owner dies.
This means that you need to include your digital accounts in the list of items you bequeath to one of your loved ones – or, if you leave everyone all of your worldly possessions, your digital assets will be included within your estate.
This post was originally published in 2018 and is updated regularly.