A Dozen Documents You Need Before You Die


It is no longer enough to just sign some papers establishing an estate plan. You also have to make your heirs aware of your estate plan and advise them where the documents can be located.
Also some of the country’s largest insurers are failing to pay out unclaimed life policies to beneficiaries. Under most insurance policies, the companies are not required to take steps to determine if a policyholder is still alive, but instead pay a claim only when beneficiaries come forward. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, state treasurers currently hold $32.9 billion in unclaimed bank accounts and other assets.
Following is a list of the most important documents you estate plan should contain:
1. An original Will is an extremely important document to keep on file. Dying without a Will means losing control of how your assets are distributed, and state law will determine the distribution of your assets. Wills are subject to the probate proceedings which takes inventory, make appraisals of property, settle outstanding debt and distributes remaining assets. Estate planners usually recommend Revocable Living Trusts in addition to Wills, since they are very private and harder to dispute.
2. A Revocable Living Trust can be changed anytime during your lifetime. After you transfer ownership of various assets to your trust, you can serve as the trustee if you wish. Provided you do so, there are no ongoing fees.
3. A “letter of instruction” is a useful supplement to a Will. It is a good way to make sure your executor has the names and contact information of your attorneys, accountants and financial advisers. Please go to www.tartalaw.com to print out and complete “Executors Instructions” in the download link on the “Home Page”.
4. A Durable Power-of-Attorney is necessary; without it, no one can make financial decisions on your behalf.
5. File with the County Clerk any documents that list loans you have made to others since they are to be included as assets in an estate. Similarly, keep a list of any debts you owe.
6. The past three years of Income Tax Returns and Gift Tax Returns should be available. This also will help your personal representative file a final income-tax and estate return and, if necessary a revocable-trust return.
7. List any safe-deposit boxes you own, register your spouse or child’s name with the bank and ask them to sign the registration document as “deputy” for access to the safe deposit box.
8. A Durable Healthy Care Proxy. This allows your designee to make health-care decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. You may also wish to fill out an Authorization to Release Protected Healthcare Information Form.
9. Life-insurance policies are among the most important documents for your family to have. Family members need to know the name of the carrier, the policy number and the agent associated with the policy. Remember with life-insurance policies granted by an employer, those are the kinds of financial documents too often forgotten.
10. Create a list of pensions, annuities, individual retirement accounts and 401(k)s for your spouse and children. An IRA is considered dormant or unclaimed if no withdrawal has been made by age 70 ½. According to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, tens of millions of dollars languish in unclaimed IRAs every year.
11. Ensure that your spouse knows where you have stored your marriage license.
12. For divorced people, it is important to leave behind the divorce judgment, decree, or, if the case was settled without going to trial, the Property Settlement Agreement. As well. These documents lay out child support, alimony and also may list the division of investment and retirement accounts.

Tarta Law Firm NJSteven W. Tarta, Esq. brings more than 45 years of professional experience to his practice, with a sophisticated focus on Estate Tax Planning, Living Trusts and Elder Law.

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