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Preparing an estate roadmap

After a person dies or becomes incapacitated, an heir or family members may have to engage in a scramble and search for important documents and assets. They may not know whether these documents are kept in a lawyer's office, a safe or a shoebox under the bed or have passwords to gain access to important information. An important part of estate planning is consolidating this important information in one place accessible and known to family members.

This information may be kept in a notebook, folder or a virtual online vault and should be carefully organized. The first section may include important documents such as agreements with financial services, lawyers and accountants describing the costs and extent of their services. It may also include copies of passports, birth certificates, marriage licenses and anything usually kept in a wallet such as work identifications, driver's licenses and credit cards.

Another section may be identified as real estate and automobile. It would contain deeds, leases, cooperative building agreements, homeowner's and vehicle insurance policies and car registrations.

The next sections may contain details of bank accounts, investments, stocks, mutual funds and retirement accounts. Account numbers for pension plans should also be listed.

Insurance policy information is often lost with great financial consequences for beneficiaries or people seeking health care. Policies for life-insurance, disability, health care or long-term care are important documents that need to be included and clearly identified.

Sections should also contain other important documents that should be identified as appropriate. These include power of attorney, funeral plans and cemetery plots, wills, end-of-life instructions and valuable or sentimental personal property.

Finally, the name of all health-care providers, medications and family or friends who should be notified in emergencies should be included. Contact information such as phone numbers and e-mail addresses have to be kept current.

This repository means nothing if trusted individuals do not have the ability to gain quick access by knowing its location and having keys. Digital sign-on and passwords are also vital to gain access to important accounts, documents and even this repository.

An attorney can help prepare some of these important documents and provide other estate planning advice. They can help assure that future needs are handled, and property is passed onto heirs and beneficiaries with less turmoil and litigation.

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