Getting your affairs in order

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I spent the weekend with my family holding a garage sale, selling off the personal effects of a deceased relative.

The garage sale was a success. Things were sold, money was made, and the remainder became charitable donations. I had often joked that my strategy for dealing with all these items would be to rent a storage unit, then not pay the rent. Let the storage locker auction guys have their fun sorting through it all.

A new reality set in after a conversation I had with my father. He’s buried two wives, but he doesn’t have a will, or a healthcare directive or a power of attorney. It’s a little bit like the cobbler’s children not having shoes when the father of a financial planning professional doesn’t have these basic documents in place. We’ve talked about it multiple times, but whether because of a fear of his own mortality, or thinking he’s immortal, it’s never been done.

We don’t have the luxury of knowing when our time will come or what our future may hold. Will we stay healthy or become incapacitated? We don’t know. What we can do is prepare for these possible eventualities — and clean out our closets.

Maintain a listing of your insurance policies, pensions, credit cards, loans, brokerage accounts, etc. Don’t make your children try to chase this stuff down. They’re going to be dealing with their grief at losing you. Don’t add to their burdens by making them amateur sleuths.

What happens to your e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media accounts is evolving both in state laws controlling digital assets and user preferences on the account sites. It’s clear that the answer isn’t to put the access information to these accounts in a safety deposit box, since the box can’t be unlocked after death until your executor gets access from the bank.

An idea I’ve read about and like is one where you appoint one person “trustee” over your account IDs and another person “trustee” over your passwords for these accounts. It’s not perfect, but it’s one approach to the problem.

Are your affairs in order? What are you doing about managing your digital assets?

Attorney Connie Fontaine’s Bankrate article, The basics of estate planning, is a good place to start reading.

Follow me on Twitter @drdonsays.