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Documents You Need Before You Die: Assets & Ownership

January 26, 2015

One of the greatest gifts you can give your family when you pass on is to have your affairs in order.

Throughout this series, we will review the documents we suggest having safely stored—but accessible—in order to make the complicated process that comes with losing a loved one easier to navigate for your loved ones and charities.

In this installment, we focus on the documents you need to compile your tangible and non-tangible Assets.

To view an infographic summary of the 30 Documents You Need Before You Die, click here.

At different stages of your life, you’ll have different contents in your life documents.  If you have control over any types of accounts or property—tangible, fiscal or digital—you already have at least some of these documents which represent who you are, the life you’ve lived, and the assets and liabilities that you own.

As a first step, we highly recommend printing out your own copy of the Peace of Mind Checklist we’ve provided and filling it out thoroughly. This tool is for you to use to simplify the process for all of these very important life documents.

Housing, Land and Cemetery Deeds
Deeds can be very difficult to find if their location is not clearly specified. Families can search in vain for these documents.  The search becomes a frustration during emotional times, but not being able to present your deeds can add additional legal troubles. It’s not a bad idea to have a digital copy kept safe in case of weather emergencies.

Escrow Mortgage Accounts
Some people choose to pay their mortgage taxes and insurance once a year, others choose to escrow the amount. Notate how your mortgage taxes and insurance are setup on your Letter of Instruction, and keep any pertinent documents nearby.

Proof of Loans Made and Debts Owed
Be as thorough and as formal as possible for loans made and debts owed to help ensure that your debt is repaid according to your wishes. Having an attorney draft a formal document of loans made and/or debts owed can help to ensure the agreed upon terms are enforced.

Vehicle Titles
Vehicle titles are required in order to sell a vehicle and are difficult to replace if lost or stolen. We recommend keeping a digital copy available in case of a weather emergency.

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Stock Certificates
You may have physical stock certificates on-hand, but oftentimes companies will not issue actual certificates to consumers, preferring an online log-in that shows your shares. It’s a good idea to keep a ledger of stocks you have purchased throughout the years and digital copies of any actual certificates you own. During moves and major life events, stocks can often be forgotten about when updating contact information and beneficiaries. You want to avoid your assets disappearing as an unclaimed certificate.

Saving Bonds
Savings bonds mature in different ways and at different times. Some savings bonds may continue to pay interest after their maturity date, however, if your savings bond is held after the maturity date, there may be a fee involved. Also, understand that savings bonds grow tax deferred so when they are cashed out, their growth is taxed. We highly recommend keeping a ledger of purchase dates and maturity dates of savings bonds. Make sure if your contact information changes, that you notify the companies so they can contact you in case your bond is called, or if there are other pressing issues.

Partnership and Corporate Operating Agreements
All of these documents can help your beneficiaries prove what you were responsible for and for what you owned. It’s very possible your loved ones aren’t aware of all of your assets and without having these agreements accessible, your loved ones may never gain access to them once you’re gone.

Tax Returns
We recommend having tax returns from the last three to seven years on file depending on your estate, but 7 years is the golden standard. This will give your family and loved ones an idea of your estate’s entirety. It will also make filing a final income tax and estate return much easier.

Durable Power of Attorney for Assets
A Durable Power of Attorney for Assets is someone who can speak on behalf of you and your estate in the event that you are incapacitated. It’s important to keep this paperwork updated in case of major life changes, such as divorce, death, blended families, etc. Discuss your intentions ahead of time with whomever you’ve delegated this responsibility. Doing so can help to alleviate some of the challenges they may face during emotional times.

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We encourage you, whether you need to pull together just a few documents, or a long lifetime of documents, that you compile, track, and take thorough notes. The process is simplified if you track as you go rather than doing a large amount at one time.  Once you’ve compiled these necessary documents, try to maintain your hard work.

It can be helpful for many to discuss these items with whomever would be responsible for administering your estate in depth so that they know what you have, where it’s kept and what your wishes are.

Do you need in-depth information about the other Documents You Need Before You Die?
Read on:
The Basics

If you’d like to view the full list of documents you need before you die, click here to read our infographic.

This series is based off “The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die,” by the Wall Street Journal, originally published July 2, 2011.