I want to write about an essential part of organizing yourself and your home that will affect others more than organizing any other thing in your life. Organizing your personal documents so that when you are gone others can find them, understand them and use them is a morbid thought but necessary too. How you take care of this important matter can let your family know that you prepared them when they are not prepared.
The most basic two things you need are a monthly filing system, and a place for the most important documents that you don't need often. Ideally it would be great if you had a fireproof box with all the pertinent documents like passport, marriage certificate, deeds, life insurance policy, will etc. If you are the one who handles the bills, you need to make your system accessible for your partner to pick up the pieces and move on because the bills still need to be paid. My Mom had all the bills in a little box in the kitchen which was simple but effective. My Stepfather was able to quickly sort through them and see what was due. Fortunately on my last visit in April, my Mom and I shredded a mountain of old papers so that was all cleaned out. Thank you Mom for keeping up with the shredding!
My personal system is to file anything that I still get a bill for in the mail. I don't keep the envelopes. (I hate it when people do this!) Anything that is online, I get the bill through email or have it automatically drafted each month so I don't have a paper copy. You don't need to print it out! I don't think you have to keep long records of utilities and credit card bills. I usually just keep the current year. You don't have to keep records for all the companies because they do it for you. If you do most of your bills online, have a list of websites and passwords so that your spouse can know what is going on and access them easily. The main idea is to have a system so that others can follow it. When that time comes, they will be so thankful that they don't have to be wasting time searching for things. This is going to benefit you too. Make your system easy enough for you to actually use it. Piles and piles of bills laying around is not acceptable! I love organizing "things" but keeping a filing system is really simple and doesn't have to cost a lot of money. For the record, I don't like those accordion files because I find them cumbersome but it's better than nothing.
Something that you may or may not know is that when someone dies there is a lot of paperwork to be done. Besides having to plan the funeral which can take a lot of emotional energy, you have to file for the death certificate. If your spouse can't find the marriage license, they will have to order a new one. It is a simple task but added to the load, it doesn't seem simple at all. My stepfather couldn't find their marriage license and he spent a lot of time and energy looking for it before ordering a new one. When you have been married a long time, this is bound to happen to some people! It's definitely not something you need every day.
The life insurance policy is another document that needs to be found quickly so that it can get started processing to pay for the funeral. Is yours easy to find? Do you have life insurance? If you can get it when you are young, it's so much cheaper and the rate is locked in for 20-30 years. Mine is for $100k and only $102 a year. I based my amount on paying off my condo and paying for my funeral. When we have kids, I'll increase it.
The biggie in planning is a will. As I type this, I admit that a will has been on our to do list for awhile. I had one when I was single but we need one as a married couple. This is so important!!! My Mom didn't have a will. She only used to say "You'll get all my jewelry." When I stood in her room looking at her jewelry armoire with all her jewelry, I couldn't just cart it all away. Not only do I not need all that jewelry but I realize that there are so many important girls and women in her life that wanted something special too. Even if you make a list of your belongings that you would like given to certain people, do it! It just makes things smoother for everyone. To be honest, if I could have read something that she wrote about the certain things she wanted me to have, it would have felt like a message from beyond. At that time, you need to feel contact with the one who passed. Do this gift for your loved ones!
So what about creating a filing system that works for you? I'm not going to reinvent the wheel because I found a great website that already outlines it and I agree with it. The key is to not make it complicated. When you are struggling with tossing something, ask yourself if you can get it again from the company. Most companies have back statements online if you ever want to see them.
Here is a basic file box or you can be creative and match your office or home decor. Mine are in our coat closet so no need to be fancy. I do go crazy for those pretty file folders and have some but you can't see them when things are filed. If you have things you need to carry around with you, then I guess they would be great. I love the idea of this storage ottoman being used as a filing system.
Probably the most urgent thing to do for us is to have a will done. Depending on where you live, if you don't have one it could cause problems for your spouse. You need to make it clear that you want everything to go to them and not the state, definitely not the state! Check out this site for more information about why you need a will.
I wish all of you a very happy Thanksgiving! I have a lot to be thankful for even now. We will be spending our holiday in Houston with my some friends and their family. I'm making pumpkin pie and deviled eggs just to be sure that I get some American traditional food. Puerto Ricans have different ideas of Thanksgiving food and even though it's good, sometimes you want what reminds you of home.
Image from here.
Great post, first of all. I am new to your blog, but due to the subject matter I had to add one additional suggestion: Write down your passwords and add them to that "basic file box". My father just recently passed away (a few weeks ago), and we are still trying to get into all of his accounts (especially e-mail). He had a home-based business and has a lot of outstanding (and unfinished) business with clients (read, money that should be his). Luckily for us he had a recent paper shredding party, but he didn't have a list of his preferences when giving things away.
P.S. sorry to hear about your mom, and I hope your Thanksgiving was enjoyable.
Thanks for the prompting. We are finally getting our will set up with the lawyer today. With 2 children under 3, we need to establish their guardian.
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