Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Last Writes

© 2013 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Most of us have assets and liabilities. We pay bills on a regular basis. We pay rent or a house mortgage. We have one or more bank accounts and credit cards. We file tax returns. We have insurance policies to cover a variety of things. However, much of what we do in these regards is in our heads, possibly with a few things marked on a calendar (possibly using our own particular shorthand). What happens then, if we are temporarily or permanently unable to do those things? How will someone else figure out how to do these things on our behalf?

A common situation is one in which a person is one of a couple and various housekeeping and record-keeping chores are divided between the two. If one partner was unable to do any of the things he normally does, could the other do them instead? If a person lives alone, who would do these tasks for them? If you are the executor of an aging parent's estate, where will you begin to sort out their lives when they die? And if an estate is paying its executor, it's easy to see how a large chunk of that estate could be spent in figuring this out.

If you have any sort of footprint on this planet at all, you will benefit from having some sort of written—preferably recorded electronically—instructions describing the myriad of things one would need to know to perform the personal administrative things you do on a regular basis.

I created such a document as part of my estate planning, and it is intended to serve as an aid to my estate's executor and to those who hold Power-of-Attorney rights if I am unable to make my own healthcare or other decisions prior to death. I update this document every six months, and send a revised copy to my executor and to those who hold various Powers of Attorney. I keep printed copies in my home safe and my bank safe-deposit box. The master copy resides on my main computer, and I might update that more frequently than twice-per-year, in which case, it's important that the most up-to-date version actually be used.

So, not long after you have been given your last rites, someone will be looking for your last writes! Do they exist and, if so, how will anyone find them? This essay proposes a series of things you would do well to document for your own situation.

Getting Started

At least the following items are needed to get the other information and things one might need in dealing with another person's business and personal interests:

  • Access to their house and/or office
  • Access to their computer(s)
  • Access to their home safe
  • Access to their safe-deposit box

Personal Data

  1. Legal name; also common names, if they are different. (Lots of people have nicknames that they use every day.)
  2. Place and date of birth
  3. Citizenship(s), passport number(s), and expiration dates
  4. Any Federal or official personal identification number (such as the US's Social Security Number [SSN])

Contacts

Having all personal and/or business contact information available in one place, which is maintained by a computer program, is best, especially if it is searchable. However, this requires considerable discipline to maintain, and probably doesn't exist for many (most?) people. (Clearly, this assumes that the executor has access to the computer skills needed to do this.)

The more organized such a contact list is, the less that has to be put in the Last Writes document. That document simply need mention some key names that can be used as indirect pointers into the computerized contact database.

[I maintain my contact database in Microsoft Office's Outlook program. I use categories to group contacts having connections, as such "legal", "medical", "banking", "insurance", "auto repairs", and "house repairs".]

Calendar/Appointments

Like Contacts, a calendar is best maintained by a computer program. However, this requires considerable discipline to maintain, and probably doesn't exist for many (most?) people.

[I maintain my calendar in Microsoft Office's Outlook program. Not only does it keep track of my personal and business activities, I use its recurring-event facility for reminders of things that have to be done on a weekly, quarterly, or annual basis, for example. And I use it to raise alarms up to two weeks in advance of an event.]

Close Relatives and Family Information

  • Name of spouse/partner and date and location of marriage/union/divorce
  • Names of parents and siblings
  • Names of children

Close Friends

The people on this list would be notified in case of death or serious/long-term disability.

Main Employer/Employee and Business Contacts

The people on this list would be notified in case of death or serious/long-term disability.

Landlord (if renting)

  • Owner name and contact information
  • If applicable, property manager name and contact information
  • Amount of rent, rent frequency, and payment date
  • Method of payment (perhaps it's automatically debited from a bank account)
  • Amount of security deposit
  • Length of lease
  • Location of lease document

Mortgage (if buying)

  • Mortgage company name and contact information
  • Amount of payment, payment frequency, and payment date
  • Method of payment (perhaps it's automatically debited from a bank account)
  • Location of loan documents and title

Will

  • Name(s) of legal contact(s) and executor
  • Date when the most recent will and all current codicils were drawn up
  • Location of copies of the most recent will and all current codicils

Powers of Attorney (PoA)

  • Name of durable medical PoA
  • Name of durable general purposes PoA
  • It would be useful to provide extra guidelines with respect to being in a long-term coma and the use of "Heroic measures"

Financial Accounts (Joint and Separate)

  • Checking account(s)
  • Savings account(s)
  • Retirement account(s)
  • Non-Retirement investments
  • Credit Card account(s)
  • Location of any computer files used to track financial accounts
  • Location of any computer files used to track invoices/accounts payable
  • Details of any unsecured loans made to family, friends, own business

Computer Systems and Backups

Many people own a desktop computer as well as a laptop or tablet computer. They might also use their phone for email and messaging. These tools all have usernames and passwords. Some people also have their own domain names and websites. Such facilities require their own hosting companies, usernames, and passwords.

Most email facilities allow copies of all messages sent and received to be retained and possibly archived somehow.

[I own the domain RexJaeschke.com and have the website www.RexJaeschke.com. I maintain my email accounts on my own computer using Microsoft Office's Outlook program. At the end of each month, I permanently delete all personal mail messages from my Sent Items and Deleted Items folders that are more than 30 days old. Of the remaining messages, each of those having attachments totaling 1MB or more are inspected. All such attachments that are transient in nature or for which a copy was stored separately on a hard disk, are removed and the parent message re-saved without them. I then use the Archive option of Outlook to save all messages that are older than 30 days. This results in one archive file per year stored on a hard disk. The current email database and archived mail files are backed-up as part of the monthly computer backup.]

A similar situation may exist for Instant Message (IM) accounts.

It has been my experience that too few owners of computers have an adequate backup strategy. [I backup all my data every month with copies going onto three big disks that are stored in my office, in my fire safe, and my safe-deposit box. For more information on this topic, see my December 2010 essay, "Technology, Unplugged – Part 2".]

Income Tax Records

  • Name of tax preparer
  • Location of copies of past tax returns and correspondence
  • It's a good idea to scan past returns and correspondence into computer files, so the paper copies can be shredded

Safe-Deposit Box (at bank)

  • Location and number of box, and location of key/combination
  • Copy of will
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage/divorce documents
  • Title(s) for vehicle(s) and house(s)
  • Off-site computer data backup disk(s)
  • Other valuable things (such as coins and family heirlooms)

Fire Safe (at home/office)

  • Location of safe and key/combination
  • Copies of various papers, including will and codicils
  • Passport(s)
  • Copy of Title(s) for vehicle(s) and house(s)
  • Computer systems usernames and passwords
  • On-site computer data backup disk(s)
  • Bank ATM/Cash Machine and credit card ID numbers
  • Emergency cash

Business Assets

  • Computer systems
  • Software
  • Technical/reference Books
  • Furniture
  • Intellectual property

Assets

  • Real Estate
  • Vehicle(s)
  • Cash and investments
  • Checking account
  • Savings accounts
  • Retirement accounts
  • House contents
  • Accounts receivable

Liabilities

  • Home mortgage(s)
  • Vehicle loan(s)
  • Personal loan(s)
  • College tuition loan(s)
  • Credit card accounts not paid in full each month
  • Home Equity line of credit
  • Any big-ticket item being financed (such as furniture or appliance purchases)
  • Major monthly bills
  • Any loans or other liabilities where you are a co-signer or guarantor

Insurance

  • Medical and Prescription
  • Dental
  • Optical
  • Life
  • Automobile
  • Disability
  • General Liability
  • House contents
  • Renter's coverage
  • Computer hardware and software loss coverage
  • Business liability (plus Errors and Omissions coverage)

Memorandum re Asset Distribution

Generally, a will doesn't cover everything, just the main things. As such, it's good to have more documentation about who gets what with regard to the more personal stuff.

  • Computer backup disk(s)
  • Computers, other hardware, and software
  • Books (technical, reference and fiction)
  • Music/video (audio tapes, CDs, and DVDs)
  • Travel diaries (audio, hard-copy bound books, and electronic versions stored on a computer)
  • Home movie recordings
  • Family Photographs
  • Family tree books and hometown history books
  • Collections (such as stamps and coins)

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Organ donation
  • Funeral arrangements
  • For cremation, location where ashes should be buried/scattered
  • What to do with any website or blog

Conclusion

The more someone's Last Writes document contains the better. And while it won't help the person who has passed on, those left with the task of winding up an estate will be most grateful.

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