By Joe McGrane, Valley VNA board member and Executive Vice President at Legacy Private Trust

Whether you are thinking about a gift to give your family this holiday season, or planning to start the new year off with better organized financial plans and paperwork, consider creating an Essential Document Box. The box is a depository for all of your up-to-date financial, health care, and administrative paperwork that you and your family will need in case of an emergency, death, or simply over the course of normal life progression, including health concerns, retirement, or moving to a senior living community.

You may choose to include only photocopies of your essential documents in the box with a list of where to find the originals. Alternatively, you can assemble the box with your original documents and store it in a secure place like a safe deposit box, safe, or file cabinet. Create the box on your own or recruit a son, daughter, or adult grandchild to help you. The key is to invest in organizing your resources to align with your personal wishes and help your family members who will be asked to carry them out on your behalf.

The documents I am about to list are the same ones that can derail family peace and unity if they are lost or misplaced. The Essential Document Box will be your family’s go-to source for your:

List of important contacts:

  • Attorney
  • Financial advisor
  • Investment advisor
  • Accountant/tax practitioner
  • Insurance agents
  • Trust officer
  • Clergy
  • Primary physician

List of financial account locations and account numbers:

  • Bank (checking, savings, money market)
  • Mortgage/loans
  • Credit cards
  • Retirement savings/investment accounts
  • Stock and bond certificates
  • Retirement plans:
    • Pension plans
    • IRA
    • 401(k)

Digital property:

  • Websites, login names and passwords

Essential documents (originals or photocopies):

  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security card
  • Driver’s license
  • Passport
  • Vehicle titles and registrations
  • Medicare/Medicaid/dental/long-term care insurance coverage cards
  • Military service records
  • Marriage and/or divorce certificates
  • Organ donor card
  • Real estate deeds/records

Legal & planning documents:

  • Recent income and gift tax returns
  • Safe deposit box location(s), and location of key(s)
  • Receipts and/or appraisals for valuables
  • Insurance policies (life, property)
  • Will (names an executor who will supervise the distribution of your estate upon your death as you direct in the document)
  • Letter of instruction listing personal property not disposed of by your will and how you wish it to be distributed
  • Marital property agreement
  • Trust documents
  • Declaration to physicians (AKA Living Will: clarifies your general wishes when you cannot communicate for situations like resuscitation, organ donation, and use of a ventilator)
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (names a person as your agent to speak on your behalf when you are unable to direct your own care)
  • Durable Power of Attorney (Finance and Property) (names a person as your agent to manage your finances on your behalf when you are unable to manage them yourself)
  • Burial plots and/or desired funeral arrangements

Yes, this list of papers and plans can sound a bit grim, but they are all essential components to living in our modern world. When we properly plan for life’s possibilities, we allow our families more time to embrace their own active lives, celebrate family togetherness – and ultimately, remember us fondly. Prepare an Essential Documents Box, and you give a gift of peace and love. And we all need a little more peace and love.