Seniors & Aging

January 26, 2014

Real Life | How to get your estate plan operator’s manual started

Editor’s note: This is a new column that runs occasionally in Coasting that deals with a variety of topics related to end-of-life issues. View previous columns online at

Editor’s note: This is a new column that runs occasionally in Coasting that deals with a variety of topics related to end-of-life issues. View previous columns online at

After the last column, you’re clued in about the detective work of discovering everything that there is about your world, or the world of the person that you’re doing it for.

And hopefully you’re even stuffing it into some degree of order – or disorder – into the file cabinet or the egg crate in the closet. Wisely, you’re even cataloguing the significant items into your estate plan operators’ manual that you’re creating, right? I’ve mentioned the manual before, and you’ve asked for more. Everything about it also applies whether you’re building your own or someone else’s. Here’s the more:

The manual is a central single-source “what, where and how-to” guidebook about your life that all the appropriate people know about and is backed up electronically.

It’s your working catalogue of all of your stuff, even your well-managed files, as you work through life. When you no longer can manage, it’s an absolute blessing for those who must step in and take over the unique management system that you’ve built over the years for your own idiosyncratic stewardship and for your estate.

The same goes for you when you must manage for someone else. Creating their manual with them or for them can bring salvation for your own sanity, too.

For security, keep it fire-flood-burglar-hurricane-safe somewhere – freezer, safe, hidden lockbox? Copy it to your at-death-or-incapacity “first responder helpers ” to keep, especially if they’re not nearby. It’s easily updated by periodically swapping out pages.

Ours features a sincere thank-you letter for helpers up front. Then, there’s the index of all the numbered topic sections, with key-word descriptions about each one’s contents, for quick-find reference to everything. Then comes the very core: the topic sections, corresponding with the index, and each with its number-tabbed divider, an explanatory page and its contents.

You can utilize the organizer booklets that your bank, law firm, insurance agent and wealth management firm give you to structure parts of your manual. There’s an online subscription service that gives you guidance information and helps you create an at-incapacity-and-death manual as a website, featuring online access for your designated helpers, family and fiduciaries.

Book stores, the public library and the Internet offer guidebooks galore.

Here are some typical topic areas to include and to insert instructions, information, agreements and documents about:

• Personal, friend, and family matters: Nuptials, co-habitation, divorce/separation, loans, adoptions, custody, deeds.
• Official documents and decrees: Birth and death certificates, military, entitlements, citizenship-immigration, judgments, tax rulings, disability, bankruptcy, certifications, licenses.
• Business/professional: Ownerships, agreements, employment, benefits, obligations, financials.
• Property matters: Deeds, titles, leases, appraisals, mortgages, liens, permits/licenses, agreements, taxation, insurance.
• Estate plan: Legal instruments, fiduciary appointments and description of their powers and duties, family “who gets what and how” messages.
• Ethical will: From-the-heart legacy letter bequeathing your own thoughts, wishes, wisdom, opinions, feelings, alongside the property will.
• At-incapacity matters for impaired living: Additional instructions about care, funding, pre-arrangements, helpers, preferences.
• At-death matters: Funerials, disposition, pre-arrangements, funding, messages to the family, memorial services, notifications.
• Data about you: Former names, vital data, ID numbers, passwords/ PINs, account numbers, former employments and residences, autobiographical highlights, religion and practices, health profile.
• Professional team: At-death/incapacity “first responders,” family members and friends, attorneys, physicians, financial managers, clergy, fiduciaries.
• Assets, liabilities, current transactions, legal, entitlements, and financial inventory. Listings of everything of significant sentimental or monetary value, where to find them and how to access them.
• Contact information: Everyone who needs to know and whom you want to notify at your incapacity or death, and how to reach them.
• Tips, advice, suggestions: Any significant information or advice that you can think of that will help you and your surrogates, including the professionals.

Customize as needed and don’t be surprised if you generate a couple of hundred pages of basics alone.

Our worlds constantly are changing, so schedule regular updates, quarterly or so, and remember to copy them to your first responders’ duplicate manual and to the electronic backup.

Your comments and ideas always are welcome, too.

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