Preparing an estate plan that includes a will or trust and other legal documents is a smart thing to do. Yet even the most exquisitely crafted legal documents have limited practical value during a crisis situation, when others are suddenly having to deal simultaneously with the emotional distress from a serious event and the practical matters of taking hold of the reins of your life. To address this issue, in addition to making legal arrangements, consider taking stock of your life in a personal inventory.
Arguably the most important component of a personal inventory is what's commonly referred to as a "values history." Those who may be responsible for handling these matters will need to know your thoughts and intentions regarding personal care, healthcare and end-of -life matters. You will directly benefit from the informed decisions of your personal agents and medical proxies, so a values history should address at least the following: the identity of friends, family, clergy or other people who should be made aware of your condition; matters of personal care or living conditions that you consider to be material to your well-being and comfort; your fears about illness, death and dying; your moral or religious views on medical or life-prolonging care; and the circumstances under which life-prolonging treatment should or should no longer be provided. The personal inventory may also address financial, property and household matters. Once you delve into these matters, you will quickly find that your life is a complex thing and that managing your life, if you are unable, will be an especially challenging undertaking.
The personal inventory should ideally describe the location of sensitive documents such as powers of attorney, life and disability insurance papers, and other information necessary to access and manage your income and financial obligations. Other common items include: online account information, location of sensitive personal property (such as firearms or cash), post office boxes and safe deposit boxes, safe combinations, identity of CPA and legal counsel, and the location of tax returns and other financial records. Some less obvious items may include: passwords to social media or online service accounts; computer, tablet, mobile phone and voicemail login information; the name and path of important documents stored on your computer; or a description of living things (plants, pets, livestock, crops) that depend on you and how to care for them. Finally, if and to the extent that you own a business, perform a service, or have significant professional responsibilities, your personal inventory might address information necessary to keep the business going and to ensure that operational concerns, financial interests, receivables and potential sources of liability may be easily addressed by someone competent to handle your business affairs.
If you invested in an estate plan prepared by an attorney, you may have been supplied with a personal inventory form to guide you through the process. I include a personal inventory booklet as a courtesy with all of my estate plans. There may be a form or other resource on the web or at a book store.
Of course, some of the information that may be included in a personal inventory could seriously compromise your interests if someone with unwholesome intentions were to get ahold of it. So if you make a personal inventory, keep it in a safe place, and disclose its location only to trusted people who need to know that it exists.
If you consider it to be too risky to keep a record of certain information in a personal inventory, provide only the essential information for handling your affairs. Otherwise, don't make a written inventory, and simply discuss these matters, thoroughly, with those whom you expect to handle your affairs.
In any event, for your benefit and for the benefit of others, take stock of your life, and equip your loved ones to help you in a time of need.
Matthew Laurel Trinidad is a transactional attorney at Karp Neu Hanlon PC. His practice emphasizes business law, estate planning and probate. Contact him at mlt@ mountainlawfirm.com, (970) 945-2261, or visit www.mountainlawfirm.com.