Easter egg hunts. Games of hide and go seek. Scavenger hunts. All of these can be fun activities for children of any age. But there are some critical times when the need to find things is not fun. Among these are when a family member has become disabled or dies unexpectedly and you need to find out important information about their financial activities, what they own and who they owe, and what they would want you to do now that you are responsible for taking care of these things for them. For our example we will assume your widowed father has suffered a stroke and is in the hospital and not currently able to communicate with you.
As an initial matter, you have to determine if indeed you are the person entrusted with these responsibilities and if you have the legal authority to act for your father. In previous columns I discussed the essential legal readiness documents — a Durable General Power of Attorney, a Living Will or Advance Medical Directive, and a Will or Revocable Living Trust. (For more information on these you can visit www.MyPeaceOfMindPlan.com). We will assume your father had dutifully kept his legal readiness documents up to date and appointed you the Agent to act under his Durable General Power of Attorney which continues to be effective even if he is incapacitated.
So you are the right person with the right legal document to act. What now? You need to find out about your father’s personal finances—his sources of income, his monthly bills, his other bills such as property taxes, insurance, etc., and you have to make arrangements to continue to pay his bills. Do you even know where your father keeps this information? Do you have access to it? Do you know where he banks or which brokerage houses he uses? Do you know where his checkbook might be? Some people are very organized and they have detailed records in file cabinets, desk drawers, expandable folders, fireproof boxes, or some other location readily accessible. Others are a lot less organized and you may have to go on your own scavenger hunt to find everything you need.
But what if your father had become technologically comfortable and did his banking, investing, and bill paying online? What if he electronically filed his taxes every year? What if he kept all of his records on his computer? Do you know his account information, his passwords, or even if he did online transactions? The increasing use of paperless transactions means that you may have a difficult time in your “scavenger hunt” in finding the critical information you need.
If your father recovers presumably he can help you work through the many issues involved here. But what if he dies from his condition? Then you have an even more pressing need to determine what he had, who he owed, who owed him, what accounts need to be turned on or off, which government agencies need to be notified, etc.
While there is no simple solution to the problems of stepping into the life of someone else and taking over their personal finances for them, good organization and good communications in advance can be invaluable to all parties. One way to do that is to use an organizer such as the Peace of Mind Roadmap that we provide to our clients at Reilly Law, PLC. This Roadmap concept may seem like a throwback in a GPS era but we take the view that a map can always be used but a GPS relies on electricity/batteries and a good satellite connection which may not always be present. This is similar to having all of your critical information on a password-protected computer. You might be able to eventually access it, but it might be too late for some important transaction. Now think about your own situation. Would your family know what to do if something should happen to you?
You can get your complimentary Peace of Mind Roadmap by contacting Reilly Law, PLC at Roadmap@reillylawplc.com (please use “Roadmap” in the subject line) or by phone at 703-579-1936703-579-1936. You can also learn more about Peace of Mind planning at www.MyPeaceOfMindPlan.com or at www.ReillyLawPLC.com. Reilly Law, PLC specializes in comprehensive Peace of Mind planning. We offer free initial consultations and special rates for military, veterans, and civil servants, as well as young family specials intended to get you on the right path.
Reilly Law, PLC is located at 300 Ellicott Street, Suite B, in Historic Occoquan. Our phone number is 703-579-1936703-579-1936. We know you are busy so we offer evening and weekend appointments. For convenience we accept major credit cards. As one client put it recently, not only did he get his legal affairs in order, he earned miles towards their next family vacation!