First, let’s consider the process—preparing important documents, collecting related records, storing them securely, talking with loved ones and maintaining your personal “planner” (the name I’ll use for your compiled records). You can prepare your planner yourself, relying simply on the tips in this column. Or you can turn to Get It Together (Nolo) for help.

Get It Together provides a framework.

Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To provides a ready-to-go framework. The workbook (with CD-ROM) is a guide to help you gather your records and prepare important documents. It’s an organizer for you, and it’s an eventual road map for your survivors.

The book covers 28 topics—which you should also consider if you’re preparing your planner independently:

• Letter to Loved Ones
• Instructions
• Biographical Information
• Children
• Others Who Depend on Me
• Pets and Livestock
• Employment
• Business Interests
• Memberships
• Service Providers
• Health Care Directives
• Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
• Organ or Body Donation
• Burial or Cremation
• Funeral and Memorial Services
• Obituary
• Will and Trust
• Insurance
• Bank and Brokerage Accounts
• Retirement Plans and Pensions
• Government Benefits
• Credit Cards and Debts
• Secured Places and Passwords
• Taxes
• Real Estate
• Vehicles
• Other Income and Personal Property
• Other Information

The book is organized into two parts, guide and planner. The guide includes helpful direction for questions you may have:

Do I need a will? Do I need other legal documents, such as a medical directive or a durable power of attorney for finances? What legal documents will provide care for my minor children, if necessary?

Who can access my safe deposit box when I’m incapacitated and when I die? How soon can they access—so what should I store there?

What will happen to my retirement accounts when I die?

What is probate—and how can I help my survivors to avoid?

Get It Together PlannerThe planner includes tables, topic by topic, to help you document necessary information for each section. The printed planner in the workbook is also available on CD-ROM (included at the back of the book) for creating, saving, printing and updating your files.


Melanie Cullen is the author of Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To (Nolo), a workbook/CD-ROM for preparing and organizing your important records—for yourself and for your loved ones. She is a management consultant with TerraSys Consulting, Inc. and serves on the Projects@Work editorial board. She holds an MBA from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University.

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