How will getting organized now benefit you over time, time after time?

When my mother died, I was awash in questions, grief, tasks, decisions—and all of that layered on top of my already-busy life far from Mom’s home. I decided then that I will not put my loved ones through the same ordeal when I die. I went home and put together my binder of important records—the binder that ignited the Get It Togetherworkbook, CD, and binder/tab set.

With my records organized and complete, I began to enjoy that new level of organization! Every time I needed an important record (or password), I was able to put my finger on it immediately—no searching, no wondering, “Now where did I put that?”

That’s the less expected but significant, ongoing benefit of organizing your records. Sure, for your survivors, ultimately, your organization and clear direction will be a blessing. But for you, in the meantime—and for the rest of your life—your organization will benefit you time after time.


You will become more efficient as tasks are easier to complete, accurately and swiftly. Here are a few of those times.


Renting, selling, or buying a home.When you’re moving, and perhaps buying and selling, you can easily access the necessary records in your planner. These records might include a home and contents insurance policy, renter’s insurance policy, rental or lease agreement, mortgage documents, or real estate deed. You might also have arrangements with service providers for your home such as gardeners, housecleaners, HVAC maintenance, or pool service—whose contact information is neatly stored in your planner.


In addition, as you change your address, many of the records you need are in your planner—for example, insurance policies, your annual Social Security statement, and contact information for medical and home service providers. 


Selling your car.When you sell a vehicle, you know exactly where to find the certificate of title, loan documents, insurance policy, and any other related documents.


Fleeing your home in an emergency.If you ever have to evacuate in a hurry, the tremendous benefit of your completed planner is obvious. All you need to do is grab it—most likely accessing your safe with a key or combination—and you’ve got all of your important records, portable and ready to go. You’ve no need to worry about having copies of your insurance policies, mortgage documents, banking and brokerage information, birth certificates, title to vehicles, and so on.


Getting married or becoming divorced or widowed. When your marital status changes, many of your important records are affected. Having your records in one place not only makes it simple for you to locate a given record, but also allows you to easily review allof your records to consider the changes you want to make. For example:

  • Health Care Directives or Powers of Attorney. If you have these documents, you may wish to make new ones to reflect your appointment of new agents to act on your behalf, when necessary.
  • Will or Living Trust. If you have these documents, review and ensure that your wishes are current and complete—including agents that will act on your behalf, descriptions of your property, title to your property, and disposition of property when you die.
  • Bank and Brokerage Accounts. Review how you hold title to your accounts (that is, for example, as an individual, jointly with another, or in the name of your living trust) and any beneficiaries you have named on the accounts (including any pay- or transfer-on-death instructions).
  • Name Change. If you are changing your name, you’ll want to consider changing your driver’s license, Social Security account, passport, credit cards, and more.


Losing your wallet.To be equipped in case of theft or loss, most of us have recorded the contents of our wallets, either by hand or on a copier machine. Emails circulate periodically to remind us of this task. But how many of us keep those records up to date? And where do you store that information once you’ve recorded it? If you’re like I was, the record of your wallet contents isn’t kept up to date—even if you know where to find it!


With your completed planner, you can easily maintain information:

  • Toss in a post-it note with the account number and customer service telephone for a new credit card, or
  • Manually cross out an entry for a membership or credit card that is no longer active. 


Now if you lose your wallet, you’re able to follow up easily on everylost item.


Suffering an accident or becoming seriously ill. If you are unable to handle your affairs for a period of time, you may need someone to step in and help. Your completed planner will relieve a lot of stress and confusion—for you and for your caregiver. Moreover, if you prepare a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances, you can equip your caregiver today with the legal authority to step in, along with the location of and access to your planner. (For more information, see Get It Together, Chapter 12, Durable Power of Attorney for Finances.)


I wish you many, many years of having it all together, enjoying firsthand the fruits of your organizing efforts!


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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Comment by Alfaretta on January 17, 2011 at 8:06pm

My husband, Danny, passed away 11 months ago.  I have no children or close relatives living near by.  Any suggestions on how to handle my situation? 

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