Wes Moss: How to tell your life story — and secrets

Certified financial planner Wes Moss provides personal finance advice and accessible investment strategies. His guest post appears here weekly.

Wes Moss hosts 'Money Matters' Sunday mornings on AM750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB.

Wes Moss hosts 'Money Matters' Sunday mornings on AM750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB.

Most of us make grocery lists and weekend to-do lists. Many of us have recently written down our New Year’s resolutions. But too few of us make what is likely the most important list of our lives.

At our office, we call it a “life book,” giving it the gravitas it deserves. When we mention it to clients, they’re often flabbergasted they haven’t created something so easy and essential.

My partner in my firm, Mitch Reiner, was on CNN recently, discussing four financial must-dos for 2013. Number two on his list was creating a life book. It’s a notebook — or just a piece of paper – that contains pertinent information a loved one would need to know to take care of you (or your family) in case of a serious accident, illness, emergency or death.

To see the value of a life book, ask yourself: If something happened to my spouse or other close family member, could I answer these questions?

1. Where is my spouse’s will?

2. How many life insurance policies did my spouse (or parent) have, and what if I don’t know about one?

3. I know my spouse kept our trust documents in the safe deposit box, but where’s the key?

If you can’t readily answer these questions, make it a priority to create a life book. Here’s a basic guide for what to include:

• Bank information: Name of financial institution, account number(s) and holder(s), passwords, safe deposit location(s) and approved entrants

• Investment information: Account locations and numbers, financial advisor contact information

• Insurance information: Policy location and numbers, amounts, insurer, name of agent and contact information

• Wills and trusts: Location of documents, executor name and contact information

• Contact list: If something happens to you, who should be contacted (and in what order) to support your spouse or partner?

• Online information: Logins for important accounts (i.e., credit cards, bank accounts, 401[k] accounts), passwords to log in to your home computer and for Facebook and other sites you visit often. (This is important not just for access to these sites and accounts, but also to quickly ensure their security.)

• To-do list: Set priorities on what you want done if something happens to you. For example, “Call the people from my support list first. Then, call my financial advisor and insurance agent. Be sure the dogs are taken care of. They need two cups of food twice a day. …”

• Keys and such: Where to find an extra set of car and house keys, alarm codes to homes and safes, etc.

An e-version of your life book is fine, but we encourage clients to use a cloud-based back-up system like Dropbox or Google Docs regularly.

Next time you jot down “eggs, milk, bananas” on the back of an envelope before a grocery run, think about taking a few minutes to make a list of account numbers, passwords and where you keep your important documents.

And put your life book in a secure location — then tell someone where it is. Just as a grocery list doesn’t do you any good if you leave it sitting on the kitchen counter, a life book is only useful if your spouse, partner, family member or trusted friend knows where to find it when it’s needed.

Have a similar system or always thought about starting one? What else would your life book include?

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– Wes Moss, for AJC Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

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