Q: Based upon your experience, do you have any practical pointers for someone trying to organize his or her affairs?
A: I have written about this before but I receive so many questions, such as your inquiry, that it may be good to revisit this topic.
Make a list of your assets, providing enough detail so your personal representative under your Will or your agent named in your Durable Power of Attorney will have everything consolidated into one reference source. Include identification numbers, where originals are located, names of advisors, and addresses for anything listed or people identified.
Try to keep all of your important papers, such as the Will, stocks, car title, insurance policies, etc., together in one safe place. If you use a safety deposit box as your vehicle, then be sure that in addition to you and your spouse, one other name is included on the signature card. As long as one person is alive, the safety deposit box will not be locked or frozen or even inventoried. With regard to other possible depositories for documents, be sure someone knows where it is and where things such as keys or lock combinations can be found for access.
Besides the list of assets, an informational memorandum might be very helpful. In it give addresses and telephone numbers of key people, like Will beneficiaries or fiduciaries. Also mention personal things that people should know, from yard care contracts to a reminder of burial instructions.
Finally arrange for someone to step forward, if something should happen, in order to notify people such as the attorney, the Personal Representative, etc. and to do a few of the interim practical matters such as watch the house, secure the car, take care of pets, water the lawn, pick up mail, etc.
Q: If I die, I am afraid that my sister may go through my house and take things before my children are able to return. Any suggestions?
A: This is not an easy question. For the more important items, make a list, identifying the personal property that should be there. But another idea would be to take pictures while a friend is with you. Then date and sign the individual photos with the understanding that if you do dispose of something, the friend will be notified.