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Help Your Family by Organizing Your Finances

Most of us know we should get our financial life organized so that a spouse or other family members can easily step in to manage our affairs if necessary. 

Unfortunately, this task is often put on the back burner. Some people never get around to it, leaving grieving family members searching for documents to settle the estate or guessing passwords to unlock online accounts.

An organized financial life is a valuable gift you can give your loved ones. Here's how:

Compile a contact list of key professionals. This includes your lawyer, doctor, accountant, financial advisor, and insurance agent, but also people who provide maintenance services, such as the roofer, plumber, landscaper, painter, electrician, and auto mechanic.

Share passwords. Keep a file of your passwords for online accounts and digital assets and let your spouse or another key family member know where it is. This will allow them to access online brokerage and bank accounts as well as manage social media accounts — without delay.

Prepare key estate documents. Unless you want your state to ultimately dictate what happens to you and your assets, you will need these critical documents:

  • A will, which identifies beneficiaries, minor children's guardians, and executor. 
  • An advance directive, which usually consists of a living will and a health care power of attorney. A living will spells out your medical treatment preferences. And a health care power of attorney designates someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can't.
  • A financial power of attorney, in which you name a trusted person to make financial decisions on your behalf if you're unable to.

Keep credit in your own name. To ensure you have uninterrupted access to credit, both spouses should have a credit card in their own name.

Card companies frequently used to offer joint accounts, in which both spouses were account owners. It's more common now for the card to have one person as the primary owner while the other is an “authorized user.” The authorized user can use the card, but the account owner is responsible for the debt. Once the primary owner dies, the card is canceled. The authorized user can apply for a new card from the issuer, but the terms might not be as favorable as before.

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