I always prefer fall cleaning to spring cleaning because I’m beautifying the place I will be stuck in for most of the winter. If you’re fall cleaning too, you can make this a time to gather your important documents, review them, and make a forever home for them.

There is one important concept to learn before you start organizing: The difference between a designated beneficiary and an heir to the estate. Bank accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, and other retirement plans skip probate because they have designated beneficiaries. 

Obviously, you’ll want to review whom you have designated as the beneficiaries for your bank and brokerage accounts. Unfortunately, people forget to review estate documents regularly, and the beneficiaries attached to these accounts end up growing stale. Unlike heirs in a will contest, outdated designated beneficiaries cannot be challenged in court or anywhere else. An oversight like leaving an ex-spouse as a named beneficiary will have lasting effects.

A good way to be proactive against that is to stay on top of your documents — and the best way to do that is to make a spreadsheet of all your: 

  • Bank account numbers 
  • Investment account information 
  • Life insurance policies
  • Credit cards (and how to pay them)
  • Apple ID or similar 
  • Advanced directives

The consequences of being unprepared, or unable to find important paperwork, are many. Without advanced directives such as a health care proxy or living will, hospitals will use extraordinary measures to keep your body alive indefinitely. Estates without wills also go through a disproportionately bruising probate process that exhausts a larger portion of the estate’s value.

If you need help organizing your essential information — so that your heirs have less to worry about — JHA can help! Contact us to learn more.