New Year: Where’s Your Notebook?

Keep important data in a Notebook

It’s a new year: where’s your notebook? You know, that one with all of your passwords, account numbers, doctor names, and that very important song that must be played at your funeral.

Yeah, that notebook. Where is it? It might be a digital file folder on your computer or in the cloud, or it might be a pile of papers in a file cabinet, or it might be nice and neat in an old-fashioned 3-ring binder. The new year is a good time to ask: how easily can someone who needs it find it?

Notebook Update for Tax Season

Right after New Year’s season comes tax season. The end of January brings tax notices from bank accounts, investment accounts, mortgage statements, health insurance, employers, IRA providers, and more. Many take this opportunity to pull together scattered pieces of their financial life. While you’re at it, consider collecting everything not only for the accountant, but also for your family. The Notebook is a vital reference for your loved ones, just in case you’re not around, or not able, to do it yourself. If you already have a Notebook, now is a good time to review it.

One way to keep the notebook updated is to check each tax statement and match it up with a corresponding account in the notebook. Perhaps you forgot about those I-bonds you bought back in December on Treasury Direct. Better add that account to the Notebook. All those deductions for insurance from your employer – would someone know how to access the insurance companies if needed? That contact info is a good update for the notebook too.

What Goes in the Notebook?

In essence, the Notebook is a central place you keep stuff in case something happens to you. Many people have some kind of a notebook or desk drawer, but often have a few items missing.

Common and essential items in the Notebook include:

  • Your five basic estate planning documents: original will (drafted by an attorney in the state where you reside), living will, health care surrogate, durable power of attorney, and HIPAA designations.
  • Advanced estate planning documents: trusts, partnership agreements, business buy/sell agreements, shareholder agreements, etc.
  • Insurance policies. ALL of them: life, long term care, health, property, car, boat, liability, and any others.
  • Contact information for professional advisers: attorneys, bankers, accountants, investment advisers, insurance agents, and (of course) your Certified Financial Planner™.
  • Also, if your adviser has an assistant or paraprofessional who knows you and your situation, write down their contact information and a little note to that effect. (“Sharon is the assistant and she runs the whole place.”).
  • All of your health care providers – doctors, dentist, optometrist, veterinarian (who is going to take care of Fluffy?). Put similar information by each one – what they helped you with and if any office or nursing staff know you and your history.
  • Important to remember also, directions on how to find your financial stuff: digital password manager, online user ids and passwords, bank statements, investment accounts, real estate deeds and mortgages.

Extra Items for the Notebook

In addition, not-as-essential items some people include are:

  • An “ethical will” outlining your values. This often gives family members guidance when they are unsure what you would want. Writer Susan Turnbull’s book, The Wealth of Your Life, can help guide you through this process.
  • An end-of-life health care management booklet, like Five Wishes.
  • An Aging Plan – describing your wishes for the potential time of life when you may need assistance with activities of daily living, transportation, and housing transitions.

Think of your Notebook as a bread crumb trail helping your loved ones work backward in your footsteps. A little extra investment of time at tax season will be worth the effort.

Got a Notebook already? Comment below on what makes it uniquely yours. Share your best ideas.

For more on this topic, see The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future. Or to schedule a call to talk about Notebooks and staying organized, schedule a call.

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch."

Leave a Reply