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will confusion be your legacy?

Leave a Lasting Impact on Your Loved Ones

by Norma Jackson Goldman


NO ONE WOULD EVER intentionally set out to leave behind confusion as his or her legacy. Yet many otherwise responsible people do just that by failing to maintain up-to-date, accessible file containing information to be used by family members following their deaths.  Most people intend to take care of such matters later.  But too often, later never comes.

The very act of creating such a file becomes an important source of information for the present—as well as for the future, and is integral to retirement plans.  It is as much a part of faithful stewardship as paying the light bill on time.  Let’s look for a moment at what this all-important file should contain.  For discussion purposes, we will call it a “green file,” an appropriate color signifying life both in the present, and for the believer, abundant life in the future.

First, we’ll list essential items to be placed in the green file, and then we’ll discuss the more important considerations for certain items.

  • A copy of your will or will substitute (such as a Living Trust),  for both husband and wife, if married;

  • The title and/or mortgage information for your dwelling and any other properties you own;

  • Medical power of attorney for the person designated to make decisions about health options if you become incapacitated;

  • A copy of your Living Will (give a copy to your primary care physician, plus one or more family members);

  • Life insurance policy(s) information (company, amounts, mailing addresses, beneficiaries);

  • Personal property disposal list (this is the single most common cause of family conflict.  Avoid this by spelling out how these items are to be distributed);

  • Title or evidence of liens on all automobiles;

  • A complete list of assets (with location spelled out) to include stocks, bonds, savings and checking accounts, retirement accounts);

  • A complete list of liabilities (loans, mortgages or other indebtedness);

  • Social Security card; Medicare card, or other documentation (military records);

  • Burial information (location and deed to plot, pre-paid insurance, funeral instructions).

The first and most important consideration is your will.  Fifty-percent of Americans die without one, leaving important decisions in the hands of the state in which they reside. There can be no excuse for a Christian to be irresponsible in the matter of a will, even if assets and liabilities are meager.  In making a will, the need to make many other related decisions becomes apparent and provides opportunities for family members to discuss potentially uncomfortable matters.  Review your will every 2-3 years, or at the time of major life changes, updating as necessary.

A living will and medical power of attorney run a very close second in terms of importance.  None of us likes to think about becoming disabled or seriously ill, but the possibility is there.  Save your family members from heartache, anxiety and confusion by letting them know exactly what you want done should you become incapacitated or terminally ill.

Gathering insurance documents in one place creates an opportunity to check on coverage and beneficiaries. I recently discovered that an old policy, bought for business insurance purposes, had a business partner listed.  I requested and filed a change of beneficiary form to reflect my current status, naming my children as beneficiaries.

Finally, the gathering of documents pushes us to rethink our priorities, to simplify our lives, and to set new goals.  It affords the opportunity to discuss future plans with family members and to ease their minds about the planning we’ve done to prepare for life’s uncertainties. Creating a green file may be one of the most loving things you can do for your family today, and for your future peace of mind.

Former magazine editor Norma Jackson Goldman enjoys a free-lance career in her retirement. She lives in Nashville, TN.







©2005 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists