Organizational checklist with background of bank envelopes in the trash

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People often forget to keep their important papers in order. Disorganization can rob you of the chance to react quickly in critical or important moments. Disorganization can lead to serious errors after your death or if someone is helping you manage your business during a health crisis.

We thought about organization issues and came up with these 10 tips to help people manage important records and papers:

1.          If you buy land, be sure to get and keep a recorded copy of your deed (the document that transfers real estate ownership). Every real estate transfer becomes complete when the deed from the seller to the buyer is recorded in the Recorder’s office of the county where the real estate is located. Title companies often give real estate purchasers unrecorded copies of deeds at closing, but those copies do not show the recording information. It sometimes takes a few days after closing for a deed to be recorded and scanned by the Recorder, but you should follow up with the title company or the County Recorder’s office to get a recorded copy of the deed within two weeks after closing.

2.         If you sell a piece of your land be sure to have it surveyed by a top-quality surveyor (do not scrimp on this item), and be sure to get and keep recorded copies (bearing the Recorder’s stamp) of the survey and your deed to your buyer after it is recorded so your attorney and family can figure out what you still own.

3.         If you sign a lease for coal, oil, gas, or natural resources, be sure to get and keep a recorded copy (bearing the Recorder’s stamp) of your lease documents after they are recorded so we can identify what restrictions the lease may impose on you later.

4.         Make sure that both you and your spouse know all of your financial and legal details so that neither of you in the as a confused and bewildered surviving spouse after one of you dies. Clueless surviving spouses are heartbreaking creatures.

5.         Give some basic information now to the primary and secondary people that you intend to manage your financial and legal business in a health crisis or after your death. A little heads up about your financial and legal details now will enable them to do a much better job than if they have to figure it out on their own.

6.        Review your estate plan with a qualified estate planning attorney at least once every five years to ensure that your plan is up to date.

7.        If you want to change your estate plan, do it now – while you still have the ability to change it.

8.        Keep all of your important papers in a well-organized place and inform your attorney, accountant, and future legal representatives (often your spouse or children) of the documents’ location.

9.        Have a qualified estate planning attorney make a will if you own assets in your individual name.

10.        Have a qualified estate planning attorney make a power of attorney for you if you have a spouse, children, or others that you can trust to manage your affairs if you become disabled.

These tips will not solve all of your family’s future problems, but they can avoid some big headaches.

Jeff R. Hawkins and Jennifer J. Hawkins are Trust & Estate Specialty Board Certified Indiana Trust & Estate Lawyers and active members of the Indiana State Bar Association and National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Both lawyers are admitted to practice law in Indiana, and Jeff Hawkins is admitted to practice law in Illinois. Jeff is also a registered civil mediator, a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the Indiana Bar Foundation;  a member of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Indiana Association of Mediators; and he was the 2014-15 President of the Indiana State Bar Association.

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