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This article was first published in the second-quarter 2012 editon of Personal Finance magazine
A life skill that escapes many of us is that of organising important personal documents and accounts. Think filing cabinets, concertina files or even lever-arch files. The tech-savvy store their personal folders on a computer, while the diligent put theirs on an external hard drive.
How quickly and easily could you, or a family member, track down your vital documents? If your bank cards, passport or cellphone were stolen, would you be able to trace the details?
If you run your own business, do you have a record of its structure and other essential information that your next of kin could access should something happen to you?
Do you have a record of your health conditions and their treatment? In an emergency, could your family relay to a healthcare professional your health status?
If you are aware of this dilemma and mean to do something about it, MyLifetimeTracker – a series of personal and business record-keeping templates that will guide you in collecting, copying and storing your vital statistics – could be heaven-sent.
The templates have been made available online at www.mylifetimetracker.co.za by Jenny Shields, a Knysna resident with hard-won experience. She was unable to lay her hands on vital information on four separate and traumatic occasions: when expected to look after her elderly parents; during her own and her husband’s illnesses; and after a late-in-life divorce.
The first five modules of templates – covering vital information about your life today, your health, your assets, your home and the information you would want your heirs to know – can be purchased from the site for R280.
Once bought, they can be downloaded in PDF format to your computer, where you can complete them in your own time. Then you can print them, copy them or share them, or simply store the documents somewhere safe.
You must, of course, be mindful of the security risks of recording all your personal information in this way and be sure that the documents are stored securely. It may be worth considering a website dedicated to storing valuable documents – an online safety deposit box. This column, in the second-quarter 2011 edition of Personal Finance, looked at some of these safety deposit boxes, including a South African option, Webvault (www.webvault.co.za).
Shields notes that if you store the MyLifetime-Tracker documents in an online vault, you can access your vital information from a smartphone or other mobile device wherever you are in the world.
The first of the five MyLifetimeTracker modules, Living Today, is the most important. Here you can record details about your family members; identity numbers; contact numbers; and the location, reference numbers and expiry dates (if applicable) of documents such as birth certificates, passports, property title deeds, tax documents, hire purchase agreements, municipal accounts, valuations of valuables and even the location of spare keys.
There is a section in which you can record your next of kin, where your will is located and documents that may be required in the event of your death, such as consent for an organ and/or tissue donation, guardian arrangements for your children, a power of attorney or a living will, and funeral arrangements. You will also be prompted to complete details of your employment, your employment benefits and entitlements.
Next there is a section in which you can record your bank account details and any debit orders, stop orders and loan repayments. This could greatly assist anyone trying to sort out your affairs after your death or if you are incapacitated in some way.
A section dedicated to property enables you to record your property registration, purchase and financing details, as well as who is in possession of the title deeds.
One of the Living Today templates enables you to summarise your insurance policies, including the policy numbers, the monthly payments, the estimated cover, the beneficiaries and where the policies are located, as well as details of the contact person, such as a financial adviser or broker, for each policy.
The Living Today module has a brief medical section, in which you can record your medical scheme, the names of doctors and specialists, as well as the blood groups and allergies of each member of your family. You can also record the medicines you take.
There is a page you can use in the event of an emergency and one you can take to hospital when you are admitted for a procedure.
The third module, Caring for Your Life, allows you to record your medical history in greater detail – operations, allergies, pregnancies and inoculations, and the doctors you have used.
The second module, called Creating Lifetime Value, prompts you to record some more details about your employment, such as those relating to your retirement fund.
The templates in this module for recording details about your motor vehicle and a brief summary of your interests in a business entity could prove useful.
You can fill in a template that records any contracts, such as rental agreements, partnership agreements and guarantees.
There is a section relating to your taxes, where you can record your taxpayer registration number (tax file number), assessment dates and provisional tax dates. Your next of kin and the executor of your estate will probably appreciate it if you also record the status of any tax returns due or filed.
It would also be useful if you could record the location of tax documents and your eFiling details.
Capital gains made early in a tax year are often hard to recall more than year later when you complete your return, and it would be useful if the tracker enabled you to record these.
Next in the Creating Lifetime Value module is a template for recording “Stocks, shares, debentures and bonds”. There is no mention here of what should probably be the first choices in discretionary investments, unit trusts and exchange traded funds, but that should not stop you from recording these.
You can record the number of shares or units, the cost of each and the total cost, together with the dates on which they were bought and sold. This information could be helpful when you report your capital gains for tax purposes – remember, however, that you would need to record the quantity, cost and total cost on both acquisition and disposal.
This module has a page for offshore assets, including bank accounts, property and investments.
Shields suggests you complete the net worth statement in this module each year, because it could be useful when you apply for a loan and for ensuring you have sufficient assets to make the bequests you have listed in your will.
There is another insurance summary and a template for recording short-term property insurance, but you could probably do with a comprehensive list of all your short-term insurance cover.
The last template in this module is for recording precious items, such as carpets, clocks, silverware and furniture, and their provenance and hallmarks. In this way, you can record the history of items of which family members may not be aware or which they have forgotten.
The fourth module, Homemaking, includes templates for recording details about your home, such as the dimensions of rooms, contractors you have used, suppliers, and guarantees for fixtures and fittings, as well as a checklist for when you move home.
Completing the final module, Leaving a Footprint, will assist your family should you become ill or injured and unable to speak for yourself, or when you die.
There is an outline for a general power of attorney, a specimen living will or an advanced health directive, where you state your wishes with regard to medical care should you be unable to, and an organ or tissue donation directive.
There is a simple table for calculating the liquidity of your estate, which could enable you to ensure that assets will not have to sold off to pay your estate’s liabilities after you die.
A list of steps you should take following a death could assist your surviving family members or you in the event of a death in the family.
There are some tips for leaving guidelines for guardians and for recording your preferred funeral arrangements. There is also a list of documents the executor of your estate will require and a list of duties of an executor.
Shields says that stating your wishes before you die can not only alleviate stress during times of bereavement but also possible family conflict.
There is a template for recording any trusts you have set up, with the details of the property in the trust and the trustees’ contact details.
The biggest challenge for those of us with the best intentions will be finding the time to fill in all the information. Shields says the Living Today templates are the most important, and the rest can be completed as and when you can.
She is talking to financial services companies and financial advisers, who may be your biggest allies in organising your paperwork. Your adviser has much information about you, and a great service he or she could offer would be to populate the templates on your behalf. The job of tracking your life would then be a whole lot easier.