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With the storm damage Coosa and other Alabama counties experienced this month, it should be apparent why we all need to make sure we have our personal affairs in order. Thank God Coosa County did not have any deaths; the injuries and devastation were plenty for any of us to handle.
Many of our churches, restaurants, fire departments, and neighbors stepped up by preparing and distributing meals, offering shelter and providing places for emergency workers and neighbors to gather.
In addition, our volunteer fire departments from all over the county responded with equipment and personnel to clear roads and provide emergency medical care. Alabama Power and the Central Alabama Electric Cooperative personnel did a fantastic job to restore power to everyone.
I am not going to attempt to list those churches, businesses, fire departments, or individuals who responded because there were many. I know I would miss many of them and do not want to slight anyone. Instead, I express my sincere and deep appreciation to all who helped in any shape, form, or fashion.
I communicated with a lot of people between 2 p.m. Thursday (January 12) and 1 p.m. Friday when the phone calls, text messages and emails started to slow. State Rep. Ben Robbins called immediately after the storm to offer any assistance we felt he could provide. Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s office was calling, texting and emailing throughout the night and early morning to gather facts as the senator and staff worked at the federal level to obtain disaster relief for the Alabama counties impacted.
I say all of this to give you an idea of how Coosa Countians responded and organized during this emergency and what was happening behind the scenes.
Now to the point. We should readily realize we need listings/copies of important documents in more than one place. Preferably one of those places will be a bank safe deposit box. Too often we take our important documents and stick them in our desk drawers or maybe in a shoe box or old briefcase under the bed. What happens when the desk or bed is blown away or burned?
While you can readily see from this recent devastation, now would be an excellent time to conduct a review of your personal affairs. The following are some things you may want to consider copying or listing on paper.
Do you have all your insurance (health, life, auto, homeowners, etc.) policy numbers and policies in a place you could access them if you lost your home? What about a listing of credit card numbers with phone numbers to call for replacement cards if needed?
What is your driver license number? What is your Social Security number? When are automobile tags due? Do you have a listing of your vehicle identification numbers? Do you have a listing of medications you will need immediately or must take daily? That is a lot to remember, but this only scratches the surface.
Do you have a listing of your financial institutions (all banks, credit unions, investments) and the accounts by type? Do you have an up-to-date will, advance directive/living will (in case you are unable to make medical decisions)? What about prenuptial/marriage agreements, birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, military separation documents (DD-214), Medicare cards, death certificates you may need of close family members, passports, employee benefit documents, check books, investments, bonds, retirement accounts, tax documents, deeds, trusts, and sources of all income?
Is your head hurting yet? How many of you have all this information in your head and can readily provide it? Not me. Sometimes I have problems remembering what I had for breakfast. But even if you could remember all this information, what happens if you are incapacitated? Can someone else find/access these items in an emergency?
Compile your list and conduct a review of the items to make sure they are up to date. Does your will reflect your current wishes? If you have an advance directive/living will, is your listed proxy the person you trust to make decisions regarding your life? Review your life insurance policies. Make sure to account for each policy and ensure the beneficiary information is correct. Is the policy a paid-up policy or must you continue paying the premiums?
Have you provided a Power of Attorney (PoA) to anyone? If so, is it still needed or should you revoke it and accomplish a new PoA?
Review all bank accounts. Are you the only person on the account? If not, should the other person continue to have access? If you are incapacitated, does someone have access to obtain emergency funds for you or pay your debts? Do you have deceased persons listed on any accounts? If so, consider removing them in case someone steals their identity.
Are you entitled to military benefits of any kind? What agency needs to be notified in case of your death? Make a note to whoever might oversee your affairs to check with the local Veterans Affairs representative to determine any benefits to which you are entitled or if your surviving spouse might be eligible for benefits.
Do you have investments or retirement accounts? In the event of your death, do you want those accounts to become a part of your estate, or should you take action to allow them to pass outside of your estate? Do you have a Transfer on Death (TOD) Beneficiary listed? If so, is that information accurate or should it be changed?
If you have property deeds, do the deeds have survivability clauses to pass the property to someone at your passing? If so, that property will pass to the survivor the moment you depart this life. Is it someone you want to receive the property or have circumstances changed since you acquired the deed?
Do you have a guardian and/or conservator? If not, is your health getting to the point it might be a wise idea for you to appoint someone? Do you need assistance making medical decisions as they relate to your person? Is the checkbook getting a little too cumbersome for you to keep updated? These are things to think about and make decisions about while you are able.
List and copy as needed your important documents so either you or someone else acting on your behalf has access to them. Place them in safe places. Plan so you can have influence over your estate. Take action now to make sure you or your survivors have the information necessary in the event of an emergency or death.
As always, the information I provide is meant to inform and not to advise. If you have legal questions, contact an attorney. No person should ever apply or interpret any law without the aid of an attorney who analyzes the facts. If you have questions regarding investments, contact a fund’s manager. Until next month; stay safe, take care, and God bless!