What Information Does My Family Need in an Emergency?

“Knowledge is power.” This old adage is true in many circumstances, but potentially none more important than when responding to an emergency involving the health of a loved one. Having access to information – regarding medical history, available benefits, assets, bills, important contacts, etc.– can make or break a family’s ability to support each other in a crisis. Taking the time while the sun is shining to gather important information, and to ensure accessibility of that information by appropriate individuals, can greatly increase efforts to respond to a future storm.

What Information Should Be Gathered?

In order to ensure that trusted family members and/or friends have the information they need to step-in and help effectively when it would be helpful or necessary, the following information should be readily available:

  • Original estate planning documents: The legal authority family members and friends have to assist in an emergency situation is granted by the formal estate planning documents (e.g., Trusts, Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Advance Medical Directives). As a result, it is critical to ensure that such documents are readily accessible.
  • Skeletal List of Assets: In order to ensure that bills can be paid and finances can be managed, it is import to document the landscape of financial assets/accounts, including:
    • Location of checking/savings/brokerage/retirement accounts, etc.
    • Information regarding health/life/long-term care insurance policies
  • Roster of Important Contacts: It will be important for the individuals stepping-in to help to be able to connect with various resources, including:
    • Professional advisors (e.g., CPA, financial advisors, estate planning attorney, etc.)
    • Medical professionals
    • Other family members and friends
  • Letter of Guidance to Decision-Makers & Family Members: Any specific wishes in connection with the following issues should be clearly documented:
    • Medical care
    • Management of financial affairs
    • Funeral arrangements
    • Cremation/burial arrangements
    • Desired disposition of items of tangible personal property

Where Should this Information be Stored?

In order to preserve the security of the information and to ensure that it is easily accessible when needed, care should be taken when selecting the location(s) in which it is stored. Consideration should be given to the following:

  • Original estate planning documents (e.g., Trusts, Wills, Powers of Attorney and Advance Medical Directives) should be stored in a secure location, such as a safety deposit box or fireproof safe.
  • Copies of the estate planning documents, as well as the other information listed above, can be:
    • Delivered to the individuals who will be stepping-in to help in an emergency (e.g., individuals listed in the estate planning documents)
    • Stored in a central location accessible to the individuals who will be stepping in to help in an emergency
    • Kept safe by a third party instructed to release the information to the proper individuals in an emergency
    • Stored electronically (e.g., cloud-based storage solution)

Taking time to proactively and deliberately gather and store critical information, and ensuring accessibility of that content, can enable family members and friends to feel empowered and in control in what otherwise could feel like a helpless situation. Do not delay – do it today.


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Dan Vaughan, Esq., is a Principal with Vaughan, Fincher & Sotelo, a firm dedicated to providing comprehensive estate planning solutions to individuals, couples and families in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Recognized as one of the leading trusts and estates attorneys in the Washington Metropolitan area in Washingtonian magazine and Northern Virginia magazine, Dan’s practice centers on incapacity protection, probate avoidance, distribution planning and estate tax planning.

visit http://www.vfspc.com/
Kathi Ayers, Esq., is a Principal with Vaughan, Fincher & Sotelo, a firm dedicated to providing comprehensive estate planning solutions to individuals, couples and families in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Recognized as one of the leading trusts and estates attorneys in the Washington Metropolitan area in Super Lawyers, Kathi’s practice centers on incapacity protection, probate avoidance, distribution planning and estate tax planning.

visit http://www.vfspc.com/