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The Plain English Attorney

We’ve asked Karen Allen, who holds a BA in Psychology, and an MBA in Change Management and Planning, to write an article pertaining to keeping vital documents organized. She is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), Life Documents Organizer, and Health Information Organizer. She holds certificates in Chronic Disorganization and is a Notary Public for the State of North Carolina.

I once asked a client: of all the things on your to-do list, is there one that’s keeping you up at night? Her answer – I’m afraid that if something happens to me, no one will be able to find the important personal information they’ll need to manage the situation on my behalf.  Most of us give little consideration, and less time, to organizing our personal and vital documents and information. A vital document is anything that contains important information about how you manage your life. A “few” examples might include:

  1.  Family members
  2.  Close friends
  3.  Attorneys
  4.  Doctors
  5.  Financial Advisors
  6.  Insurance Agents
  7.  Veterinarians
  1.  Bank Branch and manager
  2.  Account list and account numbers, including checking, saving, investments, loans, bill pay, etc.
  3.  Life and property insurance policies
  4.  Safe deposit boxes, keys, and keyholders
  1.  Medical records and contacts
  2.  Health Insurance company, policy numbers and contacts
  3.  Current list of prescriptions
  4.  Immunization records
  1.  Social Security number
  2.  Passports
  3.  Military Service Records
  4.  Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Advanced Healthcare directives
  5.  Tax returns and preparer names
  6. Computer access user names and passwords
  7. Online account user names, passwords, and security questions

As I said, just a “few”……and here are the disturbing facts:

What’s so hard about organizing this information?  Well, it’s boring. It takes more time than we think we have.  We think we have the information, but we are not sure where it is – it could be in a desk drawer, a shoebox, a computer, the back of a closet, or under the bed.  Everyday demands take precedence over concern for the long term.

None of those are good excuses.  In our complex society we, and those responsible for us, need to know how to access and put this information to work for us.

So, what does it mean to be prepared? Being prepared means:

You don’t want to wait until the moment when the need arises.  A friend decided that she was going to get her affairs in order.  She was young – 49 – but it was just something she wanted to do.  Less than a year later she called: “I have gastric cancer.”  She appointed her brother with powers of attorney, so her family and boyfriend could be with her… not running around trying to figure out her affairs before she died.  She signed her own Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) form on her way to the stretcher that would take her to hospice where she died shortly after.

I work to help you identify, collect and organize required documents, and to research lost, overlooked, and missing data. I work hand in hand with professional agents – including attorneys, accountants, executors, doctors, financial advisors, and insurance companies – on behalf of you, their clients.

Here’s an Emergency Evacuation “Grab and Go” List:

_____ Select your “Grab & Go” system. It should be portable, durable, waterproof/water-resistant and fireproof/fire-resistant. Important papers should be sealed in waterproof bags, or within a system that is waterproof.

Karen can be reached by phone: 919-345-8997 or email:

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