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The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die (Wall Street Journal)

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As multiple states continue to investigate whether some of the country’s largest insurers have failed to pay out unclaimed life insurance benefits to beneficiaries, the rationale for carefully planning your death dossier has become critically clear. Most experts recommend creating a comprehensive folder of documents that family members can access in case of an emergency, so they aren’t left scrambling to find and organize a hodgepodge of disparate bank accounts, insurance policies and brokerage accounts. That isn’t to say you should keep everything, however. Sometimes people hold onto so many papers that loved ones can’t find the important ones easily. Aside from a will, what are the essentials? Saabira Chaudhuri recommends keeping a letter of instruction, which helps ensure your executor has the names and contact information of attorneys, accountants and financial advisors; documentation of housing and land ownership, cemetary plots, vehicles, stock certificates, and savings bonds; tax returns from the past three years; and copies of life insurance policies and retirement accounts.