The tasks of an executor may sometimes seem overwhelming — so many details, so many documents, so much work to be done. I’m going to show you a system to help get the overwhelming details under control. This is a filing system that you can use to organize the materials and information that you have and that you collect throughout the process. This will allow you to have everything that you need handy not only for your use, but also for your accountant, attorney, or other professional.
I suggest starting with putting together the physical elements of the organizing system by getting a box of manila folders (not hanging folders) and a portable filing box. At the front of the box, you will want to put an index. This will be a document that you can either handwrite or type out on the computer that is a list of all of the documents contained in the box, or the locations of documents that are too voluminous to fit in the box.
We are going to organize the box by numbering files instead of alphabetizing. This serves a few purposes: one is it’s simpler and easier to organize and keep track of because as you acquire new documents, you can just add it to the end of the sections; and two, you don’t have to remember exactly how you alphabetized a particular item, whether it was ‘C’ for car or ‘A’ for automobile or ‘T’ for truck.
We are going to organize things into large categories by the hundreds digit. That will allow a hundred documents underneath it. Which, under the vast majority of circumstances, is more than sufficient. Here are the six categories that we will use:
- 100s — Real Estate
- 200s — Stocks, Bonds and Investments
- 300s — Bank Information
- 400s — Insurance
- 500s — Miscellaneous
- 600s — Income Tax
Under the Real Estate heading, for example, the information about your home may be labeled ‘101- home.’ Write that on the tab of the file that you put the documents into and on the index sheet that goes at the front of the box. If you have a rent house, that might be 102, etc.
In the 200s, for Stocks, Bonds and Investments, put each type or account in a different folder, labeled and matching the index page. Do the same with 300s for each bank account.
For Miscellaneous, this is where we will put other important information. These are some of the things that you may want to include: birth certificates, marriage licenses, copies of estate planning documents, social security information, and divorce papers.
For the 600s, Income Tax, make a file for each year with the income tax documents for that year. 601 might be this past year and 602 the year before that, etc.
With each file numbered and placed in the sequential order in your box, and the index in the front, it will be very quick and easy to find information and very easy to dump new information materials into your system as you acquire them.