Several years ago, my friend George needed to locate the document naming him health care power of attorney for his gravely ill father, who was unable to make decisions about his own care. His dad frequently told the family that all the important documents were housed in their safety deposit box. Unfortunately, when George went to retrieve what was required, the bank wouldn’t grant him access since he wasn’t named as an account holder. Ultimately, George managed to track down their retired family attorney who executed the documents to obtain the copy he retained. However, the entire family dealt with that unnecessary hassle and extra stress instead of being at the bedside of their ill father.
Dealing with a loved one facing a serious medical problem is incredibly stressful; the last thing anyone wants to do is spend time tracking down legal documents—but many people find themselves in just this situation. Instead of spending precious time with their loved ones, they end up searching through decades of paperwork looking for a single document that may not even be updated.
A recent New York Times article by Ron Lieber provided a long list of financial documents everyone should keep handy in order to avoid a similar scenario. At Balentine, we believe digital vaults are an attractive option for maintaining this information, and we help our clients consolidate their important records as part of our financial planning process. Not only can clients securely upload critical digital files, they can securely share specific information with trusted advisors and family. That way, when a document is needed, it is easily accessible and alleviates undue stress.
Traditional documents you might keep in a safety deposit box are ideal for storing digitally, including:
- estate plan, including wills, trusts, and related documents
- financial powers of attorney
- healthcare powers of attorney and advanced directives
- insurance policies
We encourage clients to upload beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and tax returns, including related supporting information such as W2’s and copies of deductible expenses (e.g., charitable contribution receipts). Our planning portal’s mobile app allows you to use your cell phone’s camera to upload images of passports, drivers’ licenses, and birth certificates.
Vaults are not only useful for practical, legal information, but they can be used for sentimental purposes, as well. Some clients have documented their philosophy of wealth and written letters to family only to be opened upon their death, while others have provided letters of instruction for their children’s guardians. You can even upload photos or videos of your home’s contents, including antiques, art, jewelry, and other valuable items.
Finally, important investment records such as old cost basis information should be added, especially if your assets have moved custodians.
While some might view the effort to consolidate this information a burden, it is important to consider the monumental task ahead for your family should you not be around to help. We like to provide our clients a checklist to help identify information that should be consolidated and secured digitally.
Thankfully, George’s father’s health improved, and his family used the experience as a wake-up call to get serious about organizing his financial affairs. They are now better prepared to deal with another health scare or his eventual death.
At Balentine, simplifying our clients’ financial lives doesn’t just mean helping to reduce the complexity of their investment portfolio. Instead, we aim to provide peace of mind for both our clients and their families so that they can focus on what matters most—time with loved ones.
 Strongly consider adding whomever has financial power of attorney as an account holder to your safety deposit box.