Page 14 - FSJ June 2012

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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U N E 2 0 1 2
pecialized online tools have re-
moved the need to travel with a
briefcase crammed with impor-
tant financial, estate planning and other
documents. Still, maintaining key re-
cords can pose a real challenge for For-
eign Service personnel when they
transfer to new posts, as many
readers will do this summer.
Dependable access to financial
documents, always important, be-
comes even more critical in situations
like robbery, death, incapacity or ill-
ness. I still recall what ensued after a
well-known FSO of my acquaintance
passed away unexpectedly one even-
ing almost a decade ago, leaving no fi-
nancial records whatsoever for his for-
eign-born spouse. Making matters
worse, he had never even discussed
money matters with her.
Because his financial accounts were
scattered all over the United States, it
took several of us more than a year of
digging to locate all his life insurance
policies, investments and bank ac-
counts. We ultimately found that he
had provided well for his widow and
young children. However, in the in-
terim she suffered greatly, fearing the
In this column, I first identify some
of the key documents that establish
the foundation of the financial plan-
ning framework for your future. I
then review options for maintaining
those records in a secure environment
where they are not only accessible,
but also easy to update.
Types of Records to Keep
Situations like the one the Foreign
Service widow experienced can be
avoided with appropriate planning and
a small investment of time and money.
The first step is to determine which
documents are important and, then,
how long they should be held.
The possible list is long and includes
such obvious things as annual tax
records, numbers of bank and financial
accounts, insurance documents, wills,
powers of attorney, etc.
Fortunately, several guides are avail-
able to help separate the essential from
what should be shredded and tossed.
These include IRS Publication 552:
Recordkeeping for Individuals
and the
USAA Educational Foundation’s
aging Your Personal Records
. Alter-
natively, consult with your financial
planner and ask for help in reviewing
your records from time to time.
Each person’s situation is different,
but key documents to retain are the fol-
Estate planning documents.
These include wills, trusts, powers of
attorney and medical directives. If
you do not have them, get them. If
you do have them, ensure they are up
to date and still relevant to your situ-
Financial accounts.
Maintain a
list with the name of the firm, contact
information and account number. Do
not rely on your memory alone. In-
clude banks, credit unions, investment
firms, financial planners, retirement
plans, and insurance (life, long-term
care, medical, auto and property). For-
tunately, most financial institutions
maintain online statements that are
easily accessible, obviating the need to
keep paper records.
Final instructions.
No one likes to
think about their own death and the
subsequent arrangements. But leaving
guidance for surviving family members
or colleagues will save them a great
amount of stress. The instructions
should also include a list of people to
contact in the event of one’s death.
Legal documents.
Consider what
is important in your situation and in-
clude it in your records. You should
keep birth certificates, property deeds
and titles, death certificates, driver’s li-
Personal Record-Keeping in the Foreign Service
H. T
Peace of mind comes
from keeping
financial documents
up to date, storing
them securely and
letting someone
know where
they are.