Are personal papers REALLY in order?
For the entire 61 years of my parent’s marriage, their copy of the marriage license had the wrong date on it. (Jump to Lessons Learned)
Proving that my mother had the right to anything in my father’s name: Social Security spousal benefits, retirement funds, even changing the electric and gas bill into her name required not only a copy of the death certificate but a copy of their marriage license. Getting a corrected copy was a high priority.
Dad realized the date was wrong about 15 years prior to his death. Despite a trip back to their hometown, the cost for a new license, and waiting on the state to update it, the copy sent back to us still showed the wrong date.
Two days after we buried my father, I found myself back in their home town sitting across from the Registrar for Vital Statistics. We discovered that the township registry had the corrected date, but it had been written incorrectly onto the copy sent to my parents. I was able to leave that day with a valid marriage license and have used it many times.
- Birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses, property deeds, discharge papers, insurance policies and wills are personal documents that you need to know how to access and should double-check are correct. Before they are needed.
- Different agencies require an original death certificate; other’s will take a copy. On the advice of the funeral director we bought 10 for $120.00 and still have 6 of the originals.
- When you call an agency like Social Security, the chances of your speaking with a live person are slim. If you can’t wait, take advantage of the ability to leave your phone number. They do call you back.
- Don’t underestimate the amount of time phone calls will take or the number of call backs required.
- When your parents purchased a life insurance policy or annuity, or set up a medical savings account, an IRA, a 401(k), or another type of retirement plan, they filled out a beneficiary form. The beneficiary they named for each of these assets will inherit it when they die, regardless of what their will says! Double check that they want the same beneficiaries today.
- First look in the insurance policy or annuity for beneficiary forms, many companies staple a copy inside. For a medical savings account or retirement plan, look over the papers they received when they set up the plan; the beneficiary designation could be a separate form or simply a section within a longer form.
- If your parents want to change their beneficiary or you can’t find the form, they need to contact their insurance company, employer, or the financial institution that administers their retirement plan.
- If you have durable financial power-of-attorney, make sure your name is registered with all these companies as an alternate. This allows the insurance company, retirement plan etc. to legally speak with you. It typically requires a letter or they may have a form with a simple statement naming you as someone granted authority to speak with them. It should contain your address and relationship to the owner. It must be signed by your parent(s).
Note: The older your parents are, the more it is likely that their birth certificate will have a different date on it than the one you have been celebrating. Births in the home attended by a mid-wife were typically not recorded with the county until days after a birth. Multiple births in a short time frame resulted in wrong dates being registered and even incorrect names.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.
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