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August 19, 2009

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If you died, would people know where to find your stuff?

A question from a reader over at Bankrate:

"My sister was recently killed in an accident. She may have life insurance, safety deposit boxes, 401(k) and other accounts or assets. All her records of these accounts were in a bag that cannot be found. Where and how do I begin looking?"

A sad, and all-too-common, story. Per usual, Bankrate's Dr. Don has some good advice (which you can read here). 

The question for you, dear CAPS blog reader, is: What would happen if you joined that Great Tax Shelter in the Sky? Would your relatives be able to locate your important paperwork, accounts, and trusted professionals? 

If not, create a document with the following information:

*Insurance policies
*Investment and bank accounts
*Location of safety deposit boxes, safes, or other hidden/secure places, with info on how to access them
*Names of lawyer, accountant, and financial advisor (if you use such folks)
*Will, powers of attorney, health-care directive, and other legal documents
*Final wishes and arrangements

Obviously, you don't want to leave this in the bathroom for recreational reading. Put it somewhere hidden, but tell a couple of trusted souls where to find it. When my wife and I flew to China to adopt our daughter, we kept a copy in our house and one elsewhere (I'm not telling, because it's still there), and told one family member and one colleague where to find them if we didn't make it back. Luckily, we did (I'm sure you're dying to see pictures.)

If you don't have a will, you might want to start there by seeing a qualified estate-planning attorney in your state. He/she/it might be able to help with the rest by giving some advice about how to document what you own and where to put it so it can be found by your family if they need it.

Robert Brokamp is the senior advisor for The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement service.