Reprinted with permission from No-Debt Living, copyright 2000 No-Debt Living. Robert Frank is editor of No-Debt Living, www.nodebtnews.com, which provides financial, consumer and time-management news with a Christian perspective.

Jeff Camp, a graphic designer from Spokane, Wash., was stunned when his 69-year-old father, a robust wheat farmer, was diagnosed with liver cancer. The doctors were hopeful that the disease could be arrested through chemotherapy. The rigorous treatments began immediately and Jeff's father moved in with him and his family. Despite all efforts, however, Ralph Camp died five weeks later.
From the beginning, Jeff soon found himself overwhelmed. Not only did he have a graphic design business to run and a family to take care of, he now was challenged with finding the necessary documents and information to manage his father's estate that included a large wheat ranch located 90 miles away, farming equipment, a house, a car, medical and life insurance and much more. In addition, he needed to work with several family members to arrange his father's funeral.
To say the least, the weeks were stressful and emotionally charged as Camp also tried to deal with the fact that his father was gone.

WHAT IF YOU WERE LEFT IN CHARGE?
Imagine for a moment that a close relative suddenly died and you were left in charge. Immediately the question arises: Is there a will or instructions telling you what should be done?
Once that document is found, the thing you need most is a file or log telling you where you can find key papers and certificates, what creditors need to be paid, who that person's attorney and insurance agents are, and more.
Being named an executor is certainly an honor. However, it is also a tremendous amount of work. Even after 15 months, Camp was working to settle his father's estate.

A TOOL TO HELP
To help people avoid many of the same challenges and pitfalls, Camp has designed a new product titled "LifeFile," which acts as a roadmap to a person's financial, health and personal records. True to his nature, he did a lot of homework, talking with attorneys, insurance agents, stock brokers, bankers and more. The result is a thoughtful, thorough, inexpensive product that should be a necessity for any adult.
"To some degree, I was fortunate," Camp said. "I had about a month to talk with my father, to pay bills and to begin to get a handle on his business and personal affairs. Not everyone has that.
"Even when you're in a circumstance like that, you don't want to spend that time asking your loved one about caskets, cemeteries, what should be done with clothes, what kind of service that person wants, or financial affairs.
"Up to the minute my father died, I never thought for a moment there wasn't a chance he couldn't recover. Plus he wasn't in the best of condition to answer a battery of questions."

THE BILLS DONT STOP
The problem is, once a person dies, a variety of things begin happening. The executor and the attorney need information and documentation immediately to begin their jobs. The family needs information to handle funeral arrangements. And, numerous people need to be contacted.
"The world doesn't stop," said Camp, "your creditors still want to be paid."
For example, if someone was in the midst of paying off a car loan, the bank doesn't just forgive that debt or postpone all payments. At the very least, creditors need to be contacted.
That's where a list of information, like LifeFile, is useful. This simple form leads people to record the information relatives and friends might need in the event of an accident, serious illness or death. (It also provides a quick reference for people when they are alive and healthy.) For example, LifeFile prods a person to list information concerning his or her insurance policies (life, medical, auto, etc.), agents, mutual funds, credit cards, securities, loans, blood type, health history and more.

TWO REASONS WHY YOU NEED A MAP
Camp said there are two major reasons for filling out the file. "First, it gives a person or a couple a sense of security that if something should happen to them, their wishes will probably be carried out. Second, it is a caring act on the part of the person completing the file. That person is making a genuine effort to help the people who are left to take care of their affairs."
Given his experience, Camp now believes that anyone who is married or who has responsibilities to other people should at least make a hand-written list describing their personal and financial affairs.
"It would have been monumentally easier for me, if my father had made out a list like this," said Camp.
For survivors, the problem is compounded if the deceased person was disorganized or, worse yet, a packrat. In such cases, the executor and family members often find themselves staring at stacks of papers that are dated, not knowing whether insurance policies or documents are current or expired.
One banker who works in the trust department of a large regional firm said, "If our clients would fill out forms like these, it would cut the cost and time involved in settling an estate by half."
Whether you're single or married, you may want to consider making such a list for yourself. And, maybe more importantly, you may want to encourage some of your relatives to do the same.


For more information about LifeFiles or for more money-saving ideas visit No-Debt Living, www.nodebtnews.com, where you can view more than 100 valuable articles and resources on financial, consumer and time-management news with a Christian perspective. Copyright 2000 No-Debt Living.