Summer Assignment

By Tammy Flanagan

July 15, 2011

It's summer and school is out, but remember those summer reading assignments and educational family vacations? I used to make my kids keep a journal -- now cherished keepsakes -- complete with drawings and postcards. Your assignment: Pull together the information someone would need to access your benefits and take care of your personal business if you weren't around to do it yourself.

You never know when this might be necessary, although let's hope it won't be anytime soon. This came to mind when I learned about an unexpected death last week. Some of you might have heard the name Suzanne Kubota, who played an important role as digital content manager at Federal News Radio in Washington. Suzanne died suddenly on July 2. Hearing this news made me think it might be time to make sure my affairs are in order. But what does that mean?

Some big preparations include making sure you have a will, durable power of attorney and a health care directive. Sometimes called a "living will," this directive spells out health care measures to be taken in a life-threatening emergency, in the event that you can't make those decisions yourself. You might want to create a personal trust to make it easier for your family to distribute your assets as you would wish and avoid probate.

These things might require the help of an estate planning attorney. In my work at the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., I work with several estate planning attorneys who have shared their guidance in a column called "In the Know." A recent column by Anne Sullivan, for example, discusses women and estate planning, but the advice could apply equally to men. There are some very simple steps you can take that are important to your family. They include information needed to access your federal benefits and to claim any survivor benefits you have provided.

Here is an outline of the information that should be readily available if someone needs to notify your agency, or if you are retired, notify the Office of Personnel Management and any other agencies where you are receiving benefits. Your agency or OPM will work with your family to provide instructions and assistance in the event of your death. But family members should have the following:

Also, it's good idea to keep copies of the following employment records:

Gathering all this information might seem like a lot of work, but according to people who have experienced the loss of a spouse or other loved one, it can be a wonderful gift to your family. It would help them know what they are entitled to at a time when important decisions have to be made and bills have to be paid. Once the record-keeping system is designed, then it is only a matter of updating the information when a new statement arrives or a new benefit becomes available. Some of you already have a system in place -- I meet a lot of organized federal employees in my travels. But if you need some inspiration, hopefully this will get you started.

Tammy Flanagan is the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars. She has spent 25 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits.

For more retirement planning help, tune in to "For Your Benefit," presented by the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc. live on Monday mornings at 10 a.m. ET on or on WFED AM 1500 in the Washington metro area.

By Tammy Flanagan

July 15, 2011