August 3, 1999: Mahesh Mathur, 37, succumbed to
a massive heart attack while driving from his home in Goregaon,
a Mumbai suburb, to his rubber components factory located at Dombivali,
to cope with the hardest edge of the blow was Shruti Mathur, 31,
Mahesh's wife. As though the struggle to reconcile herself to the
sudden loss was not traumatic enough, she found herself confronted
with another big reality: having to take charge of the family's
financial well-being. No need to panic, she quietly told herself.
She held a banking job. Even the commiserations she received were
aimed more at her emotional state than anything else.
Yet, Shruti had no clue what she was in for.
"I was happy managing my career, our two kids and our home,"
she rues, "leaving all finance management to him in spite of
his urging me several times to take a look. Never once did it occur
to me that something of this sort was destined for me." The
frustrations were a chain-disaster sequence. First, Mahesh's business
was in his sole name. Second, his Public Provident Fund (PPF) had
his father, who'd passed away already, as a nominee. Mahesh had
invested in property on Mumbai's outskirts, the details of which
were buried in their safe deposit vault (which Shruti discovered
only after a year). The immediate headaches-claiming insurance,
bank FDs, stocks et al, were more than enough to sap all her energy.
If only she and her husband had been better organised with their
It happens to just about everybody, thanks
to a culturally built-in aversion to contingency planning. The result:
the papers are typically a total mess just when the mind is too
dishevelled to think straight. For some, just producing a simple
proof-of-residence or voter's identity card is frustrating enough.
And that's just the start.
Even if you're far better organised than Shruti
was, do yourself a favour and run through a document check. We assume,
of course, that you're up-to-scratch with regulars-filing your salary
slips, credit card and other bills, bank statements, income tax
papers. "One must put down a ready list of investments made
including property and banking accounts easily accessible,"
says Arjun Gupta, Financial Consultant, Client Associates, a private
wealth management firm, "It really comes in handy for the family
in a time of crisis."
Remember, there is no such thing as over-documentation.
Ideally, you should have a filing cabinet, with neat folders marked
out clearly for any dependant to sort and navigate easily. The classic
way to do it is to have separate folders grouped under five broad
headings: income, expenses, assets, liabilities and other papers.
Income, for example, must have a special folder
for tax records. Expenses must have a folder for miscellaneous tabs
picked up. Liabilities: everything you owe (home loan repayment
papers and so on). Assets must begin with a folder for property
deeds, and include folders for every bank account and category of
investment. Car ownership papers go here too. Also, insurance-but
remember to mark this folder out boldly (since it barely sounds
like an 'asset').
Other papers are not to be treated lightly.
Folders here must have birth and death certificates of family members,
academic certificates, travel and identification documents (such
as passports). The boldly-marked folders here: medical records and
Once you have your cabinet in order, go and
photocopy all those papers. It's worth the drudgery to keep a back-up
at some other location (along with fire insurance papers on your
house). Bank lockers often serve the purpose.
Filing doesn't just mean stuffing papers into
the cabinet. Each folder often needs to be organised in some easy-to-retrieve
way: for fixed deposits (FDs), for example, file documents in order
of maturity dates. So too, postal savings, mutual fund units and
the like. Your tax folder should have papers in chronological order,
the latest records being right up ahead. The same goes for dated
documents such as bills and so on.
Being a conscientitious filer also involves
doing regular folder reviews: shredding unwanted documents. Dust-gatherers
are unwelcome. Over a lifetime, this habit could make the biggest
difference to how navigable your cabinet is.
You're also advised to be particularly careful
with your will-and all other nominations. It helps to run joint
bank accounts with your spouse, and ensure joint ownership of important
property (the house, above all). Remember, this is not something
your dependants would bring up-since it is such a touchy area. "A
will is a very important document that facilitates passing on your
assets to your legal heirs without any problem," says Gupta,
"You need to be neither rich nor old to make a will. Once you
are married and have kids, file a will."
Shruti would second that advice. She had to
get a succession certificate (which took her two long years) to
prove that she was the legal heir to her husband's property. And
this, just to get an access to his MIS-nominated PPF account. She
had to repeat the routine for other asset classes too, including
the FDs. A simple will could have made things a lot easier.
Remember, your dependants need you. They need
your foresight, too, and they need it while it is still foresight.
Now, that is.