Paperwork That’s Perfect
When we plan and manage our finances, we tend to do a lot of groundwork to supplement our efforts. But even with all of this, there is still one essential aspect of personal finance that we usually ignore. I'm talking about the preparation and maintenance of the relevant documents pertaining to our finances. Proper financial documentation seems unimportant at first glance. But the absence of the right financial documents could have serious negative implications. A lack of sound financial documentation could bring the ownership of our wealth and investments into question. It could also hinder our families from understanding and using the financial resources we have built, if the need to do so arises in our absence. Therefore in today’s blog post I am going to throw more light on why financial documentation is important. I will talk about the financial documents we need to maintain and the ideal way to maintain them.
It is important to first understand that our financial documents would be important two major groups of people. The first of these would be outsiders such as banks, bureaucrats, creditors and so on. This group would be interested in our financial documents mostly to ascertain the ownership of our investments and provide certain services. India is a country that is obsessed with ensuring that individuals have the relevant financial documents in place at all times. The onus would be on us to produce the relevant documents in the appropriate form. Very little is available in terms of recourse to those who fail to produce them. In fact, failure to produce a set of appropriately maintained financial documents to any concerned external party may even result in long legal disputes. This proves to be a major reason why we must not ignore financial documentation.
The other major group who would have an interest in our financial documents would be our families. Having a complete set of financial documents in place would help our families by giving them a clear picture of all the assets (both physical and financial) that we own. It would also help our families gain easy access to our assets. It also guides them as to how our assets must be used and managed. They would also help us transmit our wealth to the beneficiaries of our choice in the manner of our choosing after our time. Lastly, our documents would serve as a point of reference for our families.
Let us now look at what a holistic set of financial documents comprises of. Our PAN and/or Aadhaar Cards are the ultimate proof of identity universally accepted across the country. Therefore our identification details on the ownership documents of our investments must be benchmarked to our PAN or Aadhaar Cards. In other words, we must check to see whether our names and other personal details such as address and date of birth in our ownership documents appear exactly as they do in our PAN and/or Aadhaar Cards. Special attention should be paid to the way names and addresses are spelt in both sets of documents. For instance, if the name on the PAN Card is spelt 'Ramesh Suresh Mathur' and the name on the ownership document is spelt 'Ramesh S Mathur', it should definitely be considered a discrepancy. All such discrepancies must immediately be reported to the concerned service providers or officials and the required changes must be made.
Once all the details of our ownership documents are appropriately verified, it would be time to begin putting our other financial documents together. Some of these documents would have to be created from scratch and some would simply have to be collated and preserved. Among the ones that need to be created from scratch, the most important one would be our Investment Philosophy Statement. Our investment philosophy statement must contain details on how we approach our investment operations, the process we follow when making our investment decisions and the reasons why we hold each investment we own. For more details, look at the graphic below.
Along with our investment philosophy statement we must also create a document giving details of each of our individual investments such as the quantity held, purchase price, date of purchase and so on. Finally, we must create a single comprehensive master document (preferably password protected and in electronic format). It must contain various details regarding our investments. These include details regarding bank accounts, demat accounts, insurance policies, property papers, important passwords and so on. All of these documents would help our families access, use and manage our wealth anytime they need to.
Among the financial documents that we need to collate and preserve, the most important one would be our income tax return forms. We must ideally maintain our tax return forms pertaining to the preceeding seven financial years. But if this is not possible, we must maintain tax return forms for a bare minimum of the preceeding five financial years. Other documents that need to be collated include our life and health insurance policies, property documents, bank statements, wills and so on. Some of us may be living abroad and managing our money in our home country by means of granting trusted acquaintances a Power of Attorney (PoA). Such of us must also maintain a copy of the document granting the power of attorney to the party of our choosing. If we are working with a professional financial advisor, we can also exercise the option of maintaining one copy of these documents ourselves and another copy with our advisors. Maintaining these documents would mean that outsiders would have next to no scope to stake a claim to our assets. It also allows our wealth to be passed on to our intended beneficiaries smoothly without any hurdles.
It is always preferable to maintain our financial documents electronically. This would ensure greater convenience, flexibility and security of our financial documents. Regardless, the importance of having our financial documents in place is usually ignored either until we or our families need to use or prove ownership of our assets. And almost always in both cases, we wake up to our negligence when it is too late to put it right. The effort involved in regular maintained of our financial documents is a lot lower relative to the implications of not maintaining them. Therefore, it is absolutely essential for us maintain our financial documents appropriately right from the start so that we can avoid the unnecessary stress when we need to find and use them.