For ultimate adulting status, have these 10 documents by the time you’re 35

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

I’m planning a major trip in 2020: It’s the year I turn 50, and I’m going to visit 50 places I’ve never been before.

Among the fun itinerary research, I’m also taking care of more serious things, such as drafting a will and buying life insurance.

Many experts, however, suggest taking care of these important life matters by the time you turn 35. I guess I’m running about 15 years late.

One reason why people (like me) put off handling these types of tasks is lack of time and money, said Mike Vaughn, a licensed professional counselor at SureHope Counseling and Training Center. “The daily ‘invaders’ of life push out the important things that we don’t feel need our immediate attention,” he explained.

It’s also tough to think about topics like death and illness. Such tasks forse us “to confront our mortality and that can be depressing,” Vaughn said. “Hence, an easy way to not be negatively triggered is to avoid it. In the end, it comes down to emotional avoidance in the form of practical avoidance.”

You can’t avoid real life forever, though. Here are 10 documents (listed in no particular order) experts say you should have locked down by the time you are 35.

1. A will

Estate law can be complicated. In a will’s simplest form, however, you need just a few things.

Name a guardian if you have kids. Pick an executor (that’s a fancy term for the person who will carry out your wishes). State what you have and to whom you want it to go.

An attorney can handle this easily or you can DIY it for like $60 with something like Quicken WillMaker Plus software. (Think tax software for wills.) You’ll need two witnesses to sign it, though they can’t be anyone set to inherit anything from you.

At the most basic level, if you don’t have a will, a probate court judge will appoint someone to divide and distribute your assets after your death. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anyone else making those decisions for me.

2. Life insurance

There’s term life insurance, which covers a certain period of time, such as 20 years, and there’s universal life insurance, which covers your lifetime.

You need enough coverage to cover your liabilities, such as mortgage, credit card debt or car loan debt, according to Karen Shane, a financial consultant with Brown and Shane Wealth Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors. “That way, you’re not leaving the beneficiary with a mountain of debt to satisfy,” she said.

3. Durable power of attorney

If you become incapacitated for some reason, whether from an accident, injury, loss of mental capacity or some other reason, the durable power of attorney allows someone you designate to pay your bills, manage your health care and handle your money for you.

If you don’t have a durable power of attorney, your relatives will have to go to court to get the authority to take care of your business. You can do this quick and easy without an attorney by having an online form (like this) signed and notarized.

4. Twice your annual income in savings

While this is technically not a document, it does require a bank statement, so I’m including it here. Fidelity, the nation’s largest retirement-plan provider, recommends saving the equivalent of twice your annual salary.

Most Americans, however, aren’t doing a great job of saving anything, much less twice their annual income in savings.

Shane has a more practical suggestion for saving: “We advise our clients to have six months worth of monthly expenses in a savings account. That gives you an adequate cash cushion to avoid running up debt and having to use credit cards for emergencies when life happens.”

5. Appropriate insurance coverage

Life changes, and by 35 it starts to get more complicated. Do a thorough review of your insurance — including homeowners/renters, car and health coverage — to make sure what you have fits your life. You may also be able to take advantage of discounts that could help save you money.

6. Credit report

For any major purchases or loans, you’re going to need decent credit, so get a copy of your credit report. No excuses on this one. It’s free. Double-check everything from your address to your account history, and make sure all the accounts listed are yours.

7. A letter of instruction

How many online accounts do you have? How many passwords? Where do you keep your important documents? I fully plan to return home from every single trip I have planned next year, but the truth is, if I didn’t, figuring out how to access all of my various accounts would be a nightmare. Keep an easy-to-access list for your people just in case.

8. A retirement plan

A whopping 81 percent of Americans don’t know how much money they need to save for retirement, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey. Of course, the amount depends in part on the type of retirement life you want to have. One way to get a ballpark idea of how much you’ll need is to use a retirement calculator. (There are many online. All of them use different algorithms, so you might want to try a few.)

If your company offers a 401(k) plan, take advantage of it. “At least contribute the full amount to your company’s 401(k) or savings plan, so they get the matching contribution,” Shane, the financial consultant, pointed out. Savings in 401(k)s are tax-deferred until you withdraw the money. If your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k), contribute the max amount to a Roth or traditional IRA.

9. An updated resume

Keeping your resume current is essential if you want to be seen as an expert in your field for speaking engagements or even just on LinkedIn You’ll also want to have one on hand in case your stellar work gets you nominated for some kind of award or recognition, or, worst-case scenario, your current workplace downsizes for whatever reason.

10. A budget

If you don’t know where your money is going, it is virtually impossible to be able to meet any financial goal. “We don’t like to use the word ‘budget’ because it sounds constricting,” said Shane, who prefers to call it a “spending plan.”

“I think it’s really eye-opening to see where your monthly expenses are going so you can see where you can scale back and consequently where you could save more.” She also added that even people who think they don’t make enough money to save usually find ways once they put everything on paper.

Bonus: A bucket list

If I had done this sooner, I wouldn’t be cramming in trips to 50 places I’ve never been in one year. My advice? Write down those dreams. It gives you something to aspire to, and by writing them down and keeping the list where you can see it, you’re more likely to take steps to achieve them.


  1. You left out keeping an updated Rolodex on one’s home office desk. It is important to keep a strong list of contacts.

  2. By a document safe that has a 60 minute fire rating to protect your important documents.

    Cant afford a safe then keep your most valuable documents (Will, Birth certificate) in a zip lock freezer bag in your freezer, it offers some projection from a fire.


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