Practical Planning. These are the items that will help your family move forward with the settling of your estate. This may be repetitious, but your executor has a daunting task ahead of them. On top of that they are grieving your loss. If you provide them this information you will most definitely be guiding them assisting them during this difficult time. If this information is not available to the executor, it feels like they are drifting on the ocean with no compass. Please, seriously consider starting this process today. Communication is imperative in this step. If this information is not communicated to the executor, then it is worthless. You will have to help them by telling them ahead of time where all this information is kept so they can access it when necessary.
- Centers of Influence. These are the important people in your life like your financial advisor, your insurance agent, tax advisor and your estate attorney. These people have critical information about you that can help your executor move forward settling your estate. In this new financial role, your executor will rely on the expertise of these people to make sure your assets are distributed the way YOU wanted and that they have everything they need to make the process less cumbersome. These people will be a valuable support to your loved ones as they move forward in the process of settling your estate.
- Passwords! Need I say more? You should keep a record of all of your websites, your usernames and passwords. This serves two purposes. One, these accounts can be closed to prevent your personal information being out there on the net. Having your information out there, and it is out there, can be dangerous. People are looking at obituaries and trying to steal people’s information. I actually had two family members have their own identity stolen when they were listed in an obituary for their father. There are plenty of people out there that want your information so help your family to protect it! The second reason that knowing passwords is important is so that bank/brokerage accounts can be monitored until distributions are made. These accounts will still have activity and it is imperative that the executor have access to monitor every transaction. I know we all change our passwords frequently. You can purchase a little “safe” to keep them in and updated. Then you only have to make sure that username and password for the safe is written down somewhere so your family can have access to it!
- Cell phones, computers and pads. With all of the technology we have available to us, we often forget that we secure these items with passwords and that the passwords change often! I have an apple phone and the password went from 4 digits to 6! Please note these passwords as well. You phone could help your family notify important people in your life of your passing. The information on your phone or computer can help to provide a list of people to invite them to your funeral or memorial service. Perhaps it will just help them access your accounts if you have things saved on your computer or phone. I have a friend who passed away and his 8 year old didn’t care about anything, except she wanted to play on Daddy’s Ipad. Well, there was no password for that Ipad and the child was devastated! You just don’t know who in the family will benefit from having that information!
- Security Questions and Answers. With all of the more stringent security requirements online, some banks and credit card companies have security questions for you to answer. Your loved ones many not know who your kindergarten teacher was or the name of the street you lived on when you were growing up. Now, the executor may be able to call up the credit card company and supply them with a death certificate and get their own online access but this takes time and patience. If would be a good idea to include these items with your password information. The other day I was trying to log into my own account and because I was using a different computer (or I cleaned the computer and the information was erased), I had to have a code texted to me and then log in again with a security question! This was my own account and I was frustrated! Imagine how that would be for someone else!
- Account numbers for your bank and/or brokerage. If you are like some people who believe that diversification of assets means having money in several banks or brokerage firms, make sure you document it ALL! Your executor will be thanking you if they know where everything is and can consolidate it! Remember, your executor is in emotional pain at your passing. Having to track down all of your accounts is not going to be a fun job. Having to repeat, “My _____________ just passed away.” Is always difficult. These people haven’t even had time to process their own feelings about their loved one passing away and yet they have to announce it to the world. Make it easy on them, write it down! Or better yet, as we start advancing in years, it is not a bad idea to start consolidating accounts. Have a single point of contact for your financial information.
- Insurance policy numbers. In order to have access, they need the number(s). Make sure you write the company name down with the corresponding number. Phone numbers if you have them! Also, if you have a specific insurance agent that you work with, his or her information is invaluable. Then there only needs to be one point of contact for the executor.
- Have a safe? Who has the combination? Where is the key? Where is it located? Make a list of all the items that should be in there! Even if it’s a box that you keep hidden beneath a floorboard, please document it keep the information somewhere safe. Your family will thank you! You would not believe some of the things that I have witnessed when people pass. If you are someone who sews things into your clothes, please buy a fireproof safe. You have no idea how much wealth is lost by families all the time because valuables are not accounted for. In trying to keep things safe, they end up getting thrown away or given away! I had a friend who was helping her elderly father move. They were going through things and deciding what they were going to keep and what they were going to sell or give away. Mom’s wedding rings had been missing for quite some time. As they were going through some old china, my friend opened up a sugar bowl on a whim. Guess what she found? Her mother’s missing wedding rings! How they got there? Who knows, but if she had just put it in the “sell” pile, someone would have gotten a lot more than a sugar bowl!!
- How about a safe deposit box? Here is another place you can store your valuables. Here are some important questions to ask yourself. Who has the spare key? Where is the extra key? What bank is it at? Who is allowed to open the box besides you and your spouse? Have you added a child as a signatory in case something happens to your or your spouse? We all have tunnel vision. We look at ourselves, and if we are blessed enough to be married, we figure our spouse is the one who will be taking care of all these things. That is all fine and it usually works until the first spouse passes. Then nothing is updated after that. The second spouse passes and the children can’t get at the box. And if there are no children, wealth is lost! All important things to know.
- Credit Cards. YIKES! The easiest way to keep track of these items is to have them all in a file. Not the cards, but at least one statement. If you go paperless, you will have to make a list of all the cards you have (in case you lose your wallet or keep them in a drawer somewhere!) Account numbers will be necessary as well. These accounts will all have to be paid and closed and the executor will have to send paperwork, including death certificates to each and every one of them. This may seem like a daunting task just reading about it and thinking of your own situation. Imagine how it will be for your loved one! This might be a good time to consolidate!
- Funeral Expenses. Did you know you could prepay for your funeral expenses? You can even plan your own funeral by picking songs and readings that you would want. You can also choose who you would like to read at the service. Sound too morbid? Well, here is a very uplifting story for you. A man I knew passed away. Obviously his family was devastated. When the family went to make arrangements, everything was paid for! Even the party afterward! I received a call telling me how easy that made things for everyone involved! There were no decisions to make, a paper needed to be signed and everything was taken care of. It was a great relief to his children.
- In Lieu of Flowers. This seems like a rather simple thing but, does your family know where your philanthropic interests lie? Do you have a favorite charity, school or other organization that you would like to receive money in lieu of flowers? You should communicate this information to your family in some fashion. Have it written down and keep it with your prepaid funeral expenses. Again, keeping all this information together will make it so much easier for the family member in charge of taking care of all these details.
- PETS! Most people don’t really think about their pets in their legacy plan! We treat our pets like family but when we are no longer here, where do they go? They can’t say where they want to go! They usually end up in a shelter. Perhaps you have a person in your family that is particularly close to your pet. Perhaps a friend or neighbor who would be willing to take them in. Ask this person if they would be willing to take care of your pet should something unforeseen happen to you. Pets grieve too. There is nothing worse than a pet who misses their companion. You can communicate where or to whom you entrust your pet and put it with your will. Your pet will thank you!
You have to make sure you communicate where all this information is to the appropriate person or people. Without communication, all of your planning will be for naught. I suggest you get a special file box or fireproof safe to keep all of this information together and easily accessible. There are several available online. I’m sure you could find one to fit your needs and your budget. Perhaps you want to purchase one for your own parents to help them get organized.
This piece of the process, from a practical point of view, may be of more benefit to your family, second only to the estate plan. These are the day to day things we know and understand about ourselves but we rarely think about it conveying to our loved ones. We take it for granted. If something should suddenly happen to one partner, I can tell you, the other partner would probably be lost. A lot of families have only one person designated to take care of finances. That person knows all of this information. I know if something happened to me, my husband would be clueless! But at least he would know where to look. He would know where things are so that he could move forward with everything that we have. (Yes, I am taking my own advice!). It has been my experience, way too often that a client who has a spouse pass away doesn’t even know where the family checkbook is! Some don’t even know how to write a check! Of course, as a financial advisor, I teach them and guide them along the way, but it is a difficult process. None of the things in these chapters are going to help your family emotionally. However, if information is arranged, it will help family members transition better. I cannot stress the importance of communicating this information to your families.