Will your family say “Thank you”…or will you have left a mess?
“The Mess They Left?” was the headline of a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. The article cited the fact that when we think of estate planning, we often overlook the need to get your affairs in order in an organized manner. Which creates quite a mess for your family when you die…or if your become incapacitated.
When you die, surviving family members will have to figure out what you own, what you owe, and what you want done with your property. If you become incapacitated, a conservator or attorney-in-fact will need to manage your financial affairs. In the world of electronic records, dying without documenting your digital assets can mean your business goes out of business.
Here’s a list of information someone will need to manage your affairs on your behalf. Sit down, talk with your spouse or executor. Explain where you keep your facts and files and how to access them.
- What legal documents you have prepared, where the original is, and who has copies
- Whether you are or have been appointed to act on behalf of someone else as a guardian, conservator, executor, custodian or trustee
- Ownership documents: Real estate deeds, vehicle registration forms, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, life insurance policies, cemetery deeds, preneed contracts.
- Beneficiary forms: Retirement accounts, life insurance policies, payable upon death bank accounts, transfer on death brokerage accounts, inherited retirement accounts, transfer on death beneficiary deeds or transfer on death vehicle registration forms
- Your tax returns. Leave special instructions if you have filed a gift tax form or made post tax contributions to a 401(k) or IRA.
- User IDs and passwords. Members of your family or employees at work may need to access electronic records on the web or stored on a local personal computer.
- Minor children. Who will be responsible for the daily care of a minor child? How will money left on their behalf be managed?
- Pets. Who will take care of your pets if something happens to you.
- Advisers. A list of advisers to call if help is needed: lawyers, accountants, doctors, handyman, gardeners, babysitters.
- Income sources. List any income you may be receiving. Salary. Retirement income. Royalties. Rents. Identify if the income is received in the mail, or automatically debited to a checking, savings or brokerage account.
- Expenses. Make a list of the bills you pay each month. Utilities. Insurance. House or rent payments. Credit cards. Identify whether they are paid by mail or in some type of electronic method.
- Medical records. Identify what types of medical insurance is available to pay for any outstanding medical bills.