Written by: Deborah Cartisser
If we, as rational, intelligent beings, are aware of our mortality, why is it that most of us are unprepared for our own deaths? As a financial advisor, I have seen the messy situations created by those who depart with their financial world in disarray or cloaked in secrecy. I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone’s loved ones. So what are the steps we should all take to ensure that we depart with our affairs in order?
We all know we should have a will, a durable power of attorney, a health care proxy and some sort of advanced health care directives in place. Ideally, you review these documents on a regular basis to ensure they are up to date. Good planning goes beyond estate documents. It’s taking the time to ensure all of your assets are transferred as smoothly as possible to the people or entities in accordance with your wishes. Here are the things you need to put in order before you die:
1. Emergency Plan For Your Kids
What if something happens to you & your spouse/partner while your kids are home with a sitter? You want something in writing indicating who will take your children in the middle of the night, before the guardian named in your will can get to them. List additional information about pick up, drop off schedules, day care/school contact information, pet care etc. Write this down and ensure your sitters know where this information is kept.
2. List All Your Assets
List all of your accounts, how they are titled and the name of the institution that holds them. Remember to include retirement accounts, pension accounts, life insurance policies, health insurance, long term care policies, safe deposit boxes, homeowner’s and auto insurance. If there is an institution you do business with, list them here. Indicate where deeds or titles to property are kept.
3. Tangible Personal Property
This includes anything you own of value that you can touch. Walk through your home and list things of value and think about whether you would like to see them passed along to a friend or family member. If so, note it on your list. Be sure a copy goes to your personal representative so they can ensure your wishes are carried out.
4. Debts You Owe
Create a list of credit cards, your mortgage, home equity line of credit and any other debts you owe. Add account numbers, the contact information for the institution that holds them and the location of any signed agreements you have.
5. Monthly Bills
Your list should include all your monthly bills and indicate how they are paid. If you pay all of your bills on line, note that along with your password or method of access.
List any organizations that you are a member of, such as AARP, veteran’s associations, professional accreditation associations, etc. They may have benefits associated with membership. If so, list these along with contact information.
7. Check All Retirement Account Beneficiaries
Retirement accounts pass directly to beneficiaries at your death and are not governed by your will. Be sure the beneficiary and contingent beneficiary designations are up to date. This is important if your family has changed, as in death/divorce/remarriage. Check to see if your accounts can be rolled over to consolidate the number of identically titled accounts.
8. Review/Update Your Insurance
Similar to retirement accounts, insurance policies have assigned beneficiaries and are not governed by your will. Be sure the beneficiary assignments are up to date. Also check to see if the policies are still in force and still needed. A full review annually is a good idea.
9. Assign Transfer on Death Designations
You can set up some bank accounts, CD accounts and brokerage accounts in individual name to be transferred upon your death. This bypasses the estate settlement process and goes directly to the person named in the designation. This does not avoid estate taxes, if applicable, but simplifies the process by which the account is transferred. Contact the institution that holds the account to get more information.
10. Digital Assets and Accounts
List your social media accounts, the passwords and what you would like done with your accounts. If it’s not shut down, your social media accounts can go on indefinitely. You may not want to live forever on Twitter or Facebook. If your heir needs access to your Google account, they will need to provide a name, address, photo ID, email and your death certificate. Make it easy and give them the password. List the on line accounts you use and the passwords associated with them.
11. List Your Subscriptions
Make a list of all the subscriptions you maintain. If you are paying for a service, a membership or a news service of any kind, list the website or contact information, your passwords or access information. Someone will need to cancel these and it’s easier if they can find it all in one place.
12. Funeral or Memorial Service Notes
Here is where you can make your wishes known regarding funeral arrangements. Do you want to be buried in a family plot? If so, note where it is and whom to contact. Decide if you want to pre-pay for services with a funeral home. You don’t have to plan every detail, simply make the wishes known that are important to you.
13. Personal Contacts
Who do you need to have notified if something happens to you and your significant other? List the names and contact information of your important people. List your CPA, your attorney, insurance agent, and anyone else who is needed to help settle your affairs.
14. Create an ICE Notification
Emergency responders are trained to look for in case of emergency information. Make this easy by providing this information and carrying it with you. People used to have USBs on their keys but now you can subscribe to services that access your data through a QR code. Or, you can simply put a card in your wallet.
15. Create a Master File
Whether you amass this data in a paper folder or on your computer, be sure you give copies of your lists to your personal administrator (the person named in your will who will handle your estate) and anyone else who will be involved in your financial affairs. There are websites that can help you organize this, such as Everplans and Get Your Shit Together.
16. Review This Checklist Annually
Be sure to update your file annually along with your current passwords. Tie the task to a holiday or an event that will help you to remember to do it, such as Labor Day or daylight savings time.
Most of us don’t want to think about our own death. But a lack of planning can lead to disputes, unclaimed property and assets going to the wrong person, among other problems. All this can be avoided with a little preparation. Need help planning for your future? Contact Deborah Cartisser to discuss planning for your future.