I frequently hear from clients who inquire about probating their family member’s estate that they cannot locate important documents of the deceased family member even though they know the documents existed. So, what can you do to avoid this situation when you die?
My first recommendation is that you discuss your desires with your family. If you want specific items to go to particular individuals at least communicate that to all the pertinent family members. Better yet, write it down in a list with detailed descriptions of each item.
Next, compile folders or a binder of information for your executor, trustee or other family members and tell them where this information is kept. Those folders or binder should include at least the following:
- Will or trust documents, including any amendments you have executed. If this is not the original, include a note explaining in detail where the originals are located.
- Copies of all “Impaired Judgment Documents” you executed. These might include a general power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, and a Directive to Physicians (sometimes referred to as a living will).
- Login information (usernames, passwords, PINs, answer to security questions, etc.) for your digital assets. Digital assets can be virtually anything you can access through the Internet or an electronic device like financial accounts, cloud storage services, social media services, etc.)
- Contact information for professionals you have used like your attorney, CPA, insurance agent, financial advisor, etc.
- Contact information for your close family and friends.
- Remains-handling instructions including any documentation of funeral or memorial planning you have done, and contacts involved such as cremation or burial contracts, funeral home and location, preferred clergy, organ donor documents, etc.
- Obituary or background information about you, pictures and preferences you have for where those who wish to memorialize you might make donations.
- Contact information for employers where you might have been receiving benefits or be entitled to post-death benefits such as life insurance, pension, 401(k) or other savings plans.
- Copies of life insurance, annuity, social security, Medicare, pension or other similar documentation.
- Information on bank and other financial account locations, account #s, credit lines and credit card information and location of safety deposit box and key.
- Copies of birth certificate, marriage license, divorce decrees, real property deeds and similar important legal documents.
- Tax returns.
This may seem like an overwhelming task, but you probably have most of this information somewhere now. A good start is to either move it all into one file cabinet or at least make a list describing where all these items can be located. Your family will be very grateful that you made the effort.