You may have your will in order, but that’s not all your family is going to need after you’re gone.
If you haven’t yet begun the serious task of collecting and organizing the information your survivors will need to handle your affairs after you’re gone, it’s time to make that an urgent priority. If you put it off, you may be bequeathing considerable pain and trouble to your loved ones at a time when they are least prepared to handle this kind of stress.
Moreover, having this information at hand can help to prevent significant family resources from being misplaced, a genuine concern in light of the fact that state and federal agencies now hold some $60 billion in unclaimed assets – including abandoned bank accounts, stock holdings, unclaimed life insurance payouts and forgotten pension benefits.
Here’s what you’ll need to pull together:
- Key Notifications
The survivor’s first task is to share the bad news with friends and extended family; this notification is usually coupled with information about services and memorials. You would be wise to offer some advance guidance here, particularly to ensure that key categories are not overlooked. For instance, you will want to make sure that your business colleagues or key clients are notified. Why not create a master notification list that takes names, breaks them into categories and includes phone numbers?
- Information for the Death Certificate
When someone dies, the death certificate becomes a critical item for survivors. Not only is it necessary for settling the estate, but the death certificate is a sine qua non for applying for benefits and gaining control of assets. You should anticipate the personal information your survivors will need to complete the certificate (this typically includes your date and place of birth, your parents’ full names and your Social Security number). It’s crucial to make sure survivors can find this information easily.
- Funeral and Burial
This is not an easy topic to discuss, but it’s a conversation you should have at some point. And putting it in writing will ensure that details are remembered. Be specific about your preferences, including any religious traditions you want observed. Also specify (to the extent you can) how costs should be covered.
- Family Resources
List all financial assets, including cash, bank accounts, securities, retirement and pension plans, insurance, tangible assets and real estate. In the case of financial assets, identify institutions, including addresses, individual contacts, phone numbers and email information (also PINs and passwords). In the case of real estate, include property addresses and detail where important documents (such as deeds) are stored. List current estimated values for all items, if available.
List all debts (including mortgages, car loans and credit cards) and contact information for all creditors. Make sure your survivors have the information they need to identify and pay recurring bills. Highlight critical items, such as the continuation of payments for car and health insurance.
- The Digital You
Nearly everyone now has “digital assets” – including your social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn). These will present your survivors with choices and decisions. Facebook, for instance, can “memorialize” pages or eliminate them, at the request of family. Decide how you want these handled and articulate your wishes. Maintain a list of passwords (for both devices and websites) and keep the list in a safe place where survivors can find it.
- Life Insurance
The importance here is obvious. Make sure survivors have everything they need to apply for survivor benefits, including personal and employer life insurance and (if applicable) veterans benefits. Include contact information (mail, phone, email) for every case.
Assembling this information and putting guidance on paper won’t lessen your family’s grief, but it will ease their burden at a fragile time.