Every summer, we get last minute calls from many of our clients who are weeks away from their next vacation, and they suddenly want to know if they need to update their estate plan prior to boarding their plane. We typically do a quick review of their most recent Will, Trust, or other estate planning documents, and most of the time, the big picture items remain the same. After all, at any given time, only a portion of our clients will be impacted by the newest legislation, or have had a marriage, divorce, or death in their recent past! However, even when the big things stay the same, the details are always changing. When prompted, most of our clients will admit that they’ve never bothered to prepare a list of their assets, regularly paid bills, usernames, and passwords, or other important information about their day-to-day lives.
While your kids or other loved ones will surely appreciate the care you’ve put into figuring out your Will or Trust, they’re probably most concerned about your wellbeing. But if something were to happen and you couldn’t manage your own affairs, how easy will it be for someone to step into your shoes and manage things to take care of you?
Your Advance Directive and financial Powers of Attorney are certainly invaluable tools for your family, but if you’ve never made a list of your doctors, your regularly paid bills, or other important aspects of your daily life, your family’s job in taking care of you quickly becomes a lot harder than it needs to be – now they need to become detectives, too. A much better approach is to prepare this information for your family before they end up needing it.
When you sit down to prepare a list of your important information, think about what would be most helpful for someone to know when caring for you. For medical matters, the list is fairly short but critical:
- Who are the physicians that you use?
- What prescriptions are you taking?
- Where is a copy of the Advance Directive that you signed?
- If you’ve signed a Medical Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) or a Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR), where is it kept?
- What health, dental, vision, and long-term care insurance providers do you use?
For financial affairs, the list of information that is needed depends on the complexity of your financial affairs, but frequently includes:
- A list of all of your bank accounts and investment accounts, the financial institution where any accounts are located, and the names of co-owners or beneficiaries (if any);
- Addresses of any real estate that you own, and the names of any other co-owners;
- Important online accounts and the usernames and passwords (or the password to your secure vault/cloud storage where you store this information);
- Homeowners’ and car insurance policies;
- Regularly paid bills, such as a mortgage, utilities, or phone bills;
- Copies of prepaid funeral arrangements, if any;
- Names and contact information for the tax, legal, insurance, and financial planning professionals you work with;
- For life insurance, write down when premiums are due, and which accounts are used to pay those premiums (sometimes, your insurer will allow you to name a backup person to receive invoices in case you fail to pay a bill, in order to avoid having a policy lapse – this is a great option!);
- If you own a small business, where important documents are located (both financial information, and the governing documents of your business) and the name and contact information for anyone you would like to be notified if something happens to you.
After completing these lists, many of our clients prefer to stop there – after all, putting this information together is not a small task. For those who wish to add a bit more, you may wish to write a letter to your family regarding your wishes for funeral arrangements, or prepare a list of who should get certain sentimental belongings after your death. For those with minor children, you may also wish to prepare a letter to your guardians regarding the care for your children. On occasion, some of our clients like to write a letter with far more specific on instructions for end-of-life care beyond what is already written in their Living Will. You should also make sure that your family knows where you are keeping all of this information so that they know where to look in an emergency.
If you’ve put all of this information together, pat yourself on the back! It’s taken a lot of time and effort and may end up being a vital resource for your loved ones at a difficult time in the future. So, what’s next? We suggest looking over your list once a year or so, and updating it as needed. Luckily, updating the list is usually pretty easy, once it’s already been prepared. Getting into the habit of reviewing this list together with your estate plan every year will help you keep track of any changes, and put you in a great position to resolve problems as they come up.