January 14th, 2021 | Miller Advisors

How to prepare your financial information for when you die

Making a good list of passwords and everything else about your financial life can spare your family much work and heartache.

Reader Question: I have been meaning to organize my records and personal information for my wife, just in case something happens to me. Can you recommend any resources-any planners or workbooks-to get me started?

Glenn Ruffenach Answers: I think this is one of the most important financial tasks that any individual, retired or otherwise, should tackle-spelling out “last instructions” if you become incapacitated or die. In doing so, you spare your family much work and heartache.

I assume you already have an estate plan with all the necessary documents (a will, power of attorney, etc.). If so, you can move to, first, writing down the steps your family should take if something happens to you and, second, listing all the pieces and people-assets, accounts, insurance policies, bills, debts, credit cards, passwords, bankers, lawyers and the like-that are part of your financial life.

We’ll begin with “free.” If you search online (example: what my family needs to know free pdf), you’ll find numerous worksheets that you can print at no cost and fill out. In particular, check out Everplans, which offers (in addition to an online planning service) more than a dozen free checklists to get you started. And if you’re comfortable with Excel, you can easily create files that list accounts, investments, contacts, etc.

If you choose to buy a book, numerous titles are available, from the straightforward (“My Life Directory”) to the cheeky (“I’m Dead. Now What?”). Yes, you’re paying, for the most part, for blank pages. But
again, that’s the point: You need to get your instructions and information down on paper. (Or in your computer. More in a moment.)

One of my favorite books: “Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To” by Melanie Cullen with Shae Irving. Don’t be put off by the length: more than 400 pages. The authors cover just about everything a caretaker or survivor might need to know. (See, for instance, the section that focuses on “pets and livestock.”)

 Then there’s the online route, where you can store your instructions, information and records on a website or app, typically for a one-time or recurring fee. These sites and services fall under various headings: estate-planning organizers, end-of-life planners, document storage and “death apps.” A favorite: Everplans (noted above), which describes itself as a “digital vault.” Cost: $75 a year. Other servicesinclude: My Life & Wishes, Final Roadmap and LifeSite.

For my part, I’ve taken a low-tech approach. I have a binder with (I hope) everything that my wife and our daughters need to know. I’ve also put the contents on two thumb drives, one for my wife in our safe-deposit box, and one for our youngest daughter, who is also our executor. I update all this material at least once a year. When I started this project, it took me a couple of months (an hour here, an hour there) to assemble everything. But if something happens to me, my family-at least when it comes to our finances-shouldn’t miss a beat.

A Final Checklist asked to identify the biggest benefits of having one’s affairs in order – such as creating a will or keeping documents organized, the percentages to the right of surveyed adults age 55 and older show their priority.




Article Sources: Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2020
By: Glenn Ruffenach
Photo Source: iStock