If you think gathering your papers, passwords, logins, account information and estate planning documents is a challenging task, consider your heirs trying to do it after you’ve passed and while they are grieving your loss. By preparing all the information they’ll need, you’ll make their inheritance process as easy as possible, says a recent article from Next Avenue, “6 Ways To Save Your Heirs from a Painful Probate.”
A List of Passwords for Hardware, Online Accounts and More Our cellphones, tablets, computers, online accounts and other technology all hold important information. If your executor tries to access information and accounts, they’ll need more than your passwords. If you have accounts with two-factor authentication, for instance, they’ll need to be able to access your email and/or cellphone to access other digital assets. The list should include things like social media usernames and passwords. The information must be kept somewhere safe where a spouse or executor can find it. Some tech platforms allow you to name a legacy contact with the right to access accounts after you pass. A password manager system might be helpful. However, this may add another layer of frustration for non-technical people.
List All Assets and Accounts with Contact Information. Whether you use a spreadsheet or a notebook, this is crucial information. Make sure to include investment accounts, checking and savings accounts, 401(k)s, IRAs, pension accounts, brokerage accounts, etc. Provide contact information for your estate planning attorney, accountant and financial advisor.
The information must be well organized because it will be a lot of data. Your executor will also need the accounts for running your household, paying utilities, mortgage, cable, etc. The same goes for health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid information, life insurance policies, car insurance and deeds to your home and car.
Tell the Executor and/or Heirs Where Your Information is Located. One estate planning attorney reports receiving a few monthly calls from grieving heirs who have no idea where the estate planning documents are, who takes care of the financial accounts, or how to access these accounts. Sometimes, the calls come from people who aren’t even clients but are hoping there might be some special resource known to estate planning attorneys to provide this information. There is no such thing.
Plan for the Unexpected A significant part of estate planning is planning for financial and healthcare decisions while you are still living. A living will details whether or not you want to be kept alive by heroic or artificial means, and a power of attorney authorizes someone to make decisions on your behalf. Without a POA, the person may recover from their medical emergency to find a financial mess of late bills, missed insurance premiums, or a host of issues that could have been dealt with on their behalf. Without healthcare surrogate documents and discussions of your wishes in difficult health situations, the family will need to make difficult healthcare decisions in highly stressful situations.
If the proper documents are not in place, the family must go to court to have someone named a guardian, who can then make health care decisions for you. The same process will be needed to have someone manage your financial affairs, called conservatorship. These are expensive and invasive court processes that can easily be avoided.
Talk with your estate planning attorney and family members to plan for the future. You’ll all feel better knowing that you’ll all be prepared when difficulties arise.
Reference: Next Avenue (Jan. 9, 2024) “6 Ways To Save Your Heirs from a Painful Probate”