Losing a parent is tough. It’s been several years since my father passed away, yet it only feels like yesterday. My father did not have a sizable fortune when he passed so there wasn’t a lot of complication in sorting through his estate. In that sense, we were lucky. I’ve been witness to many clients whose parents did a horrible job of communicating where all their “stuff” was. Don’t be that person. GFC contributor, Les O’dell, shares a personal account on how you can be better prepared with your estate planning. Introducing Les……
My father passed away this summer about the same time my mother was recovering from brain surgery. Things became even more complex when she suffered a stroke about a month after dad’s death. Because Mom hasn’t been able to answer a lot of questions and provide some information, my brother and I have been flying solo in handling her affairs as well as Dad’s estate.
In many ways, he made things easier by leaving us some information, yet there have been other instructions and details we wished we would have had readily available. I’m not talking about complex estate planning dealing with wills, investments and trusts. No, I mean all of the little things that have to be taken care of almost immediately.
To make things easier on your descendants in a time of grieving, I recommend you have a file box or system of folders with everything they need. Make sure those who will be handling your affairs know about it and you keep it up-to-date. It’s just another way of telling them you love them.
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Things that should be in your “Someday File” include:
- Basic personal information for you and your spouse including full names, birth date and birthplace, maiden names (including your mother’s and your spouse’s mother’s) and social security numbers.
- Copies of important documents such as marriage licenses and children’s birth certificates (trust me, you may need both).
- A list of all insurance policies (again for both you and your spouse) including life, health, dental, vision, long-term care, automobile and any others. Make sure to include policy numbers and contact information for the insurance carriers.
- Military records including induction date, discharge date, military ID number, branch of service and highest rank achieved.
- Final wishes including choice of funeral home, cemetery, suggested charities for memorials, who should conduct the service, potential pallbearers and type of service you desire.
- Financial information including all investments, bank accounts, safe deposit boxes, debts and credit cards. Again, make sure to provide account numbers and contact information for each adviser or company.
- Real Estate records including deeds, tax information, abstracts and special constraints (for example, Dad had farmland enrolled in a governmental conservation reserve program and also had mineral rights on other property).
- Vehicle records including titles or lien holder information. If you’re married it’s a good idea to have all vehicles titled in both of your names; otherwise it is a slow and costly process to change once you’ve passed.
- Your Will, Power of Attorney and Living Wills need to be included so that they can be easily accessed.
- General instructions can and should also be included. This isn’t a place to get sappy or to criticize now that you’re gone, but instead should be a way of providing any information that may help those who will be handling your estate. In our case, Dad left specific instructions about who should receive certain items of his personal property (things that were not included in the will) and he told us who to turn to for help and what we would need to handle his estate. For example, he told us to get 12 copies of his death certificate. He was right about that – practically every agency and company we’ve dealt with has needed a copy of that.
Just by making a few lists and gathering some simple documents, you can ease the burden on those you love and trust.
Les O’Dell is a freelance writer living in Carbondale, Ill. His work can be seen in a number of newspapers, magazines, publications and websites. He is co-author of the popular “He Said, She Said” newspaper column. He can be found on the web at www.lesodell.net. Les is not affiliated or endorsed by LPL Financial.