An effective estate plan involves important legal documents such as a will, trust, and power of attorney. But your family member and heirs also need quick access to information on your accounts and where your documents are located. Estate planning, and preparing for other emergencies, should also include an emergency financial file.
This file does not have to be sophisticated. It may be stored in a computer or comprised of paper documents. The file should be created in a format that is easily accessible and understood.
A cover letter is an important part. The letter should contain an explanation of the file, its content, and where it is stored.
The file needs to contain your will and estate plan. Identify your executor and beneficiaries and anyone who may be authorized as your agent in a power of attorney.
Anything involving money and with your name must be in this file and identified by account names, log in information numbers, balances, and dates of payments. These items typically include:
- Savings and checking accounts
- Brokerage, retirement, and higher education accounts
- 401(k) and 403(b) and other retirement plans
- Mortgages, loans, credit cards and lines of credit
- Social Security card and birth certificate
- Deeds and titles
- Names and contact information for professionals such as attorneys, insurance agents, accountants, and financial advisors
- Passwords, usernames, and PINs
- Emergency contact information for family members, friends and anyone who should receive notice of your death
Other recommended information
Other information may be helpful for this file:
- Accounts with automated payments
- Previous tax returns for additional financial information and possible audits
- Funeral instructions addressing issues as burial or cremation, funeral home, and directions on memorial service
- Legacy letters containing messages to family and friends
Each year, you should review the file’s contents to assure that it is current. Replace outdated documents, update passwords and usernames and add new information.
This file need to be kept in a hidden but accessible and fireproof place. Your attorney and financial advisor should also have a copy. A bank safe deposit box is not recommended because banks restrict access until a death certificate and proof of the executor is submitted.
Knowledge of the file’s existence should be limited to your spouse or partner, an appointed power of attorney, and your executor. You may also leave written instructions with your attorney or financial advisor so they can notify these individuals.