Not a Little Black Book, but a Big Blue Estate Planning Binder

An estate planning binder would make it easier for an executor to sort through a deceased relative's financial information.
It’s overwhelming to sort through a deceased relative’s financial information.

Life happens, when we’re not prepared. A relative dies unexpectedly and you find out that the estate planning documents name you as the executor charged with the responsibility of taking care of probate and settling your relative’s estate. Where do you start gathering information?

One of the most considerate things we can do for our family is to have all of our important information in one place. That’s why, at Galligan & Manning, we give our clients what we call the “Big Blue Estate Planning Binder” that includes not only their estate planning documents, but other documents that will help in settling their affairs. Without this information, the result could be a mess for those you love.

The task of untangling someone’s financial responsibilities and their legal matters is emotionally and mentally draining, especially when they have not prepared any kind of plan to convey important information. It’s not just making the calls and explaining who you are and why you are calling but having to constantly be starting at the death certificate of someone you love. That’s why everyone should consider putting together an estate planning binder.

An estate planning binder is a place to keep names, numbers and important documents. Think of it as a reference book for your life that contains the information that loved ones will need in the event of a sudden death or illness.

You should tell the people you have named to handle your affairs about your estate planning binder and let them know where it is located. In addition to copies of your estate planning documents, this is what you should include in it:

Medical Information: Include surgeries, medications, recent test results, treatments and the name and contact information of healthcare providers.

Health Insurance Info: The name of the company, a copy of your health insurance card, your Medicare card and any recent bills.

Recurring Bills: Recent bills and contact information about your mortgage payments or rent, utilities, car lease or loan and life insurance policies. You should do the same for regular bills and for subscriptions, memberships.

Insurance Contacts: A list of all insurance agents, policy numbers and the agent’s contact information.

Investment Information: Your financial adviser’s contact information and account numbers.

Financial and Legal Information: Contact information for your estate planning attorney and your CPA. I t should include where your prior year’s tax records can be found. Make a copy of the front and back of your credit and bank cards. Include recent credit card bills and note when payments are generally due.

Pet Care: Contact info for the vet, any medication information and info for a trusted friend who can care for a pet on a short-term basis. A pet trust, if you have one.

Personal Lists: Who should be notified in the event of a serious illness or death? A list of names, phone numbers and email addresses will be invaluable.

A personal estate planning binder can be a great relief for children or friends, who are probably still in shock, and it gives them the ability to have the information they need right at their fingertips, without having to dig through files or drawers of paper. It’s a gift to those you love.

Learn more about probate and the duties of an executor at our website.

Reference: Considerable (April 19, 2019) “This is the most helpful thing you can do for the people who love you”

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Does Your Estate Planning Include Your Online Account Passwords?

Your estate plan should include a way to access your passwords
Your estate plan should include a way to access your passwords.

With most bank customers receiving financial statements electronically instead of on paper, there are some actions you need to take to be sure your online accounts are incorporated into your estate planning.

Kiplinger’s recent story, Your Estate Plan Isn’t Complete Without Fixing the Password Problem,” says that having online access to investments is a great convenience for us. We can monitor bank balances, conduct stock trades, transfer funds and many other services that not long ago required the help of another person.

The bad thing about these advancements, is that they can make for a very difficult situation for a surviving spouse, the executor of your estate, or the successor trustee of your living trust,  attempting to determine where the assets of a deceased person are held.

This was in the news recently, when the founder and CEO of a cryptocurrency exchange died unexpectedly. Gerry Cotten didn’t share the password to the exchange’s cold storage locker—leaving $190 million in cryptocurrency belonging to his clients totally inaccessible. Investors may never see their funds again.

You can see how important it is that your estate plan provides a way for someone to access your online data, if you become incapacitated or die. This is also true for your other digital assets such as email and social media accounts. It can be a heart breaking situation for a family who wants to access photos and other online memories left behind by a deceased loved one if they are unable to do so because they don’t know the passwords.

The easiest, but least secure, answer is to just give your passwords to a trusted family member or the person you have appointed as executor of your estate or successor trustee of your living trust. Remember, they’ll need the passwords to access your online accounts. They’ll also need a password to access your email, where electronic financial statements are sent.

Another option is to write down and place all passwords in a safe deposit box. But you’ll need to let your agent under a power of attorney, the executor of your estate, or the successor trustee of your living trust, know that the passwords are in your safety deposit box so that they may take steps to access them in the event you are deceased or incapacitated.

But the problem with storing your passwords in a safety deposit box is that it requires diligence to keep the password list updated.

Another option to consider is a password manager, which is an app that keeps track of all your passwords across all your devices. With a password manager, you, or anyone who needs to have access to your passwords, will only need to know one password that, when used, will give access to all your other passwords. That one password may be kept in a safety deposit box, a safe at your home, a locked file drawer, or any other secure location. You should share the password, or the location of the password, with the trusted people who will handle your affairs if you should become incapacitated and after you die.

Finally, your estate planning documents should include provisions that authorize your agent under a power of attorney, the executor of your estate, or the successor trustee of your living trust, to access and manage your social media and online accounts.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 19, 2019) “Your Estate Plan Isn’t Complete Without Fixing the Password Problem”

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