Gathering and Organizing
The first step in implementing your estate planning is to prepare lists of personal and financial information. These should include lists of assets, estate planning documents, personal information, important people and personal directives. Once gathered and organized, keep the information up-to-date and stored in a safe place. Here is a closer look at what information you should include on each list:
- The name and address of all financial institutions with which you have bank accounts, certificates of deposit, brokerage accounts, money market accounts or other types of financial accounts, each account number, and the name that each account is held in. The access codes to computer programs such as Quicken.
- The name and address of each institution administering any retirement benefits (IRA, pension plan, profit sharing plan, Keogh benefits), the account number for each account, the beneficiaries of each account or plan, and the location of the documents reflecting the plans or benefits.
- The name and address of each insurance company that has issued you a policy (life, accidental death, disability, accidental dismemberment, auto, homeowner’s policies), the policy number with respect to each policy, the face amount of each policy or the policy limits (if appropriate), the type of policy (for example, a term life insurance policy), the owner of the policy, the beneficiaries of the policy (if appropriate), and the location of the policies.
- The location of any real estate you own, how title is held for each property, when and how each property was acquired (by gift, inheritance or purchase), and where the documents relating to each property are located.
- The make, model number and license number of each vehicle you own (including boats and other recreational vehicles), how each vehicle is titled, and where the documents relating to each vehicle are located.
- A description of each item or collection of personal property of significant value (antiques, jewelry, coins, stamps, art), the appraised value of each, and the location of each.
- A description of each stock or other business interest you own and the location of the documents relating to each interest (including stock certificates, buy-sell agreements, partnership agreements, operating agreements or real estate ownership agreements).
- The name of any trust not created by you of which you are a beneficiary and the name and address of the trustee of each trust.
Estate Planning Documents
- The date and location of your most recent will and any codicils.
- The date and location of the document and beneficiaries of any trusts you have created.
- The date and location of any premarital agreement, marital property agreement or unilateral statement you have signed.
- The date and location of any custodial account you have created for your children.
- The date and location of any durable power of attorney for financial or health care purposes, declaration to physicians, living will or other health care directive you may have signed.
- The date you established domicile in your current residence.
- The date of any marriage.
- The names, dates of birth, social security numbers and addresses of your children.
- The location of federal and state income and gift tax returns that you have filed.
- The location of any safe deposit boxes and who, if anyone, has a key.
- The beneficiaries of your estate.
- Your advisors, including attorneys, accountants, insurance agents, bankers, investment advisors and doctors.
- The executor or personal representative designated under your will, the designated trustee of any trusts established under your will, the current trustee of any other trusts you have created, and the successor trustees of any other trusts of which you are serving as trustee.
- A copy of any documents you have signed agreeing to the donation of your organs or body for medical use or research. You also should complete and carry an organ donation card.
- Any specific wishes you may have related to funeral or burial arrangements and the location of any cemetery deeds or prepaid funeral expense agreements.
- The location of any last letter to your family or friends.
Who Should Get These Lists?
Now that you have gathered the above information, who are the appropriate persons who should receive a copy or at least the location of where the above information is stored?
First, a family member or close friend should be given a copy of the list of any personal directives that you may have. In most cases, if this information appears in your will, it will be read too late to carry out your wishes.
Second, upon your disability, certain people should be informed of your affairs to ensure the efficient administration of your estate. If you have signed a durable power of attorney for financial or property purposes, both your agent and the successor agent named in the document should be given a copy of it for safekeeping. In addition, each person should be informed of the location of your lists of personal and financial information. Also, the successor trustee of any living trust you have created should be informed of the location of these lists.
Third, upon your disability, you may be unable to inform your health care professionals of your health care decisions. Therefore, if you have signed a durable power of attorney for health care, a declaration to physicians, a living will or other health care directive, a copy of the document should be given to your primary physician, other regular health care professionals, any retirement facility within which you reside, and any health care agent or alternate health care agent named in the document. In addition, you should notify your immediate family that such a document has been signed and tell them where it is located.
Last, you should inform your family and the designated personal representative of your estate where your lists and, in particular, your most recent will and codicils are located.