by Texas Homesteader ~
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A legal will is important. But it’s also important to document those private account numbers, passwords, final wishes and more.
Don’t leave your heirs in the dark! Now’s the time to document that important information. This easy estate planning step will help ease their burden after your death.
Here’s a VERY important disclaimer: This in no way replaces the legal steps necessary to help assure your wishes are legally carried out! This is ONLY a helpful document to help your heirs navigate the murky waters of your wishes as well as your finances in the event they’re saddled with finding their way. In my humble opinion, having all this information in one place will be helpful to those left behind.
Many of you know we lost a family member quite unexpectedly recently. He was only in his 50’s, he certainly wasn’t expecting death to come so soon. During the grieving, his children were left to pick up the pieces to get his estate & final affairs in order.
They struggled mightily to find the most basic information to even begin this estate process.
Watching them struggle, RancherMan & I knew we needed to make sure our children were never left dealing with such uncertainties.
So we took steps to document things we’d never really thought of before.
First & Foremost: Have a Valid Legal Will!
Sure RancherMan & I had a legal will to address our estate. So we figured we’d done our due diligence with regard to making our wishes known. And make no mistake, having a will is so important!
But in my opinion there’s much more you can do to assure your wishes are carried out. And we want to assure the burden of sleuthing all the important passwords etc. doesn’t add grief & uncertainty to an already sad time for our loved ones left behind.
I must state here that I’m sharing what RancherMan & I did as a result of our experience in the passing of our family member. This is by no means an all-inclusive list. And your own lawyer is the best source for making sure you’re covered.
But after a valid will is in place, why not have other valuable estate information easily accessible?
(Note: Some links in this post are for further information from earlier posts I’ve written. But links preceded with * are affiliate links. If you click them and buy something (almost anything, not just the item noted) I could receive a small commission. But the price you pay will NOT change. It’s an easy way to support this blog without anything coming out of your pocket. So click often! Thank you!)
Estate Planner Guides You Can Buy
Of course there are estate planners you can buy. One of the most popular I’ve heard of is one called *I’m Dead, Now What?. I don’t have this book but those who do have mentioned how helpful it is to have everything in one place.
If you’re not wanting to do a spreadsheet like RancherMan & I have done, this may be an option for you. I’m assuming they’ve pretty much thought of everything in this book.
But here’s what RancherMan & I did:
Important Documented Information Before Death
In addition to our legal will, I’ve prepared an informational password-protected document to aid our heirs in tracking down loose ends in the event of our death.
RancherMan & I plan to update it each year to keep it accurate. We’ve even added a reminder event on our calendar each year to make sure it happens.
Here’s how I sectioned out our important informational document.
Personal Information Section
This section lists our full legal names, dates of birth, social security numbers and cell phone numbers. Our wedding date is entered here as well.
I think a small section to include our children’s information is helpful too just to have it all in one place. So I’ve added it here.
It could prove helpful to us when we’re adding POD information for new accounts as we update each year to have their social security numbers all in one place. But like everything else in this informational document – it’s all up to you!
Also included in this personal information section is a place for the full legal address of the home. Any additional information such as gate keys or alarm codes can be noted here as well.
If there’s another mailing address location such as a P.O. box, this is a good place to list it. Again, additional helpful information such as key locations, etc. can be listed here.
~ Real Estate
Any additional real estate owned can be listed in this personal information section. It’s helpful to give a brief description of the property as well as the county tax office property ID number.
I like to add the approximate mortgage balance here too. Since this document will be updated every year it’ll stay accurate.
~ Final Wishes
Now I don’t think this qualifies as legally binding in such an event, but how many times have family members gathered and there was lots of uncertainty about what mom or dad would have wanted?
Disagreements can happen easily here. And volatile & hurt feelings are right on the edge when dealing with grief already. So in this section I’ve stated what RancherMan & I desire.
Do you want to be cremated or have a traditional burial? What about special causes you’d love mourners to support in your memory in lieu of flowers? What’s your favorite hymn? Do you want to be kept alive by artificial means?
Again, a legal document is best here, but this could at least answer that question to head off spur of the moment disagreements.
There’s also a place here to note information about the location your legal will too. And life insurance policy information where appropriate. All of this is important information for your heirs to have.
Whom have you chosen to be your executor? And what about family heirlooms that are in your home?
With your heirs grieving, they may not even know about great Aunt Betty’s serving set or their great grandmother’s hand-made blanket. And these things may be more precious to them now than ever.
What your heirs end up doing with those things is of course up to them at that point. But at least this makes them aware of those things that may have sentimental value. RancherMan & I have taken photos of each of those special items and included them with our original will.
On our document I’ve included a very limited section about both our parents and our grandparents. I’ve seen that information get lost when someone dies because there’s no one to share it anymore.
So for our kids I’ve included that information, as well as the year of extended family member’s births and (when appropriate) their death year as well.
~ Bank Accounts
Here’s the meat & potatoes of this document. The list of financial accounts. We’ve listed savings & checking accounts as well as online savings & money market accounts.
And we’ve added the phone numbers & website information for each financial institution too. There is a section for log-in and password information for each of those accounts.
We’ve even included a section that shows who the owners are, if there is a POD (Payable On Death) or secondary beneficiary information.
In completing this section we found several accounts that actually had incomplete POD information. We were able to correct that now and save our heirs any disagreements later.
~ Savings Bonds
If you have savings bonds, this is a good place to note that too. Many people own actual paper bonds. If so this is a good place to list them and their values. It’s true that so many times paper bonds are tucked away in a ‘safe place’ and your heirs don’t even know about them.
But RancherMan & I have set up our savings bond information online through Treasury Direct – all our bonds are listed in one place.
So in this section we simply showed the Treasury Direct website and phone number as well as log in & password information. I’ve added an approximate value here as well which will be updated annually.
~ Investment Accounts
If you have investment accounts, this is a good place to list them all. We show the financial institution and phone number, as well as their website and our log-in information and passwords.
I also show the balance as of the update. Of course there’s also space to list ownership of these accounts and beneficiary / POD information.
~ Retirement Accounts
In this investment account section you can include information about your (oftentimes restricted) ROTH, Traditional IRA or 401(k) retirement accounts.
The same information as other accounts can be shown here – institution & phone number, website, log in and password information.
Always show your ownership information, POD/beneficiary information, etc. for each account.
~ Other Accounts
There may be other places you have a bit of cash laying around. For instance, many people have a paypal account.
Now I wouldn’t have even thought of this account but RancherMan did. So we included it.
You can list any other financial holding account here that you may have – prepaid credit cards & such perhaps.
Social Media Accounts
I’ve included a section for our social media accounts. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and others can be listed here.
As in the other sections, I’ve included log-in information as well as passwords.
In some cases such as my Texas Homesteader facebook page there will be ‘business pages’ to take into consideration too. It’s all listed here in one place.
~ Email Accounts
And what about all those email accounts? Nowadays with email addresses being so easy to obtain, you may have several different email accounts for different purposes.
One email account might be only for family members and very close friends. The email address book in this account could be very helpful for sending out notices to loved ones of someone’s passing.
Your kids may not know the contact information for your bridge club buddies or your book club friends. So to notify these dear friends of your passing, this address book could be doubly important for those trying to take care of final arrangements.
Another email address you have might be for business purposes or just for junkmail purposes or legitimate financial institution emails.
Whatever the purpose, we’ve included a list of our email accounts and log-in & password information. We’ve even included a short explanation of the purpose for each account.
If you run a business of any kind there may be need for your heirs to know how to log into those sites and make changes if necessary.
Or perhaps one of your children would want to pick up your family business and carry it on after your death. This is a good place for you to show business website information.
Here’s something we hadn’t even considered until we experienced it firsthand when our family member passed recently. Log-on information & passwords to their electronics was nowhere to be found.
That brand new high-end cellphone couldn’t be unlocked without that information.
I’d think an heir could take an original death certificate to the Apple Store and the phone could at least be reset for them so it could be used instead of sold for parts. But it’s just another requirement that RancherMan & I didn’t want our heirs to have to deal with.
So we’ve included our log-on information for our computers as well as our phones and tablets.
We’ve even included our apple ID information and the 2-factor authentication procedure so our kids will know the deets.
Giving Estate Heirs Access To Financial Information
Some may feel comfortable giving all this information to their estate heirs now, well before their passing.
Others might want everything to be locked in a safe deposit box at their bank due to the sensitive & personal nature of this estate document.
Think about how you’d like to have this information distributed to your heirs and make the choice that works best for you, your family and in your circumstances.
RancherMan & I are still trying to figure out the best way to assimilate this information to our kids in the event of our death.
Maybe we can keep it all in a bank safety deposit box and give each of our heirs a key?
Maybe just add the location and password of this important document with our original will?
Or perhaps have the safe deposit box key in an envelope stashed somewhere in the house – a location that our heirs are made aware, with instructions to open it only in the event of our death?
I don’t know, I’m sure there are many options.
Share below how you’ve decided to share this sensitive information with your future heirs. We’d love to hear what works best for different circumstances. And we can all learn from each other.
No one likes to think about their own death. But I think all of us want to make this sad & stressful event as painless as possible for those left behind whom we love oh-so-much.
I feel this document will help our loved ones greatly with our estate.
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Thanks for lots of interesting information. My sweet mother died a few years ago – it’s a hard time to be facing a bunch of legal snarls. One thing and I’m not sure if this is an Oregon thing or a bank thing, but my mother had opened a checking account and put my name on it. When I was dealing w/ accountants I was told that the money in that account was mine to do with as I wished. It was very helpful to have for paying the odds and ends of bills that she owed. My stock account is managed by a family friend. Information from him is helpful. My granddaughter is my primary heir and the birdman who lives with me is in 2nd place, his accounts are set up w/ me in first place and my granddaughter is in 2nd place. I am planning on getting together with a lawyer who deals w/ wills and such. The lawyer that I use for routine needs doesn’t work with major estate planning. Life and death!!! complicated and very important things to deal with.
It’s so helpful that you shared what worked for you Candace. It’s hard for many of us who have not yet been in your shoes to know what to expect and how to set things up to avoid pitfalls. Thank you for sharing. ~TxH~
Thank you for the terrific post that covered so many important things. I was re-reading it to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I do apologize….you did mention the “I’m Dead. Now What” book. I did not mean to repeat.
I wanted to add something that just came to my mind. Our state has to assess our personal property (cars, trailers, tractors….) each year by a certain date, or pay a penalty. I don’t have that on a list other than a sticky on my calendar and in my planner.
Since I take care of most of the paperwork in our household, I’m thinking that I need to add a sheet with important dates – by month – to my “I’m Sick and Need Help. Or Dead.” binder. I sure don’t want important dates missed. (Filing 1099s, assessing, paying taxes, property taxes, dog immunizations, paying insurance premiums….)
Also, a couple comments on keys and safety deposit boxes. In my experience, not just anyone with a key can get into your box. Each person must be a signer on the box account. The bank compared my signature to the signature card each time I accessed my parent’s box.
Also, if the Advanced Health Care Directive/Living Will (or any other paperwork showing who can make decisions – POA, Will, Living Trust……) are in the safety deposit box at the bank, and you or your loved one gets ill or dies on a weekend, those making major decisions are going to be in trouble. The bank is closed and you will not have those documents you need. Something to think about. (Our attorney suggested keeping a copy of everything at home.)
We recently had relatives here for a family wedding. Several have minor children. One family has a child who is legally an adult but will never be able to be independent. I was encouraging my family members to make a plan. A legally binding written plan. I surely would want a say in who I want raising my children. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow (or even 10 minutes from now) no matter how old or young we are.
I apologize for going on and on, but I would never want to have anyone deal with what I had to when my mom became ill and her memory was terribly affected AND no paperwork was taken care of. You cannot even imagine the nightmare mess as my folks still had a small business, which come to find out, had not been run well as her health deteriorated. It took me years to dig out.
So— I am the crazy lady encouraging my friends and relatives to get their paperwork in order!!!
Thank you again for sharing such important information.
OMGosh Julie – thank you SO MUCH for your additional comment. Yes, a calendar is a great idea. And I’d have never thought about the safety deposit box not being accessible on a weekend. This kind of feedback was exactly what I was hoping for – real experience. Thank you! ~TxH~
Kathleen has great advice. I have a notebook with all our information divided into categories in a fireproof safe. Our adult kids know where it is and how to access it, but do not know the information in it. Ours is titled, “I’m sick and need help. Or dead. Now what.”
I learned the hard way, after a stroke, that death isn’t the only time my kids need the information. One of my categories is **Pay attention – what still needs to be paid if incapacitated or dead. Check my email for paperless bills. Pay the house payment, supplemental insurance, utilities…..
Unless you have someone’s name on a checking account, they will have to pay the bills out of their account unless you have a Power of Attorney form signed–and easily accessible.
It was easiest for me to just make a copy of the title page of an investment statement or a copy of the bank statement. It will have the contact numbers as well as account information. (May have to write complete acct number on bank acct statement. Some banks now only print last digits.)
The book “I’m Dead. Now what.” by Peter Pauper Press is a great resource to get the ball rolling of what you need.
Re End of Life prep – Personal experience only…..If your loved one is a DNR -make sure you have the paperwork available. Each of my siblings had a copy of the paperwork in our car and one was on the side of the refrig for the firemen/police to access if needed. We certainly did not want any problems for his caregiver. Also, even though you may think you have DNR paperwork taken care of with medical records, double check.
This is great information Julie. Thank you for being so willing to share. It’s different for every family, but most (like us) just don’t know what works and what doesn’t, pitfalls to avoid, etc. Your willingness to share helps bunches for us as well as our followers. Thank you! ~TxH~
Thank you, great article.
Thanks Christine – wow, there’s lots that I’d never thought of before. Heck we figured since we had a legal will we had taken care of business. But watching my family members struggle with the basics really opened my eyes. It’s so easy to document this stuff, now’s the time! ~TxH~
Thanks Tammy for the reminder,
We figured we’d done what we needed to do by having a legal will, Jack. But as it turns out, there’s so much more you can do to help ease this stressful time for your heirs. Gathering the numbers is easy so now’s the best time to do it. ~TxH~
We too are dealing with this. While my father’s death wasn’t unexpected, we still weren’t as prepared as we could have been. There is one thing absolutely 100% certain in life: it will end in death. We just don’t know when, and the best final gift we can give our loved ones is some preparation on our part. We learned a few things in the process. Loved ones will need a source of cash to pay for the funeral before the death certificate is prepared and they can access the payable on death accounts. Do not keep the only copy of the will in the safe deposit box. If your executor or loved ones are not on the signature card, they CANNOT access the box without a court order. (And the paperwork that authorizes them is inside the box they cannot access!) Not everything has to pass through probate. In addition to beneficiaries on financial accounts, you can title your house and car in such a way that they bypass probate, saving your loved ones time, money and energy during a difficult time.
Kathleen, this is JUST the personal-experience information I was after. I’m so sorry for your loss of your father. But by sharing your experiences, you’ve helped many. Thank you! ~TxH~