Author Topic: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book  (Read 6009 times)

MrsPete

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Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« on: March 30, 2015, 09:39:10 AM »
A dear relative of mine died a year ago, and I've learned that settling up an estate is no picnic.  The relative in question was one of those people who expects to live forever and had left no instructions of any type.  It got us to thinking: 

Our children are no longer children, and we've started working on putting together a notebook /instructions on handling our estate upon our deaths.  I'll emphasize that we're still relatively young and in good health, but we figured it'd be easier to start this NOW while neither of us is sick and it's all hypothetical.  We're trying to do this project RIGHT at this point, and in the future it'll just require a once-a-year review, which we plan to do at tax time.  We're writing the notebook NOW with the idea that we'd die at the same time, leaving two young adults who have little knowlege of handling estates -- as time goes on, as grandchildren appear, as our circumstances change, we will update the book. 

Any ideas on what we ought to include? 

We've started the notebook with a short-and-sweet personal letter.

The letter instructs them to be generous and understanding with one another, but to remain wary of strangers (even professionals) and tells them not to allow anyone else to have unlimited access to the notebook -- it would make an identity thief's day, and we have enough to be worth robbing! 

Next we have a list of things our adult children should do IMMEDIATELY:  Name/address of the funeral home our family always uses ... instructions on a small, frugal funeral ... discussion of need for multiple death certificates ... information on bank accounts, where they are listed as co-beneficiaries and where they can get immediate money to pay our bills ... and the name/address of our lawyer along with instructions on how to file probate with him.  Finally, instructions on securing our keys, our cars, our house, and a list of people to call.

Next a list of things they should do within a reasonable amount of time:  Our real estate, investments, insurance, etc.  This includes account numbers and contact information.  This includes instructions on cancelling our drivers' licenses, passports, cell phones, services, doctor appointments.  It includes a list of people with whom we do business /bills they will need to pay in our name (so they'll know to pay the lawn guy, but they'll also know to ignore strangers who may claim we owed them). 

The next section includes things they should do /decisions they must make ... but things they can put off a bit.  This includes a discussion on whether they should sell the house, cars.  It includes the name/contact info for a handyman who's done work for us around the house.  It includes the name/contact of a family friend who sells real estate.  It includes specific things we want them each to have (i.e., wedding china, guns, jewelry, small sentimental items).  Finally, this section gives them permission to guilt-free throw away household goods, even things of value, that they simply don't want.

The next section includes a paper copy of our will (and info on who filed the will, where official copies are filed), copies of our birth certificates (and the children's birth certificates, so they can prove their relationship to us), and our marriage certificate.  In the future, if one of us dies earlier than the other, a death certificate will be added.  All certified copies.  Oh, and this section includes copies of deeds and print-outs of our real estate, which show property lines.  It specifies which county courthouse houses the official copies of these deeds. 

Since they'll have to complete our final taxes, we're leaving them the name/address of a CPA to whom I once went for some advice.  Final taxes aren't the kind of thing to manage on your own.  We are including a copy of our last two years' tax returns /we'll switch this out each year. 

Finally, the notebook ends with a letter advising them how to manage their money.  We give specific, frugal thoughts and encouragements, and we encourage them to make NO major decisions within the next six months -- I believe it specifies, no buying a Mustang, no quitting your job/starting a new business, and a couple other things.  It's just a warning against rash behavior.  We've told them that they are both to complete their college educations with money from the estate (and since the oldest is 3/4 of the way finished, the youngest may get more college money), and then everything's to be split 50-50.  They are best friends and unlikely to do each other wrong. 

And in a pocket at the end of the notebook is a flashdrive containing ALL the above, including the certificates, in digital form.  It also includes my grandmother's will because a piece of land came to me through her will, and it includes our parents' wills (though we each have a parent still living). 

The flashdrive also contains digital photographs that could be used for an obituary or online memorial, and it contains music that could be used at a family dinner (all my husband's favorite songs). 

The notebook is stored in a fireproof, waterproof safe.  They know that the notebook exists, and they know how to access the safe. 

What else could I include to make their lives easier at what will be a tough time for them?  Thanks for your thoughts. 

 
« Last Edit: March 30, 2015, 09:50:40 AM by MrsPete »

MayDay

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2015, 09:48:07 AM »
From the perspective of retrying to get my FIL's stuff straightened out preemptively, I would say consolidate and simplify as much as you can, over time. 

My FIL has tons of little accounts (I can't even begin to guess how many) with 1000 or 2000$ in gem.  He owns a bunch of stocks all of which are held directly with the company, not a brokerage.  It is going to be a nightmare.  He hasn't even made a list yet if where all the money is!  You are miles ahead of that, obviously, but the experience with him has made me want to continue to streamline all our stuff, so our kids don't have the same mess. 

I think the notebook is a great idea.  I would send the kids some record of where it is (an email maybe).  We've had relatives tell us "everything is in such and such closet".  Already after a year or two, I can't remember who had what in which closet, so now I have this vision of us tearing through all the closets, attics, basement storage rooms, etc in various relatives houses as they die, not having a clear idea of what we are even looking for. 

MrsPete

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2015, 09:55:27 AM »
Consolidating is a good idea.  Our list is in chart form, and it's more than two pages.  We're still in the "accumulating phase", but we're about five years away from retirement.  I suspect that's the time to get serious about consolidating. 

That's also a time when we'll need to make some big changes in the notebook.  We'll be able to remove, "See ____ at Dad's office and ____ at Mom's school about a final paycheck, payment for un-used sick days, and personal items out of our desks" ... and we'll have to fill in information about notifying my pension that I'll no longer be collecting. 

Lookilu

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2015, 10:37:21 AM »
A notebook is an excellent idea! Be sure that your heirs know about it and that you simplify, consolidate, and update whenever possible.

Be sure to also include an advance directive. There is always the possibility that you and/or your spouse may not be able to make healthcare decisions for yourselves. An advance directive can clarify what measures and medical treatments you do or do not want. Knowing--rather than guessing--can be a great relief for someone who has to make decisions for your care.

CheapskateWife

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2015, 10:43:42 AM »
We have one of these and call it our "Oh, $h!t" binder.  I primarily manage our finances and DH is happy to let me do that, but it means he is going to need some guidance if something happens to me.  He thought it was pretty morbid at first but then realized it was a really good thing to do. 

We have included a chart of assets, account numbers, and the types of forms they would need to access those accounts (websites too).

I like the idea of reviewing annually at tax time.  Great idea!

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2015, 11:14:09 AM »
Nice job MrsPete.

My DW's friend lost a husband (52 years) and he had left no information. I have been seeing the struggles the family has had to go thru especially since he had a business.

One more resource, check out Erik Dewey who has a nice list of what to do http://www.erikdewey.com/bigbook.htm


cynthia1848

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2015, 12:34:39 PM »
Will the kids get the $$ outright if both of you pass away?  Are both of them over 18?  Just make sure that the language of the wills matches what you want for them.

Argyle

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2015, 12:51:07 PM »
The lawyer who drew up my will told me that the biggest problem people have is not knowing the online passwords of the deceased person.  This causes no end of trouble.  He said, "Write down the passwords!"  He pointed out that even if you write them down and keep them in your house (not in a safe or safe deposit box or whatever), the chances of some thief breaking in and stealing the list is much smaller than the chance of you eventually dying and leaving your heirs in a mess because they couldn't get in to your online accounts.

MrsPete

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2015, 01:53:35 PM »
A notebook is an excellent idea! Be sure that your heirs know about it and that you simplify, consolidate, and update whenever possible.

Be sure to also include an advance directive. There is always the possibility that you and/or your spouse may not be able to make healthcare decisions for yourselves. An advance directive can clarify what measures and medical treatments you do or do not want. Knowing--rather than guessing--can be a great relief for someone who has to make decisions for your care.
We've discussed the notebook with our girls, and they know where it is /how to get it from our safe. 

However, we don't intend that they have access to the notebook until after the last one of us has died, so an advanced directive in this notebook won't help.  However, the lawyer who did our wills also wrote living wills for us, and they are filed with our doctors and the local hospital -- our children, especially our nurse daughter knows our wishes, but they're unlikely to have the paperwork with them when an emergency arises.
Will the kids get the $$ outright if both of you pass away?  Are both of them over 18?  Just make sure that the language of the wills matches what you want for them.
Yes, we went round and round with that question when we wrote our wills.  Our lawyer made several suggestions about trusts, about withholding a portion (or all) until they have college degrees or until they are 30.  As I said, we went round and round, and in the end we decided to just let them have it.  In the notebook we've included lengthy discussions about how to invest it wisely, a stern warning that this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal that can never happen again and -- if squandered -- could actually make their lives worse, and names of family members and professionals to whom they can turn for help in making decisions.  Our children are both frugal and are likely to see the benefit in using caution; however, they wouldn't be the first to go on a spending spree if handed money too soon. 

Did we choose rightly?  I think our lawyer disapproved of our choice, but we'll never know.  It's unlikely that we'll be tested; that is, it's unlikely that we'd both die before our girls have had time to establish themselves and learn about managing their own finances. 
The lawyer who drew up my will told me that the biggest problem people have is not knowing the online passwords of the deceased person.  This causes no end of trouble.  He said, "Write down the passwords!"  He pointed out that even if you write them down and keep them in your house (not in a safe or safe deposit box or whatever), the chances of some thief breaking in and stealing the list is much smaller than the chance of you eventually dying and leaving your heirs in a mess because they couldn't get in to your online accounts.
Yes, that's the type of thing we've included.  I wouldn't feel good about that information lying about, but it's inside our safe.  A typical home safe, it's not entirely safecracker-proof, but no one's going to casually walk up and glance at my information.

Thanks for your thoughts thusfar -- I welcome more.  I'm off now to check out that Erik Dewey site.

ToeInTheWater

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2015, 02:15:01 PM »
couple thoughts (...that we have in ours).  all caveated with "if this applies"

the first page is a Table of Contents letting them know what else is included (and where) in the pile of papers / binder

a contact at your employer's HR department.  they would be able to help with anything like employer provided life ins / 401k / payout of unused vacation / whatever...

copies of recent statements for the accounts you've listed - bank / IRA / 401k / investments / separate account(s) for rental properties...

copies of life ins policies

we've included the online website / usernames / phone #s / account #s in this file, but emailed the passwords separately to a couple family members (subject line:  "keep this email forever").  this gets updated from time-to-time as PWs change, or accounts added

copy of your budget - what recurring bills might need to be paid over the next several months?  quarterly HOA?  semi-annual prop tax?  any bill that is not mailed to the house?  anything auto-billed to a credit card?

copy of last year's tax return

i've also got a flash drive in with the papers with recent copies of budget / banking / retirement / etc XL sheets. XL files are PW protected, and the PW is in that email



MrsPete

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2015, 02:41:13 PM »
So, I checked out the Erik Dewey site.  My husband bought me a book, and it might've been his -- if not, it was very similar.  We've been working on this project (on and off) for about six months.  It's a very good book. 

Table of Contents -- yes, we did that -- I'm figuring the girls'll be using this book at a low moment in their lives, and I want it to be quick and easy to navigate.  I've titled the notebook tabs:

- Cover sheet, including the table of contents
- Things that must be done TODAY.
- Things that must be done within 2-3 days.
- Things that must be done, but aren't time-critical
- Bills that must be paid
- Certificates and paperwork

I would like to think I'd keep up with the latest 401K statements, etc., but realistically I know I won't keep up with it.  I'm going to try to include one per year, but I know I won't do more than that. 

Yes, we have copies of life insurance policies ... and contact information for filing a claim.  Right now we each have policies through work and personal policies, but once our youngest is finished with college, we may well drop these. 

Interesting idea about keeping passwords separate.  I'm going to think about that. 

Yes, we've addressed budget. I've made a table with a list of the bills we pay on a regular basis, and I've made notes for each.  For example, "Home owners and auto insurance are rolled together; we pay once a year in July."  and "Electric bill runs about XX/monthly". 

Yes, I read somewhere that the tax preparer who takes care of our final taxes will be better off if he has the last two years' of forms.  So we're putting in last year's and this year's, and each year we plan to remove one and replace it with a newer one.


CheapskateWife

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2015, 03:04:33 PM »
And here I smugly thought my personal creation was extensive...this is a terrific topic!

My one caveat to all this is Fire Box or Safe Deposit box for this project.  Once you are done with it, it must be protected.

CowboyAndIndian

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2015, 05:01:21 PM »
My one caveat to all this is Fire Box or Safe Deposit box for this project.

Be careful keeping this document in the safe deposit locker in the bank. It may(most probably will) be sealed on the owners death.

jexy103

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #13 on: March 30, 2015, 11:22:08 PM »
Google Dave Ramsey Legacy Drawer. He has a checklist of things to include for exacting what you're talking about.

Secretly Saving

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #14 on: March 31, 2015, 09:44:23 AM »
This is a great topic!  We've been working on ours.  I have a grab and go emergency box filled with most of this stuff.  Our kids are little, so I haven't worked on letters for them with advice, but I feel like it's never to early to start. I'm going to jump in even further.

MrsPete

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #15 on: April 03, 2015, 07:48:10 PM »
And here I smugly thought my personal creation was extensive...this is a terrific topic!

My one caveat to all this is Fire Box or Safe Deposit box for this project.  Once you are done with it, it must be protected.
Done! 
Be careful keeping this document in the safe deposit locker in the bank. It may(most probably will) be sealed on the owners death.
Thinking that we want our children to have INSTANT access to this notebook, we have an at-home safe, but if you've left a beneficiary on your account -- sometimes called "Payable on Death" -- that beneficiary could enter your safety deposit box by showing your death certificate.  We spent significant effort last summer making our girls beneficiaries on all our bank accounts, etc.  As one bank manager told us, "Beneficiary trumps everything -- even the will." 
Google Dave Ramsey Legacy Drawer. He has a checklist of things to include for exacting what you're talking about.
Cool. I've never heard of this, but I certainly welcome another resource!

I'm starting to feel like we've done a pretty good job putting this together.  It still needs "polishing", but I feel like we have these things pretty well enumerated for our girls.
This is a great topic!  We've been working on ours.  I have a grab and go emergency box filled with most of this stuff.  Our kids are little, so I haven't worked on letters for them with advice, but I feel like it's never to early to start. I'm going to jump in even further.
We had arrangement with potential-family-caretakers when our kids were smaller, but now we're re-doing to make it accessible for young adults.  They're legal adults, but they're not familiar with these topics, so we've spelled them out in detail and given them personalized check lists. 

Thanks, all, for your help! 

MrsPete

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #16 on: April 03, 2015, 07:57:08 PM »
I just checked out the Dave Ramsey legacy drawer, and it's an excellent reference -- which may simply mean that his thoughts fall in line with my own.  I thought his list was excellent, and I already have it all on my list.  By that, I don't mean I have EVERYTHING DONE, but I have it all on my "to do" list; for example, I haven't made xerox copies of our passports, social security cards, and credit cards -- but those things are in red on my list, and I will get them done. 

I do disagree with the idea of keeping these things in a drawer.  I want my notebook to be fireproof.  And also waterproof.  It wasn't until I was shopping for a safe that I watched a video of firemen spraying the safe with water ... and I realized that waterproof matters just as much. 

I do disagree with his assertion that you can pull this all together in 30 days.  We've been working on the project for 3 months or so, and we've SEVERAL TIMES said to each other, "Hey, we haven't considered ...." 

This is a good resource.
« Last Edit: April 04, 2015, 10:38:19 AM by MrsPete »

solon

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Re: Putting together a "Finalize my estate" note book
« Reply #17 on: April 03, 2015, 07:58:24 PM »
There are many good reasons to use a password manager. Another reason to add to the list is that you put your master password in an envelope in your notebook, and your survivors/heirs will have instant access to all your online accounts.  My wife and I each use a password manager, and we have shared our master passwords with each other, just for this reason.