Many of our clients believe that once their estate planning documents are signed, their work is done. By and large, they are correct. But a few additional items should be added to the “to-do list” after your documents are complete to make sure that all of your bases are covered.
One of the most important tasks is making sure all of your financial assets are documented somewhere, preferably in one single spreadsheet or report that’s accessible to your attorney-in-fact and your executor or trustee. In order for others to assist you (if need be) they have to know what they are assisting you with! In addition to that document, we encourage our clients to store the same information in their client file with us (at no charge of course) in case your representative needs information and they do not have access to it.
Even if you don’t feel that your estate is all that varied or complex, it’s important to approach the issue as if one day down the road, a complete stranger will have to assume responsibility for everything you own. That is how it can feel for a child or loved one to take on the job of administering your estate.
We regularly meet with clients’ attorneys-in-fact, executors and trustees to usher them through the process of assuming responsibility for the client’s financial affairs. The transition is made far more difficult when the contents of the estate, such as investment accounts, bank accounts, IRAs, etc., are unknown or unclear.
Take Inventory of Your Financial Affairs
We’re able to make that process a bit easier by doing our due diligence when we first meet with the client. One of our initial jobs is to take inventory of the client’s entire estate. We ask clients to prepare a list of everything they own, from checking accounts, to real estate, to insurance policies. This not only gives us a good idea of the kind of estate planning we need to do for the client, it also prepares us for the day when a family member pays us a visit wondering how to begin assisting that person.
Thus, it’s helpful for those who may one day be in a position to help you to have this list as well. While you don’t necessarily need to provide that person with the list up front, it’s a good idea to tell them where the list is located. In an emergency situation, they’re going to need it.
Furthermore, updating the list as your financial circumstances change is crucial. We make every effort to communicate with our clients every two to three years to track how their lives have changed, offering follow-up consultations at no cost. At these meetings, we ask for any important changes in the person’s estate. Sometimes those meetings don’t happen. Even when you do not meet with your attorney regularly, you should keep your inventory up to date.
If you’re like most people, you may already be doing this on your home computer. That’s smart. But it’s also important to keep a separate list of all of your online account passwords. This ensures that your named representatives will have immediate and up-to-date information on your financial holdings and access to your accounts. As we stated, many clients choose to provide us with updated inventories of their estate and passwords, from time to time. This is just one more guarantee that your “team” will be ready to assist you if you should ever require help.