If you have already prepared a will, power of attorney, health care directive, and perhaps a living trust if it is right for your circumstance, well, good for you. You can pat yourself on the back. But don’t get too complacent. Your work is not done yet.
Does your family or significant other know where your will and important papers are kept? Do they have a clue of all the bills you pay, your assets, your debts? In this day and age with so much done online with little paperwork it really creates a lot of guesswork for those you leave behind. If you ever thought of jotting down all these important items so your loved ones can handle your affairs if you meet a very unexpected demise, there is a great free resource, a letter of instruction (pdf).
In this letter you document all essential information, for example, name and phone number of your attorney, location of original will and trust documents, life insurance policies, bank accounts, creditors, funeral wishes, etc. It is 12 pages long. The first time I saw it I got so overwhelmed I set it aside to complete at a later date. But it probably is not a bad idea to print it out right now and jot down some of the essentials. Even if you can fill out a few of the most important details, it can really help your family and friends in a time of grief.
Unfortunately, filling out a letter of instruction is not a one time thing. How many items on your list have changed in the last year; the last few months? Make sure if you take the time to write all of your wishes and financial details down that you keep it up to date. Set up a plan of action to review it every few months, or at least annually. I know for a fact if something happened to me, with all the bills I pay online, my husband would not have a clue how to pay the mortgage, what bills were due, what my investment plan is, where the life insurance policy is (with the income he would need for survival). I know there are many of us out there who rely heavily on our spouses to take care of all the finances, but make sure you are informed enough to figure it out, or that your spouse can carry on without you.
Another conundrum I came upon when setting up the letter of instruction was how to pass along the tens of financial login and passwords I had in my head for bills, investments and banking, to my spouse. An easy idea would be to type it all out on a spreadsheet for reference, but not very smart all the same. We kind of brainstormed on it and decided to come up with an algorithm for the password for each essential account we both need access to. The algorithm would have to be unique for each site. But could simply be the first 3 letters of the website and using the last 4 numbers of your social security number, and converting it to an e-mail format. So the password for this site could be Pfa@xxxx.com, and for a Wells Fargo account could be Wel@xxxx.com. You see you end up with passwords with different cases, letters, characters (all the common security guidelines) and a different password for each website that is easy to remember. Then if you ever have to change a password (which you will) you can then change your algorithm, and all your other passwords. Get creative and check the web for other ideas. You may want to set up a system for login names as well.
Unfortunately, any plans made for the future can not be done once and simply forgotten. All of these things take time and care, and ongoing review. And if you haven’t even started yet, what are you waiting for?