Although planning for end-of-life can be emotionally fraught and daunting, organizing affairs well before the need arises helps families and beneficiaries immensely after a loved one’s passing. But where to start? With the abundance of paper and digital resources accompanying the myriad accounts that comprise many years well-lived, it can be hard to know which are essential to have on hand.
The most important things to have in place are:
An up-to-date financial plan:
Consult with your wealth advisor who can assess your current financial situation and update your financial plans to address any end of life concerns. Your advisor can do a lifestyle analysis to help determine how much you need and how long your assets will last. He or she also can itemize and assess your investments and align your portfolio to match your needs, including generating income and covering any end of life expenses.
An up-to-date estate plan:
An estate attorney should review your current plan and make necessary changes such as updating your will, living will, health care proxy, and power of attorney documents to make sure they reflect your wishes. You should also include copies of any trust documents.
A list of all current bills with methods of payment:
This also includes memberships, professional business subscriptions, and anything else that’s billed to the name of the deceased; designated beneficiaries will need to change the billing information if they’re under the deceased’s name. You may also want to include a list of any regular charitable commitments and whether those should continue. Keeping a comprehensive list helps avoid unscrupulous organizations that target families with fake invoices after the death of a loved one.
A comprehensive list of all online accounts and passwords:
Many bills are managed and paid online, and it can be difficult for surviving members to know which bills are on auto-pay and which need to be paid to keep the lights on and the house owned.
The names and contact information for your accountant, attorney and financial advisor:
An estate attorney can provide crucial help in distributing assets to beneficiaries and paying the estate’s debts. An accountant can ensure that any tax issues are taken care of and a financial advisor can help protect your legacy as well as the beneficiaries plan after your death. Introducing your family to these people in advance is a great idea so they are familiar with the professionals who have been assisting you.
The Human Resources contact at your company:
There are often death benefits, health insurance policies, 401(k) plans and pension plans that will pass to your loved ones. Under a federal law called COBRA, your surviving spouse and any dependent children may be entitled to continue coverage under your work-related medical insurance plan for up to 36 months, provided they pay the premiums. Your survivors should also ask your employer about any payment for unused vacation or sick leave. It’s also a good idea to contact all past employers to determine whether you are entitled to any payments from a pension plan. If you belong to a union or professional organization, list those contact numbers – there may be death benefits associated.
The details and contact information for your insurance policies:
This includes copies of life, health, home, auto, mortgage, accident and any other insurance coverage. Life insurance can pass to your loved ones immediately, and they may need the cash flow in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s passing. Beneficiaries may be required to decide on a payment plan with options including a lump-sum or fixed payments over a designated period of time. Consulting with a wealth advisor can assist them in determining which option is best for their situation.
Your Social Security information:
You can also obtain the numbers for your spouse and dependent children through the Social Security Administration (SSA). Contact the SSA to determine what Social Security benefits your survivors will be entitled to. There are two additional types of possible benefits: a one-time death benefit and survivor’s benefits:
- One-Time Death Benefit: Social Security pays a one-time death benefit toward burial expenses. Beneficiaries can complete the necessary form at a local Social Security office or ask the funeral director to complete the application and apply the payment directly to the funeral bill. This payment is made only to eligible spouses or to a child entitled to survivor’s benefits.
- Survivor’s Benefits for a spouse or children: If your spouse is 60 or older, he or she may be eligible for survivor’s benefits. Consult with a financial professional to determine the best claiming strategy for your situation. To determine eligibility, check with your local Social Security office or call 800-772-1213.
Marriage certificate and children’s birth certificates:
These can be obtained from the county or state in which they were issued; these will help beneficiaries prove their claim to benefits.
A comprehensive list of all assets:
This includes real estate, stocks, bonds, savings accounts, property titles, stock certificates and other financial papers, and personal property. Also maintain a list of the titles of any vehicles or property in case they need to be changed.
Records of any applicable veterans’ benefits:
Survivors of veterans may be eligible to receive a lump-sum payment for burial expenses and an allowance toward a plot in a private cemetery (burial in a national cemetery is free to a veteran, his or her spouse, and dependent children). Veterans may also be eligible for a headstone or grave marker. The funeral director can help them apply for these benefits or they can contact the regional Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) office. If you were receiving disability benefits, your spouse and any dependent children may also be entitled to monthly payments. Check with your regional VA office.
Ticking through this list to confirm that all necessary documentation and information is stored in an accessible location is the first step toward developing a solid plan for your assets and family after you pass. The next step is fostering a discussion about the collected materials and your wishes for your legacy. While discussing end-of-life plans can be difficult for families, engaging in a productive conversation can bring peace of mind to both you and your loved ones. If you don’t know how to frame the conversation or where to start, a financial advisor can help facilitate the discussion, as well as help your family members work through the inevitably tough transition.