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Wednesday July 15, 2015

Give us your final thoughts.
posted by Thomas J. Banaszynski

You can’t write a letter from beyond the grave.  You might not be able to write a letter if you become mentally incompetent, or have a disability.  Now, while you still can, write a letter that will contain information and instructions to help your loved ones, your significant other, make sense of your financial life, as well as theirs, after you are no longer able to advise them whether because of a disability or death. 

Your letter should be easy for you and your loved ones to understand and use.  It might be as simply as a checklist.  It is something that could and should be updated regularly, for example, every three or four years.  It is suggested that you might want to use a computer so updating it is easy, and would only require a few keystrokes.

The purpose of the letter is to make sure your significant other and your loved ones are aware of your desires, and the location of important property.  There is no “right” way to write such a letter.  You need to do what makes sense for you and your family.  Remember, this letter or document is for them.  You will not be around to make changes, or to fill in the blanks.  Make sure it is something they can use.  It might be a letter; it might be a checklist; it might be a spreadsheet. 


The following are categories of information which need, or should, be included in your letter or document.

Contact information:  You should include information for professionals, including names, mailing addresses, email addresses, telephone numbers for persons such as the following:  accountant and tax preparer; financial advisor or stock broker and other financial professionals to whom you might have gone for advice; your attorney; health care providers; insurance agent; real estate agent; people or agencies who might be helping you manage your property.

Where are your documents located?  Provide the physical location, email addresses, necessary passwords, location of keys or codes for important documents, and who has copies of your legal documents, such as the following: 

Legal documents:  Will; living will directive; advanced medical directive; power of attorney; testamentary trust or living trust; instructions for your final arrangements, e.g. burial or cremation; prepaid burial; cemetery plot.  Title to real estate and other properties; safe deposit boxes or safes; storage units; hard-copy files for such things as tax returns; bank statements; investment accounts; medical records; treasures or heirlooms, e.g. stamp collection, jewelry; personal documents, if you still have them:  social security card, marriage/death/birth/divorce certificates, passport, disability documents, service discharge papers, etc.

Accounts:  List all of the accounts that hold your money and investments, including the location of the accounts and the account numbers:  cash accounts (savings, checking, certificates of deposit, money market accounts); investment accounts, e.g. broker accounts; retirement accounts (401(k)s, IRAs, benefit plans, etc.); college-savings accounts (529 plans, Coverdell, etc.); trusts; annuities, health or dependent care accounts, flexible spending accounts, etc.

Liabilities:  Provide information concerning your liabilities. Provide as much information as you can with respect to what you owe.  This would include such things as account numbers; automatic payments, if applicable.  Liabilities should include, at a minimum, mortgages; home equity loans or lines of credit; student loans; loans against retirement accounts or retirement plans; personal or business loans; vehicle loans, e.g. auto or boat.  Include a listing of anything that is an automatic or recurring monthly expense.  Some of these may continue to reoccur; some may need to be cancelled:  memberships; gas and electric bills; trash collection; newspaper; cable, etc.

List each and every credit card, including the account number, expiration date, , if applicable.

Insurance:  Make a list of your insurance, including policy numbers.  At a minimum include the source of the insurance, and the insurance agent.  Insurance which you may include would relate to vehicles (auto, RV, motorcycle, boat, etc.); home; health/Medicare, including supplements; life and/or disability; separate property insurance, e.g. specific assets or heirlooms or art; umbrella insurance; long-term care insurance. 

This letter is to help you, your significant other and loved ones have the necessary information to carry on if you are no longer available to make decisions and advise.  You might want to explain early on in your letter why you are writing the letter.  It is for all of you.  To help everyone be more organized.  Make your list and check it twice; go back and redo it every three or four years.  Best of luck. 

The ideas contained in the foregoing are adapted from a publication of “Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement MFRYR.”