The best way to take care of your family and loved ones in the event that you are no longer here is by putting in place a solid estate plan. We often don’t like to think of our mortality, but taking the time to think about what is important to you and what your wishes are will allow you to put in place an estate plan that looks after your family and loved ones.
If you can leave your affairs in as pristine order as possible your executors and loved ones will be immensely thankful. One way to do this is by leaving a list with important information about your assets and estate. I once had a client who attended my office with a large folder and across the front of it “Things for when I am dead”. Confronting, yes, but smart too as his son who was his executor would know where to easily locate everything. This is also sometimes referred to as a ‘When I die’ file and it can make the probate process smoother.
What should be in your ‘When I die’ file?
Some people like to leave lists explaining their family structure and where the beneficiaries fit into the picture. This is particularly helpful if your executor does not have a close relationship or is not familiar with your family unit. The list could also extend to people that you would like to be advised of your passing.
It is also important to leave a list that includes an overview of all of your assets and liabilities. It is best to be as expansive as possible. Some of the things to include are bank account details and account numbers, all shareholdings and their relevant security numbers, property details for each property that you own, superannuation account details and insurance policy details and numbers.
You should also include details of all your liabilities including your mortgage, car loan, personal loan or any other debt that you may owe.
If you operate a business and have a partnership agreement, business succession agreement, discretionary trust or company these should also be included so that your executor knows how to deal with these structures.
Digital legacies are also important today, so it is important to think about what you would like to happen to your social media accounts. Leave details of your instructions together with log-on and password information so that your executor knows what to do and can easily access your accounts to implement your wishes.
It is also helpful for your executor to know who your trusted advisors are, so that they may seek guidance from them relating to your affairs when you are no longer here. This is particularly relevant if you operate your own business or have complex estate structures. This could include your financial advisor, accountant, lawyer, stockbroker, mortgage broker and personal banker.
In addition, it is beneficial to create a list that contains information in respect to where all of your important documents are held. Documents that should be included are:
- Your original will
- Original titles for properties that you own
- Insurance policies
- Copies of binding death nominations
- Discretionary trust deeds
- Business succession agreements and deeds
- Shareholders certificates
- Prepaid funeral documentation
- Memorandum of wishes or other instructions to your executor
- Guardians wishes
- Details of safety boxes held with a financial institution
How should you make your file?
You could make it a digital file or use pen and paper but it’s worth thinking about the executor that you have appointed when deciding on your approach. If they are technically challenged, it may be best to leave it in paper format.
Some people elect to cover all bases and have a digital and paper copy. Essentially, it doesn’t matter which format you use – the most crucial element is that you let your executor know that the file exists. There is no point in having this in place if nobody knows about it.
So, once you have created your file let your executor know where it is located. You may also want to keep a sealed envelope with your original will and details of where your file is held and this envelope could be provided to your executor upon your death.
Where should you keep your file?
Again, the crucial answer is wherever you keep this file, make sure you advise your executor where it is. Some people do a number of lists and leave them in various places. In doing this you need to be mindful of the sensitive content contained in these files and you don’t want them to end up in the wrong hands.
It is best to leave the files in a secure place, whether that be a deeds register, home safe (where the executor has details of how to access this) or on an app. These days we are seeing the emergence of a number of apps that allow you to store important information such as passwords.
Who should you tell about your file?
Once you have compiled your file it can be a good idea to sit down with your executor and let them know where they will be able to locate all of the important information that they will require upon your death. Your executor will appreciate the chat and the time and effort you have gone to in putting your affairs in place.
It would also be ideal to let some trusted family members know of the file and where it is located, just in case something happened to your executor. You may also consider providing one of your trusted advisors with copies of some of the lists, however, you may prefer to keep files containing sensitive information such as passwords separate.
Putting your files in place may take some time and they may also need to be updated from time to time but they will provide a valuable resource to your executor and loved ones when you are no longer here.
Cover image source: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com
About Melisa Sloan
Melisa Sloan, principal of Madison Sloan Lawyers, is an estate planning lawyer with extensive experience in assisting people with putting in place their estate plan. She is also the author of Legacy. Melisa is a member of the Law Institute of Victoria and Victorian Women Lawyers. Follow Melisa on Facebook or LinkedIn.
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