Estate Planning: Get Your Financial House in Order

If you were to pass away suddenly, do your loved ones know your final wishes? Perhaps they know the more morbid stuff, such as whether you want to be buried or cremated (personally, I’d love to be put out to sea on a funeral pyre on a Viking ship, a la Rocket Gilbraltar). But what about your financial wishes? Would your spouse or partner know where to find all of the information for your bank accounts, stock holdings, annuities, 401(k), IRAs or other investment vehicles?

Estate planning is something that I’m starting to think about, even though I’m only in my early 30s. I recently read “Your Nest Egg Game Plan” by Phil Fragasso and Craig L. Israelsen, and the authors make a good point that everyone should have a financial file ready in the event of your untimely demise.

 Some of the things it could include:

  • Funeral arrangements, such as your specific wishes regarding open/closed casket, burial and cremation, and whether you’d like donations made to a specific charity in lieu of flowers.
  • A list of people to notify in the event of your death.
  • The names and phone numbers of legal and financial advisers who should be contacted upon your passing.
  • A financial file containing a list of your financial accounts and assets, such as insurance, brokerage accounts, pensions, mutal funds, bank accounts and CDs.
  • Deeds to any real estate holdings.
  • The title to your car.
  • The location of the key to your safety deposit box, if any.
  • A copy of your will, if you have one.
  • Insurance policy number and location.
  • Your Social Security number.
  • Instructions about who should receive heirlooms and other personal items.
  • Personal letters to your survivors.

Most important is to leave a list of your account numbers, but I would highly recommend putting those in a safe place — probably in a safety deposit box. This is something my husband and I should do for the accounts we have where we are not listed as joint account holders or beneficiaries.

Then there’s always POD accounts. POD, or Payable on Death, means that if you kick the bucket, the assets in a particular account automatically go to the person assigned by you when you first opened the account. Think of them as the beneficiary. The advantage to naming a beneficiary on an account in this manner is that they can access the money immediately after your death to pay expenses such as bills without having to wait for a will to go through probate or assets to be released.

These are just a few aspects of estate planning. Do you have any specific instructions set up for your family upon your death?

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