Tips on organizing your estate

Posted by on November 30, 2009 in estate planning

Canadian Capitalist recently wrote about the issues of settling an estate where the details of the deceased was not easily findable.  This post expands on the topic by addressing how you should physically organize your affairs so that your family and/or executor can settle or administer your estate easily.  The same tips are equally applicable if a member of your family winters down south or about to embark on a long trip and you may need to get a hold of important financial information.

Keep your will and power of attorneys in one place.

If you have hired a lawyer to draft your wills and power of attorneys (a power of attorney for personal care is also known as a living will), the back page of the will typically has the contact details of the lawyer so that the executor can quickly contact them if you need a lawyer to help you settle an estate.

If you have alternate power of attorneys, one power of attorney should be  releasable to your first choice in the event the power of attorney is required. In the event the first choice has predeceased you or is no longer able to carry out their duties, a legal document known as a “direction” should be on file which directs the power of attorney to be releasable to the 2nd choice; if you have two power of attorneys issued, you have two people with power over your property or personal care.

This is an especially important point if your primary power of attorney is your spouse and you both pass away at the same time or the survivor passes away shortly thereafter. A direction is typically kept on file by your lawyer (safe-keeping of wills and power of attorneys is often an over-looked aspect of why you should hire a lawyer to draft a will; in some jurisdictions, a lost will can be interpreted as no will at all).

Here is the important point: let someone know where you have kept these documents and provide them access to it whether through a copy of the key to the safety deposit box, the combination to the safe or the contact details of the lawyer who drafted the will.

Provide a one page memo of your holdings.

As Canadian Capitalist suggested, a one page listing of all our bank accounts, insurance policies and portfolio statements would be helpful. To drill down one more level, it should not only list the account name and numbers but who to call for more information. In the case of insurance policies, it may be helpful to list the insurance broker’s name since many older policies are underwritten by a different company than who issued it given the consolidation in the industry. The account number on the insurance policy may be different so the broker should be able to provide some assistance.

One would be surprised how much unclaimed money there is in bank accounts or unclaimed insurance proceeds simply because the executor did not know an account existed or a policy was purchased.

Photocopy important underlying documents.

This tip is especially important if the deceased was born in a different jurisdiction. Photocopies of birth certificates, and citizenship cards are important if you have to claim property in other countries. The deceased may have copied account numbers wrong and the one page summary sheet becomes incorrect.

If you photocopy underlying documents and produce a one page memo of your holdings, it would help to put them in a folder which, in turn, is stored in a drawer or cabinet. In this manner, it is easy to find rather than having an executor rummage through drawers to find one item and then a set set of drawers to find the other.

Provide the password to computers

Certain accounting software now as emergency record features. However, if the executor cannot access a password protected computer, how can they use this feature? The alternative would be to save all of the above on a USB card and to provide it to your executor.

2 Comments on Tips on organizing your estate

By Canadian Capitalist on November 30, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Thanks for the mention Thicken. I think a one-page summary will also be a reminder to clean up if we have too many accounts. If it turns out that a person has 5 RRSP accounts, they might want to consolidate and, if possible, cut it down to just one.

By Giveaway Reminder and Weekend Reading | Finance Blog on January 6, 2010 at 5:36 am

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