What financial facts would your family need to know if you became incapacitated or unexpectedly died? What documents would you need to gather, and what questions should you answer before the need arises?
I’ve been managing my aging parent’s finances for a few months now, but I still have many questions. Yesterday, my dad and I sat down to discuss my parents’ money. In doing so, we created an end-of-life checklist I think everyone should complete.
I cannot improve my dad’s medical condition or prevent cancer from invading his body, but I can be productive and helpful during this trying time.
As we gather documents and discuss details, I feel a great sense of peace and purpose. Gathering the facts of an end-of-life checklist ensures my family and I know everything we should before my dad dies.
None of us knows what day will be our last, so we shouldn’t wait to complete an end-of-life checklist ourselves. As soon as I finish documenting my dad’s details, I plan to record my own.
Gather Required Documents
So, where did we begin? The first step is to gather official documents and let someone in the family know where you placed them.
Here are the most important ones to find first:
- Medical Power of Attorney
- Financial Power of Attorney
- Living Will
After you locate that paperwork, search for official documents, including:
- Social Security Cards
- Birth Certificates
- Marriage Certificates
- Driver’s Licenses
- Military ID Cards
- Military Discharge Papers
- Life Insurance Policies
- Property Deeds
- Cemetery Plots
- Vehicle Titles
- Certificates for Collectibles and Artwork
If you choose to place this documentation inside a safe, provide someone with the key or passcode. If you don’t trust anyone in your close family, give the details to a lawyer or distant relative who can hold the information until the need arises to share it.
Don’t forget this important detail. Someone must know the combination or code!
Talk to Your Family About Your Efforts
After gathering the documents, provide the list to your spouse and children. If you become incapacitated, your family will need to know where to find your POAs or health care directives. If you’ve written a will, you’ll want to tell your family where to locate it after you die.
You don’t need to tell your family how you divided your assets or how much money your children will inherit. Instead, say, “I finished my will and gathered important paperwork. When I die, here is where you can find them.”
If you are worried about someone getting ahold of your will before you die, leave it with your lawyer. Then give your children or beneficiaries the name and number of your attorney.
Avoid a Safe Deposit Box
If your parents use a safe deposit box, make sure numerous family members can access it. Many of these documents need to be accessible shortly after death.
Without the proper authorization, you won’t be able to get into it. If you own one, make sure someone you trust has the authority to open it.
Some paperwork is required shortly after your loved one dies. For example, to bury someone in a veteran’s cemetery, you need proof they are a veteran.
If you can’t access military discharge papers, you’ll need to search for other burial options. You can’t afford to wait weeks or months for authorization to open that safe deposit box.
My parents used to store their documents in a safe deposit box, but I encouraged them to bring them home and move them to a locked, fireproof box instead.
Record Usernames, Passwords, Access Codes, and PINs
After gathering your paperwork, it’s time to document your usernames, passwords, access codes, and PINs. Include all savings accounts, checking accounts, cryptocurrency, annuities, 403bs, 401ks, IRAs, and 529s.
The most critical passcode might be the one that unlocks your cell phone. If you trust your family, give someone access to it by giving them the code, adding their fingerprint, or setting up Apple’s Face ID.
If you are leery of sharing this information before your death, write down the details and place it in the same location as the official documents listed above.
Requirements for Two-Step Verification
Next, write down the password to your primary email account—the one you use for online banking and utilities. Many online bank accounts require two-step verification, which means a good, old-fashioned username and password isn’t enough to gain access anymore.
Many secure systems won’t provide access until you enter a code sent to email or SMS. If you can’t get into your loved one’s email or cell phone, you won’t be able to access their accounts, so make sure to document email addresses, passwords, and cell phone codes.
Email and text messaging are also required for resetting passwords. If the list of passwords isn’t kept up to date, having access to email and SMS messages will allow you to reset them.
Where Do You Keep Your Money
Next, document where you keep your money. List the bank names, account numbers, usernames, and passwords.
Documenting this information may seem like all you need to do, but don’t forget about the secret places you like to squirrel cash, gift cards, and jewelry.
People stash cash in all sorts of strange places. Do you keep a wad under your favorite potted plant, inside a shirt pocket hanging in your closet, or on the underside of your desk drawer?
You’d be surprised how many people keep their money hidden in their homes. You don’t want your loved ones digging through every nook and cranny, turning every vase over, and picking through every coat and shirt pocket in search of spare change.
Include a note about all of the previously unknown places where you hide money. You’d hate for your loved ones to throw out an old shoebox, not knowing you stuffed thousands of dollars into the toe of some old ratty boots you owned.
Pensions, Insurance & Work-Related Details
If you have access to a pension, write down the details of your previous employer. Many pension programs have survivor benefits for spouses and children. Is there a specific benefits number to call if you die or a department to contact?
Gather this information in advance so your relatives aren’t digging around for information after you pass. If you have life insurance through your company, include your employer’s name and contact number.
Please document your insurance policies so your family knows you have them.
You Don’t Have to Share Financial Details.
Money is still taboo in many families. If your family struggles to talk about money, remember that you don’t have to provide any financial figures at this time.
You don’t have to provide the amount of your life insurance policy or the total amount of assets you own. At this point, you don’t have to tell anyone how much money you have.
You aren’t creating a net worth chart; you’re generating a list of locations where you store financial assets. Write down the details and place your notes alongside the documents you gathered.
You can keep this list locked up, but make sure people know how to find the details and access codes after you die.
Keep Money From Getting Lost
The truth is, your money can get lost if you don’t tell people about it.
Imagine paying for twenty years of life insurance but failing to tell your children you have an active policy. Your children won’t reap the benefit if you don’t tell them you purchased a policy.
The same is true for royalties, annuities, bank accounts, pensions, CDs, savings bonds, lottery payouts, and stock shares.
Tell your family about these financial windfalls, so they don’t wind up on an unclaimed property list.
Document Other Assets
Write down the locations of boats, motorcycles, and cars. Include keys, permits, titles, license plate numbers, and VINs.
If you have a loan on these items, search for your financing documentation. If you can’t find it, write down the name of your finance company and when the last payment is due. That way, your family can continue to pay your bills when you are incapacitated or gone.
If you own a storage unit, keep a copy of the key or entry code alongside the contract, so your family can continue to pay for service until it’s cleaned out.
Reward Credit Cards, Loyalty Programs, and Subscriptions
If you use reward credit cards or loyalty programs, record the program’s name and the username and password you use to access it.
Unfortunately, if you don’t share this information, your family won’t be able to take advantage of the free flights, hotel rooms, and other rewards you’ve earned.
Lastly, keep a list of subscriptions and memberships. If you’ve paid for a yearly subscription to Netflix, Amazon Prime, or GrubHub, your family might as well use them.
As with everything else, list the usernames and passwords for these too.
Photos, Heirlooms, and Mementos
Lastly, gather up your favorite photographs, heirlooms, and mementos. If you find yourself surrounded by a sea of digital photos, do your best to delete the ones you don’t love or archive the ones you do.
Tell your family where they can find the best ones. Are they stored on hard drives, Google Drive, or your iPhone?
It’s tough to let go of childhood toys and a lifetime of memorabilia. Write notes about your possessions if you find it challenging to get rid of them.
Tell your loved ones why they mean something to you and why you’ve kept them. Then write a note saying, “While these items gave me great joy, you can do whatever you want with them after I’m gone. It’s ok to let them go.”
Some online applications, like Facebook, allow you to list a legacy contact after you pass away. Your legacy contact will have the ability to manage tribute posts on your profile, decide who can see your posts, request the removal of your account, respond to friend requests, and update your profile picture and cover photo.
Apple iCloud and Google Inactive Account Manager also provide ways for you to name a legacy contact who can access and download your data after your death.
Instagram can memorialize a profile after receiving proof of death, which typically includes a death certificate. Twitter won’t memorialize accounts, but they will shut down a profile after receiving valid documentation.
After you finish the steps above, you’ll want to include details about your funeral wishes. Do you want to be buried or cremated? Have you purchased a burial plot or prepaid for funeral expenses?
Thinking about death isn’t easy, but writing down your wishes is essential. You don’t want to burden family members with these decisions after your death.
Take the time to document your desires, so family members aren’t left wondering how to proceed while mourning your loss.
Write Letters to Those You Love
Lastly, if you can muster the strength and push through the strong emotional feelings, it helps to write letters to those you love. Tell your family members and friends how much they mean to you, and take this time to say what matters most to you.
You can take this time to write your eulogy too!
Completing Your End of Life Checklist
To complete your end-of-life checklist you’ll need to gather official documents, record usernames, passwords, and access codes, and write down the details and locations of your assets.
You’ll also want to include plans for archiving your digital legacy and writing notes to those you love.
I am grateful for the opportunity to help my parents finalize their plans and document their finances. They feel a great sense of peace in completing their end-of-life checklist, and so do I.