Planning for your own death is more than writing a will and instructions on how you want doctors to treat you. You should take steps to provide information to your family and heirs to make administration of your estate easier. Anticipating potential problems can avoid problems and reduce the cost of administration of the estate.
Of course, the first steps in planning for your death is creation of an estate plan. The minimum step to be taken is creation of a Will. Some people may also need a trust to administer assets for the benefit of children or other incompetent heirs. When drafting a will you should also consider other end of life instruments such as a power of attorney, health care proxy (in some states a living will), and an anatomical gift document.
One of the most stressful events following a death is planning the funeral and burial. Funeral directors, like other sales people, may use high pressure tactics to increase the cost of the funeral. Funerals can be planned in advance and paid in advance. Cemetery plots can be purchased at any time. Pre-selection of the funeral plans will save money and stress to your loved ones.
Planning for death is similar to planning to evacuate for a hurricane. Gather your important papers and make sure your family knows where to find them. The following list is a start and should be individualized for your needs:
- List your date of birth and social security number
- If you don't live with relatives you should create a family tree with names and addresses so that the authorities and lawyers can contact the appropriate people.
- Your will and trust including the location of the original will
- Documents relating to your funeral and cemetery plot
- List of professionals that need to be contacted after death such as lawyer, accountant, religious leader, and funeral home
- Mortgage documents or rental agreements
- Homeowners, renters, and automobile insurance polices
- Life insurance policies
- List of bank accounts, retirements, and investments accounts. The list should include account numbers, institution names and phone numbers, and identification of any account managers or financial advisors.
- Stock certificates
- Tax records
- Records of money owed to you such as promissory notes or letters acknowledging the debt.
- Records of employee benefits owed to you like stock options
- List of any debts you owe to others. Include a list of all credit cards and account numbers
- The key to any safe-deposit box and the address of the bank.
- Appraisals of personal property
- Records of government benefits. Social security or veterans benefits may pay for funeral costs
- Records of litigation in which you are a party
- Marriage certificate and, if applicable, a copy of your divorce decree.
If you have social media accounts or other on-line accounts you may want to give your heirs the ability to post to these accounts to announce your death. While the social media accounts have limits on what can be done by heirs on your account, if you give your heirs access, then they can post consistent with the rules of the account. An example is that Facebook allows heirs to memorialize the account but not post on it as if they were the owner of the account. A list of on-line accounts and passwords can be helpful to your heirs.
All of these documents should be kept in one location and make sure your relatives know where to find the documents. They can be kept in a file cabinet, safe deposit box, or even a box in the basement or attic. Many of these documents can be scanned and stored electronically.
If you take these steps you will make the process of settling your affairs much easier on your survivors.