Critical Information for the Heirs of Your Estate

You’ve done the hard part of your estate planning – signed all the documents, allocated the house and the funds, and had the tough conversations. So it’s over, right? Not quite. There’s some critical information left that your heirs will need once you pass which, lucky for you, we’ve gone ahead and listed out below. Keep a printed version of this information in an easily accessible location, like a locked drawer or safe within your home. Be sure one or more heirs/relatives have the necessary codes or keys to access the information after your death.

A recent copy of your credit report – the recently deceased are a favorite target of identity theft. Protect your family against this by keeping a copy of your recent credit report on-hand. These reports can be obtained from the three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. You can get one free report per year from each of the bureaus, meaning you can get a credit report roughly each quarter. This information will allow your heirs to discern which accounts are legitimate if a problem arises.

A running list of debts and recurring bills – with many bills now being paid digitally and in an automatic fashion, important bills can be easily missed. To avoid this problem, compile a list of all debts and recurring bills (including insurance plans, phone bills, etc.) and update it frequently. For insurance plans, a good practice is to scan and attach the cover page of your policy to this list as it will provide a useful summary of coverage and contact information for the insurance agency. Also, if you have authorized users on your credit card, they should be noted in this file and warned not to use your card after your death.

Specifics about money still owed to you – if you have lent out money and have a repayment plan in place, be sure to leave written details for your loved ones. Include signed loan documents if you have them and/or a detailed description of the agreed-upon repayment terms, as well as each borrower’s contact information. It is critical to update these details each time a payment is made so your heirs have the most up-to-date and accurate information.

Access to your online accounts – with the multitude of online accounts in use these days, it is essential to make sure your heirs have all the necessary usernames and passwords. Compile a list of these including (but not limited to) any social media, insurance policies, bank accounts, so your accounts can be updated or closed according to your preferences. There are three ways to do this:

  1. Create a standard list of all accounts with their respective usernames and passwords
  2. Sign up for a password manager site that has an emergency access feature: these types of sites securely store all of your login information and provide an emergency access feature where access can be granted to a designated person under specific circumstances. An example of this is the site LastPass, which provides the emergency access feature for $3 per month.
  3. Use digital legacy tools: these are pre-set directions on an online account that designate what happens when said account either goes inactive or an heir submits a death certificate for the owner of the account.

Instructions on how to check for missing money under your name – sometimes when a person passes and their financial accounts go inactive or a refund is due, companies that cannot reach the customer are forced to turn the money over to the state. There are online databases your heirs can check – i.e. – that will let them know if any of your money is, well, missing. Let them know they should check periodically for a while after your death as it can sometimes take months for money to end up listed on these sites.

Any pet care instructions – provide a list of important information such as who has agreed to take care of the pet(s) and how to contact them, necessary medications, allergies, medical/vaccine history, whether there’s money set aside, and potential back-up options if your primary caretaker falls through. Included in this should also be the day-to-day care for the pet: what food and how much, any daily vitamins and/or medications, contact info for the vet, and other pet-related items in your home.

Where to find your vital records – ideally you should leave such records (ID, passport, military ID, Social Security Number, etc.) wherever you’ve decided to store the rest of these critical info items, but if not, be sure to leave instructions on where/how to find your vital records.

Your not-so-obvious valuables – heirs can sometimes overlook valuable items in your home, so make sure you leave a list of such items. This could include an expensive piece of art in your home, a vintage designer gown, or a rare book, for example. Also be sure to include if you wish for any of these items to be inherited, and if so, by who, along with valuation estimates (when possible) for each item.

Access to frequent-flier and other point-accumulating accounts – don’t let those hard-earned miles and points go to waste! Many of these programs will have transfer options where heirs can pass your points on to themselves or others.

Details about your funeral preferences and/or arrangements – heirs sometimes fail to realize that funeral arrangements have been made and/or already paid for. Although a difficult conversation to have, be sure to inform your heirs of any plans made before you pass and leave detailed instructions/notes and receipts (if possible) with your other key documents.

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