Estate Preparation Before Death: A 10-Point Checklist
1. Work with an estate attorney to prepare an Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD). Confirm your wishes regarding end-of-life care decisions with the person(s) you appointed in your AHCD as your dedicated health care agent. This is often a spouse, partner or close relative whom you trust to advocate for your health care wishes.
2. Prepare a team of individuals (care professionals and/or family and friends) who will care for you – around the clock if necessary – if you are unable to independently care for yourself. File a claim for reimbursement for care services paid if you have a long-term care insurance policy.
3. Connect your designated health care agent(s) with your team of medical professionals so they can communicate regarding your medical care and comfort plan.
4. Ensure your will and trust are updated to reflect your wishes, including whom you would like to serve as the executor of your will and/or trustee of your revocable trust. Confirm whom you would like to receive an inheritance from your estate, including your tangible personal property (e.g., jewelry, car, furniture).
5. Inform your named executor and/or trustee of the location of your original will and trust documents and ensure they can access these documents after your passing. Your original will must be filed with the Probate Court. Add this person(s) as an owner of your safety deposit box and provide a key so they can access your box. If they have a key but are not listed as an owner on the safety deposit box, they cannot access the box.
6. Confirm your beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities and transfer-on-death accounts are accurate. Make certain you name primary and contingent beneficiaries on all accounts.
7. Involve your financial advisor to ensure that there are adequate liquid cash reserves in place to pay current and post-death expenses and that your named executor and/or trustee can access and manage any accounts where cash reserves are held. Consider providing the executor or trustee with online access to the account(s), a checkbook and a list of all your monthly bills to be paid.
8. Share your wishes about your funeral and memorial service arrangements with your executor, trustee and/or family members.
9. Compile a list of your most important contacts, along with their email addresses and phone numbers, and provide this to your executor, trustee and/or family members so they know whom to notify of your passing.
10. Prepare an inventory of your digital assets (see list below), including log-in credentials and answers to key questions for password resetting purposes. Store this information in a secure location and provide access to your executor and/or trustee.
Sample List of Digital Assets to Compile
- Access codes for cell phone, iPad, laptop, desktop
- Online bank accounts
- Online credit card accounts
- Online billing accounts
- Online medical records
- Email accounts
- Social media accounts
- Digital photos, videos, music
- Cloud storage and device backup accounts
- Paid subscriptions, both online (Netflix, digital news oulets) and physical (monthly vitamins, meal plans)
- Gaming and virtual avatar accounts
- Virtual currency
- Non-fungible tokens
- Internet domains
- Websites and blogs
- Points-based loyalty programs (airline miles, hotel points, gas and groceries points)
- Merchant accounts (Amazon)
The above lists are not exhaustive. Each individual’s circumstances are unique and nuanced and we encourage you to talk through your estate plans in more detail with a trusted advisor.
In addition to the logistical actions outlined above, it’s also helpful to take steps to prepare yourself emotionally, as much as possible, for a loved one’s death. For more on this, please read my colleague Jacky Lares’ article, Outliving a Life Partner: Early Preparation Provides Comfort When You Need it Most.
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