Taking the burden off your family: 4 things to include in your end-of-life plan

Benjamin Franklin once famously wrote that, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” While this idiom is often used to describe the uncertainty of life, it also serves as a reminder of an inevitable truth: One day we will pass away.

Although this isn’t the most comfortable topic to think about, it is critical to have a detailed plan in place for your family. Ensuring your plan covers the logistical issues that tend to be forgotten can greatly reduce the emotional and financial toil they may endure otherwise.

Below are four important topics to consider when developing your plan.

1. Funeral planning

When a loved one passes away, grief and mourning often must be placed aside to plan the funeral from scratch.

Instead of laying that burden on your loved ones, you could choose the ceremony that best fits your final wishes. According to a study done by the National Funeral Directors Association, 62.5% of consumers felt it was very important to communicate their funeral plans and wishes to family members prior to their own death, yet only 21.4% had done so. Thus, the vast majority of funerals are organized without any input from the decedent!

Preplanning your funeral is a multistep process that can ensure that not only are your postmortem desires met, but your family has proper time to celebrate your life during the ceremony.

2. Professional contacts

As we get older and our lives become more complicated, it’s common for us to enlist the help of professionals to make our lives simpler. These include your primary care physician (and other medical professionals), estate attorney (and other lawyers), accountant and financial planner.

While it may be easy for you to keep track of who these connections are, your family might have no relationship to these individuals. A simple fix would be to create a document (either electronic or paper format) detailing the name, profession and contact information of these professionals, along with any other relevant details, and share it with your family.

It’s important to have a conversation with your professional contacts about what will happen when you pass away. It may even benefit you to introduce your family and loved ones to these people who are focused on your interests.

Tip: You should talk to your physician and attorney about establishing an incompetency plan to ensure proper instructions are in place in the event of your incapacitation. This would include creating things such as a living will, advance medical directive and durable power of attorney.

3. Financial records and personal credentials

It’s probable that many of us have a little book of passwords hiding somewhere that contains our login information to our personal and financial accounts. Even though 59% of people use the same password for all of their accounts, it’s quite likely that your family doesn’t have that information, or they may not even know you have the account!

When you pass away, it can be a long and arduous process to aggregate and account for your assets, liabilities and insurance policies. You can reduce the time and stress for your loved ones by making a list, just like you did for your professional contacts. For this list, you should detail the account type, policy/account number, approximate value and any terms or conditions on your different assets. It would also help to communicate to family members where any original documents are located, and how to contact the relevant custodian, insurance company, accountant, bank, etc.

Some examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Insurance policies (life, auto, property)
  • Tax returns
  • Non-retirement investment holdings (individual, joint, trusts)
  • Retirement accounts (IRAs, employer plans, pensions)
  • Banks (checking, savings, safe deposit boxes)
  • Outstanding debt and obligations (mortgage, car, other loans)

Tip: Given that the typical probate process can take up to 24 months, it may be beneficial to reevaluate your current beneficiary elections on your accounts and update these where applicable. In many cases, accounts with designated beneficiaries will avoid probate altogether.

While you should never share your financial credentials with anyone, it is important to consider doing so for your more personal items and accounts, such as your computer or social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). This would allow your loved ones to properly update the accounts after your passing and gather any messages received by friends and family in remembrance.

4. Last will and wishes

According to a historical anecdote, the nurse attending to Albert Einstein in his last days found herself in a precarious position: Einstein’s final words were uttered in German, a language she did not understand. This is one case where you do not want to be like Einstein. If you have anything you would like to say to your family and friends, or anyone else in particular, it is important to write it down and record where it is located.

Aside from personal messages, make sure you have a last will and testament that is up to date. While this survey found that most people agree that a will is important, less than half actually have one. An updated will, coupled with any final written requests you leave behind, will help your executor, family and all parties involved have a clear understanding of your wishes, and will hopefully minimize conflicts.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, or you just aren’t sure where to start in creating your postmortem plan, please reach out to an advisor for guidance and assistance in this process.

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Or continue reading on:

Preplanning your funeral: 7 things to consider

Transferring assets at death: Revocable living trusts

Transferring assets at death: Wills and probate

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Taking the burden off your family: 4 things to include in your end-of-life plan

time to read: 4 min