From time to time, our law firm has a client who passes away with a situation similar to the following actual experience.  The wife died. She handled all of the family finances.  She was the family record keeper.  When she died, her poor husband was at a loss.  He did not know where all their money was invested.  He became very frustrated.

In many families, either the husband or wife is the financial expert and record keeper.  Often, the other spouse does not like paperwork.  When death strikes, the problem of not knowing the financial situation adds to the stress of losing a husband or wife.  A similar problem arises for the children when the parents pass away.  When a person dies without children, the same problem is faced by the brother, sister, niece or nephew who is chosen to handle the finances.

Here is what you can do to make things easier for your loved ones: make a list of all important financial information.  Write down the following: 1) The account number and financial institution (name, address and phone number) for every investment you have.  (This would include savings accounts, checking accounts, C.D.s, stock brokerage accounts, mutual fund accounts, annuities, IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, etc.)  2) A description, including tax map key number, of all real estate you own.  3) The kind of insurance, policy number, and insurance company (name, address and phone number) for every insurance policy you own.  Include life insurance, long term care insurance, health insurance, auto insurance, homeowners insurance, etc.  4)   The name and contact information of the company, state of registration, and number of shares you own in any corporation, LLC or partnership that is not traded on any stock exchange.  5) Any other asset you own, such as money owed to you by someone else.  6) The amounts and sources of your income (social security, pension, rental income, etc.).  7)  The account number and financial institution (name, address and phone number) for every mortgage, loan, credit card or other debt you owe.  Include the monthly payment amount and the day of the month on which payment is due.  8 ) The name, company name, address and phone number of your stock broker or financial planner, insurance agent, estate planning attorney, and tax return preparer.  9) The company (name, address, and phone number) from which you bought your funeral plan and burial plot or niche.  10) The financial institution (name, address and phone number) where you have a safe deposit box, and a list of what is in it.  11) The location of the paper work for all of the above, and the location of the safe deposit key.  12) (optional) A list of jewelry and other valuable personal property.

Show the list to the person who will handle your affairs when you are gone (your “personal representative”).  Let him or her read it and ask you any questions.  If you prefer to keep the list confidential until your death, tell your personal representative where the list will be kept.  Ideally, the list should be in your safe deposit box, and your personal representative should have access to it.  Update your list when changes occur.

If you make investments over the internet, make a separate list of your user names and passwords.  This list should be kept in your safe deposit box or by using a “password management tool.”  Your personal representative should know how to access it.

It is also a good idea to keep your important papers in one place.  For example, you could have one drawer in a file cabinet or bureau which contains your checkbook and check registers,  account statements for investments, deeds, insurance policies, stock certificates, incorporation or LLC papers, account statements for mortgages, loans and credit cards; tax returns for past years, funeral plan and burial plot certificates.  Some of these important papers could be kept in the safe deposit box.

If you follow the suggestions above, when you are gone, your loved ones will be very grateful that you were so organized.