Informing Your Heirs

Even if you have a formal estate plan, having your personal paperwork organized and informing your heirs of the basics will make it easier for your heirs to locate all the assets and follow your preferences.

One way to approach this task is to prepare a personal letter of instruction, covering the following topics:

1) Your assets and important documents. List all assets and where important documents concerning assets are located. Prepare a list of all checking and savings accounts, including bank names, account numbers, and individuals on the accounts. Detail all insurance policies, policy numbers, coverage and location of policy. List all outstanding debts.

2) Individuals to contact. List names, addresses and phone number for employers, attorneys, accountants, insurance agents, investment managers and financial planners.

3) Personal papers. Indicate where your personal documents are kept, including birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce or separation agreements, diplomas, military records, and naturalization records.

4) Safe deposit box. Indicate where the box is located, what is contained in it, where the key is kept, and who has access to the box.

5) Disposition of personal items. Detail how you would like personal items distributed, including jewelry, photographs, pets, furniture, and personal collections.

6) Funeral arrangements. Indicate your preferences for funeral arrangements, including whether you want a religious or secular service, whether you want flowers or donations to charity, whether you want to donate your organs, and where you would like to be buried or how your remains should be disposed of. You may also want to list any friends and family you would like contacted after your death.

Your thoughts and preferences can change over time, so you should review and update your letter periodically. Keep it in a place where heirs can find it immediately after your death and be sure they know where it is.