It’s not a topic people want to really think about, but it’s an inevitability we all will face. Setting up your death dossier - a file of documents your heirs will need following your death - can prevent frustration and financial pain.
This post is the first in a series that will help you prepare and organize the documents you should have in your death dossier. We will cover the essential documents, proof of ownership, health care documents, insurance and retirement forms, accounts and other important documents.
This file should hold all the documents and information your heirs will need to access immediately after your death. Consider adding the following to this file:
- Passwords for all your online accounts
- A copy of last year’s tax return
- Contact information for the funeral home if you pre-arranged any details
- Funeral Plan documents such as your wishes for your remains, floral preferences, preferred charities for donations, people you’d like to be notified of your death and any other details that are important to you (such as wardrobe, speakers, music and prayers)
- Contact information for your lawyer
Perhaps the most important documents in this folder will be updated wills and codicils, trust documents and Powers of Attorney.
The Will and codicil
A will is more than just an inheritance document. It’s the outline for what should happen when someone dies. Wills can cover everything from how money and property should be distributed, to who should take care of minor children in the event of a fatal accident. A living will is a valuable document that shares the plan for what you – or your parents – would like should they become incapable of making critical decisions regarding medical care and interventions. Codicils are legal documents that outline a minor change, or addendum to your last will and testament. Consider having your will notarized as this acts as verification of its validity.
A trust is another method of estate transfer, a way for you to determine how the family property will be disbursed or held for your beneficiaries. A trust agreement is a document that spells out the rules that you want followed for property held in trust and it gives an outside party (the trustee) the authority to handle your estate. Common objectives for trusts are to reduce the estate tax liability, to protect property in your estate, and to avoid probate.
The Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is the document you need to have in place in order to instruct your beneficiaries about how to take care of your wishes should you be unable to do so. It’s also good to plan ahead for your own needs later in life.
You will have to meet with a lawyer who will determine if you - the person granting the power of attorney - is mentally capable of doing so. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s prudent to visit a lawyer before any signs of illness, memory or cognitive issues.
You will want a power of attorney for personal care and for property, each of which is laid out in its own document.
Getting these basic documents ready is the first step in building your death dossier. In the next post, we will outline the documents pertinent to health care.
As a Master Accredited Senior Agent® (M-ASA) and Senior Real Estate Specialist® (SRES®), I specialize in helping seniors and their families through every stage of the decision process surrounding a potential move. Whether you are downsizing, moving to a retirement home or want to explore your options, please feel free to contact me. I am ready to answer your questions.