Around fifteen years ago, a client came into our office with a garbage bag full of random bits of information related to her recently passed mother’s finances. With a sigh, the daughter told us that she had thought she’d already settled all of the financial details of her mother’s estate, but after coming across more paperwork, she’d realized that her mother held other assets she still needed to deal with. It was clear she was feeling tired, stressed, and reluctant to return to an experience as painful as her mother’s death.
This instance made us realize that one of the biggest gifts parents can give their children is organization. It’s enormously difficult—not to mention emotionally heartrending—for adult children to have to sleuth out their parents’ financial details after their passing.
One of the best acts you can take in providing for your children is to provide your details—in an organized, collected format, which we call the “Personal Wealth Organizer.” Read on to learn what to include in your Personal Wealth Organizer, and why you should prioritize creating one.
The Contents of Your Personal Wealth Organizer
Your Personal Wealth Organizer is a one-stop-shop for your family members with all the information they might need in settling your legacy or in the event you are incapacitated. All you need to do to create one is grab a big binder and collect the following elements:
1. Professional Advisors and Key Service Providers: Provide a list of the names and contact information of all key players related to handling your affairs. Some obvious candidates would be your financial advisor, estate planning attorney, CPA, and insurance representatives.
2. Most Recent Investment Review: This would help a beneficiary or power of attorney know how the portfolio is allocated, making it easier to work with a financial advisor on where best to pull funds needed to pay bills, pay funeral costs, or understand the type of assets to be distributed at death.
3. Bank, Brokerage, and Retirement Accounts: Provide the statements for your bank, brokerage, and retirement accounts. The account numbers, titles and beneficiaries should be laid out on the cover page.
4. Liabilities: Provide a comprehensive list of your debts and creditors, such as your mortgage information or other business liabilities.
5. Financial Plan: This is a document that brings together all your financial affairs—investments, pensions, Social Security, long-term care, life insurance, expenses, etc.—and would assist your health and financial power of attorneys on understanding the entire picture of cash flow, tax bracket, IRA required minimum distributions, etc.
6. Custodian, Trustee and/or Guardianship Appointments: Clearly list any accounts that you are custodian, trustee, or guardian on because if something has changed with your health then they need to be aware you can no longer serve on their accounts and make appropriate adjustments.
7. Estate Plan: Provide a copy of your current estate plan, which will include a will, revocable trust, healthcare proxy, durable power of attorney, and any other HIPAA or living will documents you’ve put together. so your executor can begin to know the steps and process. Clearly list where the original is located, as well, because they will need that in order to move forward on the estate distributions process.
8. Insurance: Provide statements for all your insurance policies, such as life, disability, long-term care, personal liability umbrella policy, auto, homeowner, and healthcare.
9. Pension Plan and Social Security Statements: We include these in the binder to remind the beneficiary/beneficiaries to notify these institutions for the new calculation of benefits (i.e., widow benefits or survivor benefits).
10. Biographical Information: This section directs people to note where certain key documents can be located, such as your birth certificate, Social Security card, driver’s license, passport, marriage certificate, children’s birth certificates, and other important documents that your family may need.
11. Miscellaneous: Under “Miscellaneous,” we cover some of the other important areas of information, which don’t neatly fall into their own category: deeds, titles, safe deposit box information, P.O. Box/storage unit information, and so on.
12. Passwords and Usernames: Your family will also need a list of passwords to access your online accounts, so that they can contact people and take steps as needed.
We know this sounds like a lot, but your heirs will thank you. Plus, the Personal Wealth Organizer will help you in several other important ways.
Additional Benefits of a Personal Wealth Organizer.
The binder is an incredible tool because it helps clarify where there might be gaps in your overall financial plan. When you go through the process of completing the Personal Wealth Organizer and gather everything in one place, it becomes easier to spot where there may be issues that should be addressed or if there are opportunities that are not being utilized.
The Personal Wealth Organizer will also give you an excuse to communicate with your family members. Many people feel reluctant to talk about their estate plan with their children. Let’s be honest: it’s an awkward topic! If you don’t feel like you can talk about these emotional issues, let the Personal Wealth Organizer be an excuse to kickstart a conversation.
Finally, you will also have peace of mind, knowing you have the most optimal and up-to-date financial and legal plan in place. In that way, the Personal Wealth Organizer is just as much a gift for you in organizing your current financial affairs, as it is a gift of organization to your children.
Failing to Plan is a Plan
A lot of people like to put off their estate planning and financial organization. We understand. No one likes to think about their own death. But here’s the hard truth: failing to plan is a de facto plan.
Don’t leave your family sorting through garbage bags of paper; don’t leave them with the toxic cocktail of grief and confusion. Take the time to organize your financial affairs and put them all in one tidy place.
The Personal Wealth Organizer ensures that you are maximizing your financial potential while you are still living—but its most significant impact may come after you pass. People feel unbelievable relief to have such a substantial burden lifted.
For more advice on organizing your wealth, you can find Pass It On on Amazon.
Roger and Lori Gervais are proud parents of three wonderful children: Anna, Will, and Jack. Roger and Lori are also the husband-and-wife team behind The Gervais Group, named by Forbes as “Best in State Wealth Advisors” in Wisconsin. Lori, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, has been recognized for her commitment to clients and to the profession by Forbes, which named her to its America’s Top Women Advisor List. Roger, a CFA® charterholder, uses his background in engineering to offer clients a unique set of problem-solving skills. Throughout their thirty years of combined experience in the industry, Roger and Lori have made it their mission to simplify the complex world of financial planning.