Death is an inevitable part of life that affects everyone of all ages, demographics, and social classes. Whether you are prepared or it’s an unexpected death, there is never a right time to plan or have the hard conversations about legal documents, a will, or plans for your estates. More often than not these conversations are had too little too late or not at all which can put your loved ones in jeopardy in the event of an unexpected passing. There isn’t a blueprint available that teaches you how to plan your death, but you can use this checklist as a reference as you are compiling the right documents needed to help prepare you and your family for the unknown.
The death of a spouse can be devastating for all parties involved and during this extremely emotional time, you want to minimize the stress. Having your marriage certificate on hand in order to prove your partnership will help in planning a funeral and accessing personal and financial records. If you don’t have a copy of your marriage certificate then you can request one from the county courthouse in the city you were married. Marriage certificates can be used to help access life insurance benefits, family pensions, bank accounts, and more. The role a marriage certificate can play in a spousal death may vary from state to state, but overall it is a vital document to have and keep protected. In addition to the marriage certificate if your spouse has been married prior, keep a copy of the divorce papers in the event there are shared assets that need to be contested.
Legal Ownership Papers
Keeping a running list of any home and property documents in your possession can help to determine any pending debts, mortgages, or payments to be paid in your absence. This can also be crucial if you are not the sole owner of your property and there are other tenants who may want rights to the property. Real estate, financing paperwork, lease information, and auto loans are just a few examples of legal ownership papers you need to have a copy of and placed in a secure location for your family. In addition to this paperwork, it should be listed in a will or trust who will be taking over the assets in order to prevent a probate hearing in court, which could be costly.
Life Insurance & Retirement Plans
Life insurance provides the funds to help your family stay financially healthy after someone dies. A life insurance policy pays out the death benefit when an insured person passes away and that is done when a person purchases a policy and pays premiums to their insurance. There are two different types of life insurance: term insurance and permanent insurance. A term policy is a great option for protecting families in the event of an unexpected death of a parent or provider. A permanent policy is designed to last a lifetime and includes a cash value amount that builds over time. When a person passes they can choose how they receive the death benefit and insurance companies offer several options to accommodate the needs of the family.
There are several types of retirement accounts people can enroll in but often can end up costing beneficiaries thousands of dollars if they are set up incorrectly. For example, IRA’s are not generally covered in wills so you should complete a beneficiary designation form when you open one and name who will receive what amount. For those with a 401k plan, you will also complete a designation form. However, in the event of a divorce or separation from a spouse, there needs to be a signed document where your spouse gives up their rights. If not, they can be entitled to the account upon your death despite your marital status.
Bank Account Information
Securing your digital assets is one of the first steps you can take when preparing your assets for your loved ones. While it can be time-consuming and tedious, you can take a deep breath knowing that you’ve secured all the necessary information your family will need in the event of a death. It’s very important to have a running list of all your credit cards, checking, and savings accounts, where they are held, and the branch information. With most banking accounts and financial information being done via app or online, you need to have a secure document that lists the necessary logins and passwords for getting into those accounts. Make sure to keep this document in a secure location and notify a person of where it’s located, whether that be on a hard drive or written statement. The worst thing that can happen is you pass and no one is aware of how to access your financial information in order to close those accounts and distribute the funds.
Wills & Trusts
Your last will and testament sounds like a foreign word we hear on a movie or TV show, but these are vital documents needed to appoint the right person. A will has two important functions after a person passes, which are to appoint an executor of the estate and to express the deceased person’s wishes about the distribution of assets. Having a copy of your will that is accessible to the person who will be in charge of your assets makes sure that all of your property, personal items, and belongings are distributed to the right people. Without a will you put your property at risk, which could leave your family at a deficit. A will only becomes active after a person dies and can be subject to going through the court for review.
A trust becomes active the day you create it and the person can have their assets distributed before they pass, unlike a will which only becomes active after the person passes. As previously mentioned, a will can go through the court for review or be contested by another person, a trust cannot be contested. Choosing the best option for you and your loved ones should always be done with professional assistance and guidance in order to protect your assets.
Including this checklist in your computer’s “death folder” can be an instrumental tool in helping guide your loved ones through the correct steps to take in your absence. Remember that while this can seem tedious, it is necessary in order to protect your loved ones and your assets in the event of a death.