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Estate - Surviving Your Estate


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Recently I shared the heart-wrenching story of a young soldier who had to deal with the unexpected death of his mother. She didn’t have her affairs in order and now her son has the extremely difficult task of recreating her financial details from scratch. Here are some simple steps you can take to ensure that your loved ones aren’t left in a lurch.

First thing you need to do is create a ‘survivor file’ which will contain all of your important financial and personal information. Secondly, you need to tell someone you trust where to find it should the need arise. Maybe you’ve put your will or living trust in a safety deposit box. Perhaps you have a filing cabinet containing your pertinent financial information. Your computer might hold the bulk of your money details.

No matter where or how you have this information, it is vital that your spouse and one other person you trust know about your ‘survivor file’, its location and how to access it. It doesn’t help if your spouse is the only one who knows about it if you are both killed or injured in a car accident!

Your ‘survivor file’ needs to encompass several key areas. Your will or living trust is the most important. Of course, this assumes you have these documents. 70% of Americans die without even a will. Fewer still have a Medical Power of Attorney, Durable Power of Attorney or a Living Will, which will all come into play should you become incapacitated. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have these properly executed and updated estate documents in place.

Along with your estate documents, your ‘survivor file’ needs to include a list of financial institutions where you have accounts. Included should be banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies, credit cards, pension plan providers and the like. A simple way to do this is to place either an original or photocopy of a statement from each institution in your ‘survivor file’. It should list the account number, how it’s registered and the institution’s name.

Don’t forget to include the locations of any safety deposit boxes (and the keys) you have. If this is where you keep your ‘survivor file", be sure your trusted person knows where it is and has the ability to access it. Be sure to list all passwords for your computer and on-line accounts.

Your ‘survivor file’ should also list professionals you regularly consult, such as your attorney, accountant or CPA, insurance agent, financial planner, broker and the like. State your wishes for your funeral arrangements. If you have pre-planned your funeral or have a final burial insurance policy, be sure to list this information as well.

How your personal possessions are divided can create all sorts of tension among your heirs. Listing who gets what in writing, with pictures or on video will put an end to any arguments. Often this information is included in your will or living trust. If it is, be sure to keep it updated. Your trusted person needs the ability to secure these assets at your death so your wishes can be carried out, instead of your loved ones carrying out your treasures at their own whim.

If you have pets, be sure to include them in your estate plan. Who do you want to care for them after you’re gone? Make sure this person is willing to assume this task beforehand and include in your ‘survivor file’ any pertinent information such as your pet’s vet and any medical conditions.

Lastly, if you’re one of those people who have hidden money under the mattress or put guns up in the attic, make sure you note their location in your ‘survivor file’. Otherwise, they might never be found!

Don’t leave your loved ones hanging. Create your ‘survivor file’ today and make sure it is clear who is in charge when you’re out of the picture. That way, you can help avoid confusion and misunderstandings during what will already be a difficult time for those you love.

Nationally-syndicated financial columnist and Certified Financial Planner® Jeffrey Voudrie provides personal, in-depth money management services and advice to select private clients throughout the USA. He’ll answer your financial question – FREE at

Mr. Voudrie is a Certified Financial Planner, nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and President of Legacy Planning Group, Inc. , a Private Wealth Management Firm in Johnson City, TN. He can be reached at


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