“Estate planning” sounds like something that only the ultra-wealthy must do. For many of us, taking steps like writing a Will or buying life insurance may seem unnecessary, especially if you’re not able to leave behind a big inheritance when you pass away.
However, estate planning is about more than dividing up your property and bank accounts. It can also help remove some of the stress that comes with making medical decisions, arranging a funeral and closing accounts. That alone could make a world of difference to your family, when the time comes.
The right time to start thinking about your estate plans has more to do with your responsibilities and assets than how old you are. After you marry, have kids, or begin accumulating assets (like a car, home, investment portfolio and the like), it might be time to start getting your plan together.
Documents Required for Estate Planning
But where to start? One way to approach estate planning is to create a packet of all the important documents that might be needed. That way, everything is in one convenient place for your spouse, next of kin or the executor of your Will. Here are 11 documents you may want to include in your estate planning packet:
Enduring Powers of Attorney (EPAs)
You may have two of these: One for determining who will help make important medical decisions if you’re unable to make them yourself, and one for controlling your money and property (again, if you’re not able to make these decisions yourself).
Advance Medical Directive
This identifies the types of life support treatments you do (or do not) wish to receive if you become seriously ill, have been badly injured, or are nearing the end of your life. An advance directive may be useful to the doctors caring for you and whoever is named as your EPA.
Your Current Will (and any previous ones)
This document covers what happens after you’ve passed away, such as who will take care of any minor children and who will inherit what from your estate. Having the most recent one handy, as well as any previous drafts, could help if the Will is contested.
All Insurance Policies
In the case of things like disability insurance, life insurance or funeral insurance, including this information could help your family claim the benefit. That could be a big help if they need funds to pay for the funeral service, pay off debts or cover household bills. For all other types of insurance—such as car or home—someone may need to cancel or transfer the policy after your death.
All Documentation of Your Assets and Investments
This could include things like property deeds, bills of sale, or stock certificates. If you have a broker or agent, consider including their contact details.
Retirement Account Information
If you’re entitled to a pension or other employee benefits, be sure to include the paperwork or account login details. The same goes for superannuation or KiwiSaver accounts.
All Documentation of Your Debts
When you die, your debts don’t just disappear. Your next of kin may be responsible for paying these off. Be sure to include documentation of anything you may owe—such as mortgages, car payments, student loans, credit cards and loan agreements.
Proof of Identity and Relationships
Copies of your ID are often needed to claim an insurance benefit or pension, or to close financial accounts. Keep things like your birth certificate, marriage (or divorce) certificate, custody orders, driver’s license and passport someplace safe where your family can find them.
Instructions for Accessing email and other “digital assets”
You’ve likely created dozens—or possibly hundreds—of online accounts that your family may need to access. They may need to close certain accounts to help protect against fraud or login to your email or computer to retrieve family photos. Whilst you don’t want to leave your passwords lying around, typing up a document of email addresses and phone numbers associated with them could help your family login.
Social Media Instructions
You might want to give some thought to how these profiles will be dealt with after you pass. Some sites allow family members to update the account to a “memorial” one—family and friends can still see the profile, but it won’t show up in their notifications (which could be upsetting). You might want to allow this, or specify if you’d rather your accounts be deleted after you’re gone.
Your Funeral Arrangements or Plans
If you have any funeral wishes, it’s important to make sure your family knows this. Funerals are typically planned very soon after a person dies. The sooner they have this information, the better. Remember to include any arrangements you’ve already made, including how to pay for the service or receipts for pre-paid arrangements.
Planning for the future may not be the most fun way to spend an afternoon, but it could be an important one for you and your family. When you’re ready, set aside some time to gather these documents, or meet with an attorney if you need legal help writing your Will, powers of attorney or advance directive. Once this is sorted, you may find it easier to relax and stop worrying about the unexpected happening to you.