As recently as a few years ago, a probate attorney’s best advice after someone passed away was for the heirs to start checking the deceased person’s mail (after we offered our condolences, of course.) Over the course of a month, statements from all the accounts where the person kept their assets would flow in, so we would know how much the person had and where it was deposited.
Today, most banks, stock brokers, insurance policies, and other places where you keep your money send statements by email. It has therefore become much more challenging to corral a deceased person’s assets.
Still, there are ways you can make it easier for your future heirs to find your accounts—as well as helping your parents or other relatives make it easier for you.
The following are steps I tell my clients, which can help everyone avoid the problem of having their assets disappear:
- Make a physical list. Write down every account where you have money, including the name of the institution, your account number, and the approximate amount as of the date you make the list. Include every account you own, from obvious ones like banks and brokerages to the less-obvious health savings accounts, college-savings accounts, or those for your side business on Etsy. You’ll need to review this list annually to ensure it is up-to-date. Store the list in a home safe (not a bank safe-deposit box, which typically can’t be accessed after a death). If you don’t want your family members to have your safe’s code, your attorney can store this list alongside your original will. Just be sure to let a family member or friend know the list exists and where it can be found.
- Elect to get annual paper statements. Even if you get your monthly statements by mail, you can often request that quarterly or annual statements arrive by mail. This will help ensure that any account you open after making your last list doesn’t fall through the cracks.
- Document all passwords. The easiest way for your heirs to discover how much you have in each account is for them to access them online. To do this, they will need your passwords. Some people make a master password list and store it in the same home safe as their papers. Others make one list of user IDs and a separate list of passwords, giving each list to a different person; the lists can then be joined when it is needed. Keeping this list up-to-date can be time-consuming, but with so much of our lives online, it is worthwhile. You can also use an online password generator for all of your accounts, so your heirs will need only that one password when you are gone.
- Record recurrent expenses. Estate assets sometimes fly out the window because late-pay fees for accounts heirs don’t know about continually add up, or automatic-payment accounts are not closed. Keep a list of any product or service you pay for automatically, so your heirs can stop them. After all, you won’t need your online access to magazines, websites, and online games after you’re gone! I also recommend photocopying all your credit cards (don’t snap a photo on your phone; photos stored on the cloud are too easily hacked) and putting that in the same home safe.
Having the Law Office of Gary M. Landau by your side during each step in a probate, will/trust, or real estate matter helps insure that the process goes as smoothly as possible. The Law Office Of Gary Landau is located in Coral Springs, Florida, and is rated 10 out of 10 by the legal website AVVO. For more information, call 954-979-6566 or email us for a free consultation.
Law Office of Gary M. Landau P.A.
7401 Wiles Road, Suite 204
Coral Springs, FL 33067
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