Five Simple Things to Prepare Right Now for Your Estate

This article first appeared at U.S. News and World Report Money.

Everyone knows about the big things that people should prepare for their loved ones in the event of their untimely passing. A will. Life insurance. A living trust. Those are the big things.

After that, there are a number of little things you can take care of that will make things much, much easier on your loved ones if you were to pass on. These things are all easy to prepare, don’t require a lawyer, and will make a huge impact on your family and friends if these documents are ever needed.

The best thing you can do is make sure that you have a safe deposit box at your local financial institution which contains these documents. Make sure that your executor and your spouse are aware of how to get into the box.

An account list Prepare a simple document that lists all of your financial accounts, your account numbers, and contact information for those accounts. If the accounts have stated beneficiaries, include those as well.

After you pass, this document will become an incredibly helpful checklist for your executor and your loved ones as they move through the process of clearing out your accounts and ensuring that money goes to the appropriate people. Many, many hours of effort on their part during one of the most trying times of their lives can be saved with a half an hour of effort on your part right now.

This document is often referred to as a “letter of instruction” and is given to your will’s executor.

A folder containing proof of ownership documents In a single folder, you should have the deeds to any property you own, including both land and vehicles. You should also include a statement of any accounts that include significant assets – your retirement accounts, your investment accounts, your savings accounts, and so on. Update those statements regularly.

These documents can help your family to demonstrate ownership of your assets when resolving your estate. Having them all in one place makes it much easier for them.

An advance directive form for your state This document will help your family in assessing how to handle your medical needs should you be unable to do so. Not only does it assign decision-making power to a person you designate, it also spells out exactly what measures you want taken to sustain your life.

Each state has a simple-to-use form for taking care of this. In many states, you’re required to have the final document notarized for it to have legal standing.

Marriage and divorce paperwork Make sure you have an easy-to-locate copy of your marriage certificate if currently married. If you’ve been divorced in the past, include copies of your divorce decree from those marriages. These documents are necessary for establishing who your current spouse is (or isn’t), preventing inappropriate people from accessing your assets.

A letter to each of your loved ones Spend some time writing a letter to each of your closest loved ones, telling them how much they mean to you and reflecting on some of the moments you shared. These things can be hard to say in day-to-day life, but by spending the time to write a letter, you can rest assured that they will know how you felt should you ever pass on.

The simple process of writing letters like this can encourage some valuable self-reflection and assessment of the state of your life and relationships. It can bring about positive change now, not just later on.

Taking care of these documents is a simple task that can bring you great peace of mind. Spend an hour or two assembling these things and put them in a safe place. You’ll be glad you did – and your family members will be saved enormous amounts of stress if something were to happen to you.

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