Picture this:  You’re 41 years old with two children in grade school, a spouse, a house, 2 cars, a boat, and various financial assets all of which are in your name.  You handle all of the financial management in your home.  Your spouse is in charge of the household otherwise and does not work.  Then you suddenly pass away without warning.  To make matters worse, you didn’t have a Will.   How does this affect your spouse?  Or if you’re not married, who would sort out the details of your life?  You can lessen the burden of someone acting as an Executor by creating an “In Case I Die” file to hold everything they might need to manage your finances when you can no longer do so.   The general rule should be that if you think an Executor might need it, include it, but here is a list of documents to consider including in the file:

  • Copies of your estate planning documents. The original documents should be kept in a safe place because the Court will need the original Will when a probate case is opened.  If the original cannot be located, it is possible that a copy could be used, but only under specific circumstances.
  • Copies of all life and/or disability insurance policies.
  • Copies of at least one statement for every bank account, investment account, retirement account, or proof of any individually held investments such as stocks or bonds. The statement need not be a current so long as the account itself is active.  Don’t forget about electronic accounts!
  • Copies of car titles, deeds, mortgages, or any other proof of tangible assets that you own.
  • Copies of business ownership documents, buy/sell agreements, lease contracts, or any other business document that reflects possible income or assets for the estate.
  • Copies of prior year tax returns.
  • Birth certificates, marriage licenses, name change orders, divorce decrees, prenuptial agreements, or any other document that provides vital information about you.
  • Appraisals of jewelry, collectibles, or other valuables.
  • Passwords or codes needed to download information from the internet or access information from safes. Pictures, stories, music, and other intellectual property are often stored online.

Some people keep paper copies of these documents, which is fine, but bundle them together with your estate planning documents or store them in a binder.  Many of us store our documents in the cloud now.  Consider printing instructions of where your Executor should look and give them access to your online accounts.  Download a password storage app and leave the main password in your “In Case I Die” file.  Password apps often allow you to save other information such as copies of documents, social security numbers, etc. Overall, give your Executor as much information as possible in an organized fashion.  Your Executor and your family will appreciate this.

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