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Organizing Your Estate for Heirs

Don’t think you’re finished with the estate planning process once a will, trusts, and other estate planning documents are in place.  From your heirs’ point of view, it’s just as important for you to organize paperwork and inform them of basic decisions.  One way to approach this task in a systematic manner is to prepare a notebook including the following items: 


•     Net worth statement.  An up-to-date net worth statement is a good way to ensure heirs are aware of every asset and liability.  Make sure to list all pertinent information for each item on the statement, including account numbers, contact names, and phone numbers.  Identify where important documents are kept, including deeds, loan agreements, insurance policies, etc.  You may also want to explain your rationale for the distribution of your estate.  You can go into specific detail, informing heirs how each asset will be distributed, or you can give a general overview of your estate plan.  If you selected one heir as executor or trustee, explain why you chose that individual. 

•     Individuals to contact.  List names, addresses, and telephone numbers of individuals your heirs may need to contact, including employers, attorneys, accountants, insurance agents, investment managers, and financial planners. 

•     Personal papers.  Indicate where personal records are kept, including your birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce or separation agreements, diplomas, military records, and naturalization records. 

•     Safe deposit box.  Indicate where the safe deposit box is located and what is contained in the box.  Note where the key is kept and who has access to the box. 

•     Disposition of personal items.  Detail how you would like personal items distributed, including jewelry, photographs, personal collections, and furniture.  Often, disputes over personal possessions are more apt to cause conflict among heirs than disputes over money, so explain your rationale for the distribution of personal items.  After you have decided how to distribute your most valued possessions, come up with a method for heirs to distribute the remainder.  It can be as simple as heirs taking turns to select the items they want, or flipping a coin if more than one individual is interested in an item. 

•     Last wishes.  Indicate your preferences for funeral arrangements, including whether you want a religious or secular service, whether you want flowers or donations to a charity, whether you want to donate your organs or body to medical institutions, and where you would like to be buried.  These are details your heirs may feel uncomfortable asking about, but will be grateful your wishes are known so they can be carried out.  Also, list any friends or family you would like contacted after your death.


Your thoughts on these subjects can change over time, so review and update the information periodically.  Keep it in a place where heirs can find it immediately after your death.




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