Where to Begin When a Loved One Dies—The Personal Data Catalog
It goes without saying that the loss of a loved one can be devastating and overwhelming, especially if you are the person who must take on the task of gathering the person’s assets and administering their estate. Do that person a favor by creating a Personal Data Catalog.
Where Would your Executor, Administrator or Trustee Begin?If someone had to "step into your shoes" tomorrow, think about what would that person need to know to take care of what you have left behind. Where do you bank? What accounts do you have? Do you have life insurance? Who is your financial advisor? Who is your CPA? Who is your attorney? Where are your estate planning documents stored? Do you even have estate planning documents? Who should take care of your children? Who will care for your pets? What ongoing debt obligations do you have, and what is the payment frequency, amounts, and account numbers? Do you have online accounts?
While people rarely enjoy talking about these subjects, it is extraordinarily prudent to relieve some of the burden for whomever you leave in charge. Imagine having to step in with no direction? The litany of questions can be daunting, and a lack of direction from you can slow the process down in a time when acting quickly and wisely can be of great importance to your family.
Give your executor, administrator, or trustee a roadmap, which we often call a "Personal Data Catalog".
What Goes Into a Personal Data Catalog?There is no "right" or "wrong" way to compile your data--the important thing is that you do so. Start simple:
1. Provide biographical data.
2. List financial accounts.
3. List key advisors--CPAs, attorneys, financial advisors, life insurance agent.
4. List and disclose locations of key legal documents--Wills/Trusts, deeds, contracts, business agreements, car titles, bonds, stock certificates, etc.
5. List key online accounts and passwords.
6. Provide instructions concerning burial or cremation.
7. Detail special requests and instructions for memorial services/funeral.
8. Provide details on current debts/liabilities--creditors, amounts, account numbers, payment deadlines, whether you have set up auto-pays.
9. Details concerning the care of your minor children, if any. No one generally knows your children better than you. What would guardians and caregivers need to know? Likes/dislikes, medicines, allergies, medical information, etc. Set forth your wishes and goals and instructions for what you would want your children to know and experience in your absence.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of what can make up a Personal Data Catalog, but it is simple a jumping-off point for you to begin the process.
It's Not One and Done. You Must Update!Your Personal Data Catalog should be a "living, breathing" document. Our lives are dynamic--always in motion; always changing. Setting a disciplined schedule to review and update your Personal Data Catalog should be a priority. Perhaps set quarterly calendar reminders to dust off the catalog. The catalog will serve very little purpose if you do not stay on top of keeping it current. Again, you are doing this for those that you leave behind.
Tell Someone Where your Catalog is Located!This exercise can be time consuming, but we have witnessed it being incredibly worthwhile to our clients who serve as fiduciaries: executors, administrators, and trustees. Once you create the catalog, however, you need to inform certain trustworthy people where you keep your Personal Data Catalog and how to access it. Perhaps your tell your executor/trustee, your attorney, your CPA, your financial advisor, or all of the above. The catalog will do no good if it cannot be located and used at your passing.
There are Great Cataloging Tools!We have found a great, free tool online created by a gentleman named Erik Dewey. He has created an amazing Excel spreadsheet organized into what he has titled "The Big Book of Everything." Mr. Dewey has created one of the most thorough Personal Data Catalogs that we have come across, and the beautiful thing is this: he has made the spreadsheet available for download for FREE! Here is the link:
http://www.erikdewey.com/bigbook.htm. No need to reinvent the wheel--this is one terrifically organized tool that you can update through the years.
Make it Happen!Whether you grab a paper notebook and jot these items down, or whether you download "The Big Book of Everyhthing", the important point is this: just go do it! You will be glad you did, and those that you leave in charge will sing your praises for how thoughtful you were to provide them with a thorough, well organized portrait of your life.