While some people continue to lock the majority of their personal information in a file drawer, most of us store our personal data on our computers or in the cloud. The end of the year is a good time to update and share the details on where to find your retirement and estate-planning information — digital or otherwise. Taking that step can save you and your loved ones a ton of grief if the unforeseen happens in 2015.
Here are some key steps suggested by David Walters, a certified financial planner and a certified public accountant with Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Portland, Oregon.
Prepare a list of important documents and their locations. This will help your family easily find your will, marriage certificate, housing deed, car titles, life insurance policies, contact information for providers of retirement benefits and annuities, where you bank and where you invest your money.
Create a list of user IDs and passwords. Be sure to include your primary email account, your online banking portals and other websites where you have important information. Also include passwords for Facebook and other social media sites because all have rules that make it difficult for someone to request removal of your account unless they know your log-in and password. You can put this information in an online password-management system or you can just put it on a piece of paper in a safe place. “Hacking is a concern for everyone,” Walters says. “Some people like to keep everything online because they can say, ‘Here’s the link,’ but other people just aren’t comfortable with that, and that’s OK, too.”
Make photos accessible. Backing up photos onto a removable drive will make it more likely that family can find and enjoy them. If you leave them on photo management sites, include that information — with passwords — in your list of important documents.
Share the whereabouts of your info with at least two people. “I guess you could call this super cautious, but if one of them forgets, the other one will probably remember,” Walters says.
Check your beneficiaries. Life insurance policies, IRAs, medical and health savings accounts and payable-on-death accounts all pass automatically to the beneficiary that you have designated — regardless of what you put in your will. Lives change and unless you really want your ex-wife to have the proceeds from these accounts, make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date. “Specify the beneficiary’s full, legal name and make sure that the contact information for that person is current,” Walters advises.
Handling these details is a somber task that isn’t as interesting as planning a New Year’s Eve party, but in the end can be far more important.
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