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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Accompanying Letter as Part of a Will

You might be surprised how many people die each year without a Will. There are numerous reasons for this major oversight including; those who cannot or will not think about death, those who believe talking about and creating a Will may cause problems with their partner or family members, and those who don’t want to spend money on lawyers.

Having a proper Will goes a long way to prevent family arguments. The guesswork is eliminated and the family is clear on the deceased’s intention. Furthermore, a Will may actually save money because without one, the provincial/state authorities are in control and that could mean unnecessary delays and extra costs.

Just as a Will brings a feeling of peace and comfort, so does an accompanying letter listing items usually not included in the Will. Here are several suggestions you should encourage your clients to include in their accompanying letter:

1. People to be notified at the time of death. Certain people and institutions need to be notified at time of death including the client’s lawyer, executor, trustee and accountant along with Federal pension authorities. Relatives and special friends will want to know as soon as possible so providing the names, addresses and telephone numbers will make it easier for the person assuming this responsibility.

At the time of my father Jack’s death, my mother and family did not know who Jack was close to when working. As a result, an ex-workmate called after the funeral saying he would have appreciated attending. This oversight, which could have been prevented with a listing of people to be notified, caused much anguish for both the family and ex-workmate.

2. Listing advanced funeral arrangements. Be sure your client communicates his/her funeral arrangements and last wishes (i.e. body burial, type of casket, cremation, and hymn requests).

3. Location of personal papers. List the exact location of personal documents including birth and marriage certificates, diplomas, military papers, etc.

4. List of bank accounts and bank locations. List all bank accounts by name of institution, branch address and type of account. Also give the location of cancelled checks and bank statements with the number and location of the safety deposit box and key.

5. Listing of credit cards. List by issuer and card number.

6. Location of deed and mortgage papers. Indicate where the documents are located, the date for renewal and the holding institution.

7. Listing of insurance policies. List life, auto, home, veterans’, medical and other insurance policies together with the agent(s) name and location of these documents.

8. Listing of vehicles including registration and other papers. Provide the location of all keys and operating instructions.

9. Income and property taxes paid and owing. Provide the location of income tax returns for the past three years. Record of property tax amounts and due dates.

10. Investments including mutual funds, stocks and bonds. List all stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit and other investments. Indicate the location of the investments and the name and address of the financial advisor(s). If owning any gold or silver coins or bars, provide the location and details.

11. Listing and location of valuables. List all jewelry and other valuables including the names of those to whom the articles are to be given.

12. Trusts, loans, money owed to you. List any trusts and provide the name and address of the trustee. Record all loans and other accounts payable.

13. Special survivor benefits. List all possible sources of benefits not named in the Will – government pension, veteran’s pension, employee pension, fraternal associations, etc.

With a current Will and accompanying letter of assets, document location and burial wishes, your client will feel more at ease that their final plans will be fulfilled. Encourage your client to let one or two family members know where his/her Will and accompanying letter are stored and the name and address of their lawyer. Better yet, suggest your client give a copy of the accompanying letter to his/her spouse, a trusted friend and/or family member so when your client does pass away, they can begin the process of notifying family and friends and fulfilling your client’s wishes.

Richard (Rick) Atkinson, Founder and President of RA Retirement Advisors, is an expert in pre-retirement planning. He is author of the best-selling book, Don’t Just Retire – Live It, Love It! Rick facilitates workshops for clients of advisors and others. He is available for speaking engagements. Twitter: @dontjustretire.