Estate Planning For The Prepared, by David E.

As Benjamin Franklin once observed, nothing is certain except Death and Taxes.  If you’re like most people, though, you find the topic of planning for your own passing uncomfortable.  In fact, it’s more comfortable planning for TEOTWAWKI than planning for one’s own death.  Many find it so uncomfortable that they avoid planning for it at all.

A lack of a good plan, however, leaves your loved ones in bad shape: they could be saddled with months or even years of legal proceedings, have to pay onerous taxes that could have been avoided, and your years of preparing and saving could be significantly wasted.  Worst of all, if your preparations are needed, your family may be unable to effectively utilize them when the time comes.

This article will not focus not on legal estate planning.  There are plenty of resources regarding the legal aspect of estate planning.  You should have a will, should try to keep your assets out of the clutches of the probate system and other governmental bodies, and you should try to minimize taxes.  If you have any significant assets, then sit down with an attorney to make a plan to protect your estate from government taxes and interference.  Rather, this article is about practical estate planning: what happens upon the death of a person has spent many years preparing for the unexpected?

A personal example: a close family member, a longtime prepper, passed away suddenly several years ago.  I’ll call him “Uncle Joe.”  Uncle Joe had a wife and adult children and had spent years providently preparing for uncertain times.  He had a will.  He had stored food, firearms, tangible and non-tangible investments, and the other sort of things a prepared person has on hand.  But one thing that he didn’t adequately prepare for was his own death.

The Forgotten Combination

Here’s an example: Uncle Joe’s firearms were securely and safely locked in a quality gun safe.  The problem was, no one knew the combination.  Of course, he had told his spouse the combination years ago, but she didn’t open the safe on a regular basis and over time had forgotten the combination.  Try as she might to remember it, the safe eventually had to be forced open, at significant expense, by a locksmith.  Had he ensured that another person had access to the safe, that money would not have been wasted – not only the money to open the safe, but the expense of buying a new one.

Uncle Joe had stored food in the basement, and in fact had quite the deep larder.  The food was organized somehow, but no one was quite sure how.  My uncle had neglected to label many of the containers.  Knowing that he had been preserving food for close to thirty years, his family had no way of knowing whether the containers were five years old or twenty-five years old.  They erred on the side of caution and disposed of any stored food whose age was unknown.  Again, if the containers had only been labelled properly, Uncle Joe’s stored food wouldn’t have gone to waste.

Your Tangible Investments

I once saw a cartoon in another blog.  It was a man, kneeling next to his bed, saying his nightly prayers.  His prayer was, “dear Lord, when I die, don’t let my wife sell my guns for what I told her I paid for them.”  Entertaining, to be sure, but there is truth in the jest.  For many preppers, a firearm battery represents a serious investment, but if the spouse or children don’t share the deceased’ appreciation for shooting, they are liable to dispose of the collection haphazardly, maybe getting pennies on the dollar for expensive pieces.

Many years ago, a co-worker of mine was driving down the road and passed a garbage pail filled with that appeared to be rifles.  He stopped, and sure enough, the can was filled with rifles and shotguns.  Not wanting to assume they were free, he knocked on the door to ask permission to take them, and encountered a woman who had recently been widowed.  She said yes, he could have them – and in fact, she had another garbage can full of more firearms ready to go out.

The woman wasn’t interested in the shooting sports and had no interest in spending the time and attention necessary to figure out what they were worth and sell them.  She just wanted them out of the house without further thought.  My co-worker walked out with several thousand dollars’ worth of guns that day because he was in the right place at the right time.  It was easy for the widow to simply dispose of the firearms, and it was hard for her to deal with them.  The husband could have saved his wife thousands of dollars merely by writing down the approximate values of each firearm, or having a trusted friend assigned to sell them on the widow’s behalf.

A Trusted Friend

Luckily, Uncle Joe’s family didn’t give away his firearms.  Uncle Joe’s wife came to me asking for help dealing with his collection.  With my help, they identified which firearms they wanted to keep, and sold the rest for fair prices.  Consider your own situation: with you gone, how will your collection help your family?  If you’re lucky enough to have children, friends, or other family to inherit your firearms, who will get which ones?  Specifying your wishes now might go a long way towards preventing family disputes when you’ve passed.

It’s not merely firearms.  Imagine your kids go through your safe and find a few American Gold Eagles.  Will they know what they’re worth?  Or are they simply going to bring what they find to the gold buyer and be happy to walk out with a few hundred dollars?  Does your spouse or kids know that your bucket of pre-1965 silver coins is worth much more than face value?  They might not.  Imagine hundreds of silver dimes being poured into a supermarket coin redemption machine.  Maddening!  But this happens on a regular basis.  Make sure your precious metals are labelled – especially “junk silver” and other items whose value may not be immediately apparent.

You might think to yourself, “My family members are intelligent, this can’t happen to them.”  But the unexpected death of a family member is stressful and overwhelming, and there is a strong temptation to take the easy way out and sell items for much less than they’re worth.  By way of example: Uncle Joe had a classic toy collection, and his family knew it was worth money.  But between life insurance, the probate process, cleaning out the house, the funeral, and everything else there was to do, no one wanted to take on the responsibility of selling the collection.

So they sold it all – close to $7,500 worth – to a buyer on the Internet for just under a thousand dollars.  Intelligent, rational people who knew what the items were worth gave up on them because they were overwhelmed and it was too much work to determine which were worth selling and which were not.  The problem could have been avoided, or ameliorated, if he had kept records of what each item was worth.

And even for families where everyone is on the same page with preparedness, it’s worth a yearly checkup to make sure your loved ones know how to use the equipment.  You have a generator, solar panels, batteries, and so on.  Maybe you’ve even shown your loved ones how to hook it all up.  But can they do it?  Perhaps even in the cold, the heat, the snow?  You might not even have passed away, you could simply be on a work trip when the need arises.

Be Prepared to Take Steps

The moral of the story is to ensure that your loved ones know what steps you’ve taken to be prepared.  Equip them with a list of items, where they are stored, the approximate value, the necessary maintenance, and how to use them.  Write clear directions on how to start the generator, and attach the instructions to the generator.  Make sure they know how to use the transfer switch, and how to use the well pump.  Make them do it while you watch.  They will remember it better than if they had just watched you do it.

Tell them where you keep the valuables.  To this day, Uncle Joe’s kids are convinced that he had a silver bar hidden in the rafters.  He never told anyone where it was and they looked and looked but couldn’t find it.  His house is sold now, and one day it’ll burn down and some lucky person will come across a molten globe of silver – all because Uncle Joe didn’t tell anyone where it was.

When it comes to funerals, I’m a plain wooden box type of person.  If you are, too, make sure your family knows that.  There is no sense in them spending thousands of dollars on the Cadillac of caskets if that doesn’t concern you.

When it came time to deal with Uncle Joe’s bank, retirement, and investment accounts, another problem arose. No one knew his passwords.  Eventually, by providing copies of the death certificate to the various banks and other institutions, the family was able to gain access to the money.  But it was months — and in some cases closer to a year — later.  If they had been in imminent need of cash, they would have been completely out of luck.  And they keep getting statements for accounts that they didn’t even know he had.

Safely Encrypted

After seeing what happened with Uncle Joe’s family, I created a computer file with my passwords, bank statements, the combination to safes, et cetera.  It details what accounts I have at which institutions.  It says where the valuables are.  It’s encrypted and stored on a disc at a trusted friend’s house (the encryption, with a free program called 7zip, makes the disc utterly useless to anyone but the holder of the password).  If I pass unexpectedly, my family won’t have to wonder where my money is kept, or worry about whether they can access it to pay bills today.  They could go to the ATM that day and take out money.  They won’t have to hire locksmiths to open the safe.  They won’t be in danger of selling valuable items for much less than they are worth.

Here is another thing to consider: Giving your family less to do when you pass away.  Uncle Joe worked on cars.  When he unexpectedly passed there were close to a dozen cars on his property in various stages of disrepair.  His kids had to arrange for them all to be removed.  Think about your kids. Do you have broken down cars?  Get rid of them. A basement filled with junk that you’re never going to use? Sit down and think seriously about whether it’s junk or not. And if it is indeed junk, then get rid of it.

And even if the unexpected happens while I’m out of town, I am confident knowing that my family has the knowledge and access to my preparations to be able to effectively utilize them, so that by the time I make it home, they’ll be safe and warm waiting for me.

Consider Your End

Many prepared people know that some of the best preparations you can make are between your ears.  But do your loved ones a favor:  In preparing for uncertain times, also consider your own mortality.  Instill in your family the knowledge that will enable them to survive without you, and the knowledge that will enable them to successfully and effectively utilize your preparations.  Your family might thank you now, but you can be assured that even if they don’t, they will thank you in the future.


  1. Proper planning can save your life. Make sure to have an up-to-date medical power of attorney and living will. If you are ever hospitalized and unable to consult intelligently with your doctors, you absolutely must have someone who can do so for you. Doctors do not have to speak with spouses, partners, or children. Without a POA you have NO legal standing. I have seen these situations over and over. You can go to an attorney or go online to a site like Do it now — once you’re out of it you won’t be able to sign anything.

    Also, doctors will often try to keep someone alive for an extended period, when they have an obviously terminal problem and should be give palliative care and allowed to pass. This can result in bills that can impoverish the family. It can also strip away all the person’s dignity. This is why a living will can be important (you can go either way with one — wanting to be kept alive or wanting that to not happen — the important thing is that your wishes be known and given the weight of law.

    Full Disclosure: I am NOT an attorney. State laws can vary. Even if you ultimately use an online site, please do some research and also consult with a local estate attorney — not your friend who’s a real estate attorney or some such. Further advice: if you have children with problems that preclude them from making sound personal and financial decisions, or a complicated family situation, you absolutely should go to an estate attorney and discuss the use of various trust arrangements for your family’s protection. Never forget the estate attorney’s maxim: “Where there’s a will — there’s a relative.”

  2. This hits very close to home. My husband died in February, it was not totally unexpected. I had some of the information cited in this article but I am left with 6 vintage motorcycles in various states of repair (that I know are valuable) as well as 4 tractors, reloading equipment, tools (ie: 3 generators, etc.) and an expensive telescope with extra lenses. Our son says he is going to help me but he has a very busy life of his own.

    1. For generators, tractors and motorcycles, look up values and list on facebook marketplace or craigslist. obviously if you have a buyer make sure your son or a trusted friend is present. reloading equipment try perhaps your husband has some close buddies that can help you list and move the equipment? sorry for your unexpected loss.

  3. with respect to planning i think all should have an NFA trust, even if you do not buy any NFA items, it outlines your will and intent on a settlor,successor and for examples like widow, the Custodian to dispose of your items with respect to the current values. I have one of these from:

    you can amend these, add your inventory list all of your gear and you do not have to file this with anyone per se, however to keep your beloved collection out of probate, trash cans or firesales from less than knowledgeable family members i suggest everyone get one asap and have it notorized and executed. again this is a private document such as a will, just because it says NFA doesnt mean you have to file with them,unless you are using it for tax stamps etc..

    in short if you want your collection protected from probate courts and to be properly distributed to your heirs, consider an NFA Trust.

  4. Excellent advice.

    Consider a trust rather than a will; depending on the laws of your state a trust will avoid probate while a will must go through probate.

    A proper revocable estate trust will require your assets be transferred to the trust – house, car(s), bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc. – and you manage them as the Primary Trustee. Those individuals you select as trustees – needless to say, they need to be highly trusted individuals – assume management of the trust upon your death and can do everything with the assets that you would be able to do. While you are alive you can revoke the trust completely if you want, and change any of the provisions with an amendment any time you wish; amendments should be handled by the attorney who set up the trust, or an attorney very familiar with estate trusts, and properly witnessed.

    So, the trust document must contain specific instructions for and limitations on the trustees. It will also require a full inventory of assets. A word on inventories: the trust will have line items “Firearms, ” “Tools,”, “Vehicles,” “Furnishings,” etc. but no individual dollar values attached; there should be a separate inventory – spreadsheets are fine – listing specific information on each, make, model, caliber, serial, purchase and (estimated) resale value, attached accessories, etc.

    That detailed inventory should extend to everything you owned and is now an asset of the trust. Everything. Which is a good idea anyway because it also inventories and values what you own in case of fire, flood, etc. for insurance purposes. That inventory should be EXTREMELY well secured, preferably NOT an encrypted electronic file, and fully and completely under YOUR control. Why? Consider WordPerfect software: it was THE word processing standard right up until MS Word took over, now almost no one uses WordPerfect. If your inventory is in obsolete software it will be unreadable. And, while bank safe deposit boxes are extremely secure, the bank must be open for you to access the box. Today that’s not a problem, but consider what might happen in a period of severe strife. Would that bank even be there?

    All documentation – estate, physical assets, economic assets, etc. – should be reviewed in detail no less frequently than annually and every quarter isn’t too often. That gun, or generator, or freezer, you bought two months ago? Did you add it to the trust or inventory asset list? A file for “stuff to be added” that’s reviewed AND HANDLED quarterly prevents critical omissions.

    There’s lots more, but it would require a couple full posts rather than a comment. Pro Tip: Estate planning should be part of your periodic SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Set aside an hour a month for the grownups to do that, and that hour needs to be “grownups only” and uninterrupted by other demands because it will require focus to stay on task.

    1. great point Nosmo, I inventory my safe, optics etc..but didnt think of serialized item such as generators to add to my family trust or nfa trust!

  5. We scored a whole lot of storage food (much of it professionally packaged), knives, prepping books, and various valuable prepping items for a song at an estate sale. We even rescued many items from their dumpster. His children lived out of town, and had to just get rid of it all.

    All the same the massive freezer we scored was full of unlabeled food, much of which went in the compost or garbage.

    While we were thrilled with our score, I felt bad for the old man. All that he had prepped went to somebody else than family. But at least it went to preppers cheaply. Excellent points here, that could have saved significant trouble for his family.

    1. Also, the man who died was estranged from his children. Keeping family relationships positive and without interpersonal issues should be a high priority.

  6. Wow! What a great article! This is so needed. We had a close member of our family die who mentioned that he had a life insurance policy but no one has been able to find it. Also , you might want to consider placing your possessions in a trust. It can simplify things . But as my husband and I are getting older (we plan to live a lot longer) we are trying to make it easier for those who will outlive us. Death is a reality. It’s really difficult for those who remain and it’s an invaluable kindness to have your affairs in order for those who remain.

  7. A much needed article. Thank You David E. !! This article has made me decide to redouble my efforts at prepping my info binder for my children and grandchildren.

  8. Long ago in my early 40’s I made Living Trust & all important documents. I was single, and still am. When I moved to different state, made sure to contact local attorney, local bank Trust Dept. and made needed changes. Now at age 76 with lots of “stuff”, my relatives KNOW what stays with family because I have the family heirlooms, and what to do with all the “stuff” I have collected over the years after 30 years of going to auctions and being one of the early sellers on ebay. Five years ago, I designed and had my foot stone installed in the family plot my Grandmother bought 90 years ago. All it needs is the date of death. My many rescued cats have been cremated, and I have a large container for my ashes and they KNOW to combine and plant me next to Grandma. They also know how to Sell what they do not want, and contact local GOOD auction house (never use Estate folks that come in and clean out, because they will usually cheat the people and not tell them TRUE value of items), to sell at the Auction House takes from 25 to 35% of the sale. Also, one of them should attend the auction to take notes of what my items sell for. I did that in West Virginia with a 10 room house of things, before moving back to CT to live with my older sister. I KNEW the value of everything, especially more than 1500 old books! I use a local bank with several branches, and know the Trust Officers. If a bank goes “belly up” the trust department is SEPARATE and stays in business. The internet is full of FREE information about setting up estate plan. I have seen loving families torn apart because they fight over Grandma’s china, etc. My relatives KNOW what to do, and though my estate is SMALL, I have four non-profits that are receiving most of the $$$. My Dad, self-made man in the Great Depression set up Living Trust for himself and my Mother, and it avoids PROBATE Court. Probate usually costs more than what a Trust Dept. will take to settle estate, plus they publish in the local papers, and it takes months and months. I did NOT want that, nor do I want a funeral. Have a party afterwards, and just remember the very quirky old lady who LIVED life the way she wanted, worked hard, did some good, and had a lot of adventures! That is why my foot stone says “ALWAYS A MAVERICK” on it! Be practical and get things in order, even young people can pass on. If there are minor children at least buy LEVEL TERM insurance, it is relatively inexpensive. Having worked in major insurance company, avoid Long Term Life Insurance because they tell you it is a saving thing, but it is not. LEVEL TERM until children at at least 18, and BOTH spouses should have it. Allow for inflation, and give up cable or something NON-essential to pay the $20 to $50 a month premium on Half a Million or so. On line one can find insurance companies and their rates.

  9. This is a great article. We recently inherited a coin collection that no one in the family knew about when my dad passed away. We didn’t even know the size until we found out that it was thousands of coins that had been stored in an unlocked closet. We had several coin appraisers (supposedly professional) offer us low ball figures to “take it off our hands”. It took us several months to inventory and rate each coin but so glad we did. Turned out the collection was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars not the few thousands these appraisers offered. It would have been much easier if this had been taken care of before my dad passed away.

  10. As someone who has gone through a “worst case scenario” in regards to someone dying and leaving the family in the dark, please, please, please, do your family a favor and pay attention to this article! and my experience.

    Many years ago my ex-father-in-law passed unexpectedly. At the time, my kids were small, my mother-in-law a paranoid schizophrenic with dementia, my husband working a rotating shift, and I was taking care of the kids and a small farm.

    My husband brought his mother to live with us five days later, without consulting me. (and that’s a story in itself)

    No one had any idea where any of the important papers were.

    Guess who ended up making all the arrangements for the funeral, etc?

    Add to this the fact that my FIL was a hoarder, with over 30 years of stuff jammed into a 2200 sq ft house, and the entire house lot was crammed as well.

    We were completely overwhelmed. We did manage to get him buried properly, but discovered along the way that:

    No, he had no life insurance as he had always said.

    The only policy he did have was from his military service, the policy was still in his mother’s name! and his mother was in a nursing home completely incapacitated by a major stroke.

    Long story short: It took us months to get the paperwork straightened out. And it took us 14 months to clean out the house, during which time I hauled (literally) 14 TONS of c**p to the dump.

    Family members who were supposed to help, didn’t.

    We took what we wanted from the house and sold the rest to an auction company. I would have loved to have sold all that stuff myself, but there was no way to do it. Our house was very small, and 50 miles away. And their house was so crammed with stuff there was no way to sort and sell.

    The place was also infested with rats and mice. While the neighbors were very glad to see us cleaning out the place, they were not happy about the ensuing rat invasion.

    When the house was empty, I literally swept an 80 pound feedsack full of mouse poop out of the house. Take a minute to think about that. To this day I can’t stand any sign of mice.

    But a few good things occurred:

    I now know what to do when someone dies.

    I know what to do when someone literally loses their mind on a weekend.

    I know that kids are ridiculously resiliant.

    My mother decided to make out her will, etc. And she told my sister where everything is because she figured I really didn’t need anymore stress in my life. I’m happy to say she’s still alive and likely to stay that way for quite some time.

    I have great stories to tell about that entire fiasco.

    This is one example. I’ve been involved in more, and there will likely be more in my future. I’m at the age when friends and family die. Thankfully my family, including my now husband and his family, all actually talk about death and dying, and are working on getting everything ready for those times.

    Everyone dies. It doesn’t have to be a stressful, overwhelming episode for everyone. The article above has great advice. GET BUSY!

  11. Excellent article and good reminder of listing out passwords, valuables, estimated value of silver, gold, and collections, etc. One thing I would recommend is to give your spouse or child or trustee access to your bank accounts using Pay on Death (POD). Fill out the paperwork at your bank(s) naming the person you designate and when you pass that person presents the temporary death certificate to the bank and he/she has immediate access to your account(s). This has to be done for each account at each bank.

    Establishing a Living Trust will save your family. Make the trust the beneficiary of retirement accounts, houses, other items and then list everything in the trust and who gets what. I’ve seen too many siblings fight over their parent’s items, ruining relationships forever. DO NOT make a family member the administrative trustee.

  12. Always a timely discussion.
    My Mother passed 12-12-12. She had colon cancer and underwent surgery.
    She took a serious and sudden turn for the worse after she was released.
    I was the durable power of attorney for my mother. My sister, a surgeon herself, begged me to postpone my mothers last wishes. “Let her go on her own terms” .
    I asked if she wanted me to give the grand children the opportunity to say goodbye. My sister told me yes.
    I made the decision to give the grandchildren a few more hours to get there and tell her they loved her.
    I am 3 states away and I knew, based on my discussions, I could not get there.
    I asked the physician to ensure my mother was feeling no pain. I asked the physician to not take her off life support until after the grandchildren said goodbye and we talked again.
    It was like my mother was waiting. She passed on her own terms 30 minutes after the last goodbyes. I did not have to make that most difficult of requests.
    That position of being the decision maker is extremely important.
    Thoughtful consideration is really tough as things are typically happening very fast.
    That call from the doctor will be a punch in the face even if you are expecting it.
    God bless you all if you are ever in that position. Know that God has the plan.

  13. Good idea about the power of attorney and a POLST (Physicians order for life sustaining treatment) which should be discussed with your next of kin and have them repeat it to you every year so they don’t forget, also when you see the doctor make sure he KNOWS what your wishes are and that your relative has your power of attorney. when cleaning out a house after a relative dies, be sure to look inside, behind and underneath Everything as old people have an unfortunate habit of squirreling things away and forgetting where they hid it. We’ve all seen stories of the diamond ring in a coat pocket given away to Goodwill, or the wad of cash hidden inside an old TV and hundred dollar bills between pages of a book. Unfortunately a lot of folks have a fear that talking about death means they are going to die, my mother absolutely would not discuss anything to do with death and consequently left a terrible mess. Adult children will also have great sentimental attachments to the oddest things so make sure you know in advance who wants Grandma’s old apron or Dad’s favorite coffee mug, families can tear themselves apart over “the agonizing poignancy of small familiar things”. Arranging/paying in advance for your cremation or burial will also save money as long as the arrangement is transferable or refundable should the funeral home go out of business, or arrange to donate your body to science.

  14. I echo the advice from Animal House regarding POD (Pay on Death). In my state, the persons I designate present my death certificate (or my wife’s, depending on who dies last) to my banks and receive a check within a few days.

    Our state also allows me to put Transfer on Death (TOD) designations on all titleable assets, such as real estate, automobiles, and boats. Presenting a death certificate as described above, will result in a new title being issued with the name of the designee, at which time they may use or sell the asset as they see fit. Check your state’s regulations.

    Both of these strategies were recommended by an attorney specializing in Elder Law, who said the people who benefit the most from a trust are the attorneys. Outside of the assets that can be covered by POD’s and TOD’s, the remaining assets (mostly personal property) of many people will be under the dollar limit for probate. Check your state’s rules.

  15. Couple of points:

    You need an inventory anyway. If a tornado had hit Uncle Joes house while he was alive, he would have been unable to prove much of the value of the insurance claim.

    Secondly, make an operations binder for all critical equipment. What that means is that for each piece of equipment, go through each step to bring it online. Write these steps down, and take pictures. Then go through each step and try to identify variations and document those too. For example, for the generator, did you remember to specify how to disconnect the house from the grid so your family doesn’t electrocute the lineman? Take all the info, type it up, and put it in a binder. Put the binder somewhere where your family knows about it. If you have to jump the motor with a screwdriver, don’t expect anyone else to know that. Obvious things are only obvious to a trained operator. Take the binder, or better yet give it to a 10 yr old, and try to operate the equipment using only the steps you wrote down. Odds are it’ll take a few drafts to get workable instructions. Once your done though, your brother from out of town can drop by and keep your house running while you’re in the hospital, out of town, etc.

    As an example, a friend of mine’s wife had a serious allergic reaction one snowy night. He took his wife to the ER and called me to spend the night watching their young kids. Trouble is, they heated the house with a coal stove insert. I’ve never owned one, and was hazy on what to do. So there was a snowstorm, young kids, and a caretaker that wasn’t 100% sure how to keep the heat on. If the power had gone out and killed the blower motor, I wouldn’t even have known where it was to try to get generator power to it.

    1. This. Is. Important.

      Whatever document you create – will or trust – there needs to be an instruction & information document to accompany it. All the daily trivial stuff you do? No one else knows it, probably not even your spouse knows more than 1/2- 2/3 of it. Where do you keep your checkbook? Or keys to the tractor? Your computer and/or email account passwords? Who do you call if the well pump stops working? When is the electric bill due, and what’s their address? If you get your bills electronically instead of USPS mail, your survivors may not know about the electric bill until the lights go out unless they have access to your email account that receives the bill notifications.

      There are hundreds of little things you do without thinking about them but no one else knows them. Where is this item? How do you do that task? Document, document, document. Failing to do so will increase the stress on your survivors, and probably cost your estate – and heirs – money, both in unnecessary expenses and taxes.

      A friend’s father, when he retired, adopted the philosophy “why put off until tomorrow what you can ignore completely.” When he passed away 14 years later the disaster he left behind took the family 2 years and thousands of extra dollars to resolve. Don’t be him.

  16. Everyone needs a “letter of last instructions.” This is an informal document, listing all bank accounts, all insurance policies (not just life), tax preparer’s contact info, business info, any brokers or financial advisers, credit cards, mortgages, loan numbers and contact info, etc. etc. There are lists of the kind of info you should include in various places online.

    Imagine someone else is trying to wrap up your life (they will be!) and write everything down. You can digitize it and get it on a memory stick. Do not keep it on a computer — they crash, get stolen, etc. Also, once done, keep it up to date — take care of it on your birthday each year so you remember to do it.

    Let your executor know where it is. If your executor is your spouse, let someone else know too in case something happens to both of you at the same time. You will save your heirs a lot of trouble! Of course, if you don’t care about them, forget all of this.

  17. Do not use a safe deposit box in a bank. It will be sealed when a person dies. Even if it is in two names, one of whom is living.

    When my mother died, I had to notify the county auditor, who sent a representative to the bank to go through the box with me (both my mother and I were authorized to access the box). The auditor’s rep inventoried the box contents. Maybe this is only an issue in a state with an estate tax; I’m not sure.

    But, remember, a safe deposit box in a bank is only accessible when the bank is open for business. Even when you are alive, the bank may not be open when SHTF.

  18. A few things to add-

    I heard a story about a family who was looking for grandpa’s silver bar that was the size of a brick- no one could find it. Here grandpa had it hidden in plain site. He spray painted it black and was using it as a door stop.

    When my mother died it was great that what my brothers and I sought was her recipe box for our favorite dishes. The good news was that we copy and the one’s that we all liked so that each of us had it. Mom’s gone but her coleslaw recipe lives on!

  19. Great article! Between my wife and I, we have buried three of our four parents. All three had wills and two had trusts, but being an executor and/or a trustee is still time consuming, lengthy process. The more you can do to make it easier on whomever you leave that chore to, the better.

    If I can add one piece of advice to this article, it would be to clean things up and give items away while you still have control and are competent to do so. Relive the memories associated with that special item and create new ones by finding it a good home. Give that silver tea set, piece of jewelry, or gun to a child or grandchild you know would appreciate it while you are still alive. Not only can you share the experience and enjoy their appreciation, but it will mean more to them now than inheriting it later.

    More advice: Purge, people, purge. Chances are, no one wants the boxes of old Christmas decorations your kids made for you, the work samples you kept from the 1990s, your old VHS tapes, your tax records from the past several decades, or that Master’s thesis you wrote before your kids were born. Spend some rainy days clearing things out shredding old documents. You probably don’t need them and you certainly can’t take them with you.

    And finally, if you have boxes of old photographs, label them with the names of people in them. Apparently my personal facial recognition isn’t as good as Facebook’s, because I often can’t tell my grandfather and his brothers apart in photos from the early 1900s and I have no idea who all those cousins are.

  20. I am blown away by the generous way you all have shared your sometimes hard-earned wisdom.

    This is one of the reasons I am so loyal to SB. Together we create a great resource.

    I copied and pasted several of your insightful suggestions.

    Carry on

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