Imagine for a moment you have been hired to write the annual shareholder report for Microsoft. Chairman Bill Gates will write his two-page feel-good piece, but you have to do the rest, except for the auditor's report and financial statements. Every shareholder will get a copy of the annual report in all its glossy splendor, and many prospective shareholders will decide to invest or not depending on the overall impression they get from the report. In short, it is a document of vital importance to the ongoing health of the firm.
Now let's take the fantasy one step further: no one in the firm is able to answer for you a single important question and without those answers you're going to have to fake it, and damn the consequences.
It would never happen? Perhaps not, yet something just like it happens most of the time. Substitute your executor for the writer in our fantasy. He or she will need to know where all the evidence of your existence is, and you will not be around to help.
Make sure your executor doesn't have to fake it where your wishes and the future of your family are concerned. Make a list of all important documents and where they are kept.
The list will include at least some of the following: original copies of your will and living will; trust documents; birth certificate; naturalization or citizenship papers; passport; marriage license; divorce papers; death certificates of spouse or parents; adoption papers; life insurance policies; accident and disability policies; property damage insurance; guarantees and warranties; service contracts; stock certificates, bonds, etc.; bank books; retirement savings and investment account details; other securities; copies of mortgages or leases; deeds to real estate; bills of sale; cemetery lot title; obituary or biography; tax returns; receipts and cancelled checks (separated into those that are tax-deductible in the current year and those that are not); and military discharge papers.
Whew! Quite a list, and we’re not nearly done yet!
Your executor or next-of-kin should know while you are still alive of the existence and content of your living will so they can make sure your wishes are carried out. Other things they need to know about in advance are whether you have made funeral arrangements, your wishes relative to a funeral service, and whether you own a cemetery plot. They should also know ahead of time if a biography or obituary exists.
A separate list should provide names and contact information for family, friends, lawyer, accountant, physician, clergy and funeral director.
A third list should detail the contents of safety deposit boxes, items held in safekeeping by attorneys or accountants, and the contents of mini storage lockers.
These three lists alone supposing you provide nothing else will make your executor’s job far easier than most. And they make it more likely your wishes will be carried out precisely.