savings

Key Financial Documents to Share With Your Heirs

Gather information that loved ones will need to be able to access your financial life after you're gone.

To ensure that your heirs have easy access to your financial life, leave them a road map. These documents can be stored online (Amy Goyer, a home-and-family expert at AARP, recommends AboutOne.com or Dropbox.com), as long as you share your log-in and password with your kids, but keep a paper copy in a safe place in your house. Worried about burglars or prying eyes at a cocktail party? Stash all the paperwork in a plain binder and tell your heirs where to find it.

Financial accounts. With online banking and bill payments, it's easier than ever to move money around but harder for your heirs to find out what's where. Prepare a list of all your accounts (bank, credit card, investment and retirement), as well as household bills and insurance (health, home and auto), and update it once a year. The list should include account numbers as well as log-ins and passwords.

Legal documents. Give a copy of your wills, trusts and powers of attorney (financial and health care) to anyone named or authorized to act on your behalf, and store the originals at home; otherwise, your children could have trouble getting them at the critical time. Use any major life change as an opportunity to review these documents and update them, if necessary.

Your team. From your tax guy to your financial planner and attorney, these folks know what's going on with your money and your estate plan and can help heirs later on. List names, contact info and what they do for you. Even better: Introduce your kids to them. "If you're going to build this beautiful plan with your advisers, your kids should meet with them," says Doug Orton, a vice-president with money-management firm MFS. After you're gone, your children will be more comfortable working with a team they know.

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