The Estate Planning Document That You’re Not Using But Should

Ben and I are traveling to Georgia next week to visit my family. I love seeing them over the holidays since I only get to hang out with them once or twice a year. We cook a lot, play a ton of Scrabble, and of course talk personal finance.

Talking personal finance with my mom and brother became essential when my dad died. We had to band together since my dad handled the finances and my mom needed help making sense of everything. My brother and I were fairly young when he passed, so we couldn’t offer much guidance. We ended up making several mistakes: purchasing annuities through a “financial advisor,“ buying two cars by accident, and making a not-so-smart real estate decision. But we managed to weather the rough patches. And now we can freely and effectively talk about wills, insurance, investments, etc.,  as well as bring new people into our essential triad (i.e., my step-dad, Ben, and my brother’s fiancée.).

Each year when we get together, we usually hit at least one specific personal-finance issue. This year, we made a pact to complete a questionnaire titled “What My Family Should Know.” It is a comprehensive document that contains essential personal information (address, cellphone number, marital history), information on your spouse, medical information, and the location of important documents, such as insurance policies, wills, and trusts.  In short, the form serves as quick reference guide to your financial life in case something happens to you.

I think everyone should have this type of document handy in case of an emergency. You can find many versions of it online and use the one that works best for you.  Having one place where a family member can find a list of accounts, passwords, and other important information will help make dealing with a crisis a thousand times easier. Obviously, you should make sure only a trusted few have access to this information. But without question, it should become another essential document in your estate-planning arsenal.