Financial Planning

What if You Weren’t There? How to Equip Your Heir(s)

Have you ever had to cook in someone else’s kitchen? It’s tricky. You have to hunt for things: the cutting board and knives, the salad bowl, the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sometimes it can be a real challenge to figure out not only where things are, but whether the unfamiliar kitchen even has them at all.

Now imagine you get thrust into that kitchen on next to no notice, in the midst of preparations for a 4-course dinner for 6, because the chef suddenly dashes out without explanation. Not only do you have to hunt for all those tools, but you also have to quickly figure out what’s on the menu, what’s cooking, how long it’s been on the stove, and when it’s supposed to be ready. It’s enough to make your head spin, even for an experienced foodie!

When a person dies suddenly, their immediate family can find themselves in an analogous situation. In a financial and practical sense, someone has to step in quickly, figure out what assets, accounts and documents the deceased had, where they are, what things were in process and at what stage. And someone has to do this at a time when there’s already plenty to attend to and worry about.

This is what an executor does, of course. But, strictly speaking, the executor’s responsibility is simply to carry out the terms of the deceased’s will. There’s actually much more in the metaphorical kitchen that needs to be attended to. What if the deceased’s email account contains several important attachments. Does someone know how to access that account? If there’s an automatic sprinkler system in the garden that needs servicing, does someone know who to call? These sorts of things matter a lot on a day-to-day basis, but have little to do with the will.

If you wanted to provide your family a “road map” to all this information, how would you do it? It turns out there’s a pretty handy on-line tool that is designed precisely for this purpose. It’s called “Everplan”. It is a web-based tool – a repository, if you will – where you can record and store all sorts of information that an executor, spouse, or trusted family member would want to know about your financial, documentary and practical life.

The best way to explain what it can do is to show you the different categories of information it can hold.

Beyond being a place to keep track of this information, there are three very useful things about this tool. First, it acts as a form of checklist of everything you might think about leaving notes or information on. For example, people often have very significant “digital assets” that are squirrelled away in a myriad of digital accounts. How good is your record of all of yours? Could a loved one find everything if you weren’t there to tell them?

Second, the website is stuffed full of useful information about a wide variety of topics in a library of articles that are easy to find. There’s a U.S. slant to much of the information, of course. So, the tax and legal elements in particular aren’t always spot on. But for a quick explanation or thought-starter on a topic, they’re fabulous.

Third, you can provide access to all or selected parts of the repository to those people who you want to know about a particular aspect of your life, things and wishes. For example, if someone is looking after your home for a few weeks while you’re away, wouldn’t it be handy to grant them access to the portion of your repository that contains information about your home and its operation, just in case they need to call about that wonky sprinkler?

To do a thorough job of filling the repository, it takes some time. Frankly, I’d run out of steam if I tried to do it all on a single rainy Sunday afternoon. But because of the way it’s broken up into topics and sections, it’s easy to tackle the task in pieces. And once the information is in there, it’s a comparatively quick and easy exercise to review it periodically to make sure it remains up to date.

If you’ve ever had to step in after someone close to you has died suddenly, you understand the value of a good set of instructions. In addition to making it easier on the executor, simply knowing the instructions are there brings peace of mind. RDC

Image used with permission: iStock/Ridofranz