It’s the last thing most people want to think about, but the first thing family members look for when something happens: a plan to settle or manage your estate.

Too often, this type of planning is not prioritized and families are left scrambling to locate documents and information when a loved one becomes incapacitated or passes away. Lack of direction and information can lead to delays in processing the estate, miscommunication, family disputes, and, in some cases, loss of wealth and property.

To help prepare your family, consider creating a “roadmap” by collecting and organizing important information. Key elements include:

  • Key contacts and advisors: Financial advisor, attorney, accountant, insurance broker, business partners, funeral service provider
  • List of accounts: Banking, brokerage/investment, retirement benefits, Social Security and Medicare benefits, frequent flyer programs, safe deposit box
  • Debt/liabilities: Credit cards, mortgage, loans, line of credit
  • Estate documents: Trusts, will, power of attorney, health-care proxy and advance directive, account beneficiary information, birth certificate, marriage certificate, deeds and titles, recent tax returns, Social Security and Medicare cards, passport, driver’s license. Include a separate instruction letter if any of the documents need additional explanation
  • Online access and activity: Accounts, passwords, auto-pay programs
  • Other assets: Tangible assets such as jewelry and other valuables
  • Outline of wishes: List your desires for a family legacy and values, remembrance wishes, and how you would like family members to use their inheritance

Having an estate plan is just as important as preparing for retirement and other life events. Expert advice is particularly critical when exploring advanced strategies. A financial advisor can help identify which planning strategies may be most appropriate for your legacy wishes.

After several years of fluctuations, federal estate and gift tax exemption levels were made permanent by Congress in 2013. To understand how these rules may affect your plan, read Putnam’s investor education article, “A closer look at the current estate and gift tax rules.”


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