When a loved one passes, chaos often ensues – emotional chaos if not anything else. Added to that stress is the handling of the deceased estate and all the legalities of seeing to it. If the family that is left behind doesn’t know where to find the deceased’s paperwork, the last will and testament, insurance policies, etc, it can delay the finalization of the deceased’s estate by months as they need to find documents and jump through hoops. When this paperwork is all in order, however, and left for the family to find, it can make things much easier.

Some people choose to make a physical file and inform some family members where it is, others choose to make an electronic file and share it with a loved one. Either way, if the file is regularly updated and accessible, you have made sure that there is less stress and tension after you pass.

What should I have in my file?

The short answer is every legal and financial contract you have, copies of everything and all the info they need to access your accounts, policies, and password protected devices, files, and website.

The longer answer is the following list:

  • Funeral arrangements (if you have made any beforehand)
  • Last will and testament
  • All your policies
    • Insurance policies
    • Pension policies
    • Any policy that will potentially pay out upon your death
  • Medical insurance details
  • Important contact details
    • Your lawyer
    • Your banker or financial advisor
    • Your executor
    • Your employer (including the most recent salary slips)
    • Children’s chosen guardian (if applicable)
  • Possessions/Assets/Properties
    • Keep a detailed list of all your assets, possessions, heirlooms to be inherited and their approximate values.
    • Keep a detailed list of any property you own – include all the relevant information like the most recent municipal account, title deeds, mortgage details, rental agreements, etc.
  • Financials – have details available of all your relevant financial dealings and details
    • All your bank accounts
    • Copies of your most recent bank and credit card statements
    • All investments and shares you have
    • Details on how to gain access to your bank accounts and investments
    • All your creditors (if you have any) and the details of the credit you owe
    • All your debtors (if you have any) and the details of debt owed to you
  • Originals or copies of all the important identity documents or certificates
    • Identity document
    • Passport
    • Driver’s license
    • Birth and/or marriage certificate
    • Antenuptial contract or divorce agreements (if applicable)
    • Living life plan for the kids (if applicable)
    • Tax and VAT numbers (if applicable)
    • The nominated/proposed executors and/or guardians ID
    • Beneficiaries IDs
    • Firearm licenses (and details about the location of the firearms and contact details of a trusted firearm dealer)

While it is not a necessity, adding letters to chosen family members in this file can also help them after your passing. If a loved one passes suddenly, the legal documents in your file will probably not provide all the information family members need. If you are an organ donor, for example, and your family doesn’t know, they might find the idea difficult to accept. A letter stating your wishes and choices could provide the final understanding they need.

Keep it safe

The electronic or physical file with all your information must be kept safe and secure. You might not want to put all the information in one place but choose to let one family member keep some information and another family member keep different information. You might want your lawyer to keep it all and just provide your family with his/her contact details.

Part of keeping it safe is also keeping it updated. Some documents, like your payslips, will need to be updated monthly and others, like beneficiaries IDs, will need to be updated whenever changes are made to your will

Should an attorney help you?

It is not an absolute must that an attorney helps you curate the file with all your important information, though it is advisable. In general, everyone should have the same basic information, but no two lives are the same and one person might need to add a document that the next does not.

It is also important for an attorney to assist you in drafting your will and keeping it updated. It will bypass any uncertainty about what happens to your estate. AED has extensive experience in this and will guide you with a kind, knowledgeable hand to draft an airtight will and also create an effective file in the case of your death.

AED Attorneys understands that every situation is unique, and although they strive to ensure that the information contained herein is accurate at the time of publishing, it cannot be guaranteed to be without errors or omissions. As a result, AED Attorneys, its employees, independent contractors, associates or third parties will under no circumstances accept liability or be held liable for any innocent or negligent actions or omissions in this article, which may result in any harm or liability flowing from the use of or the inability to use the information provided.