Does Your Family Know How to Find your Important Information in an Emergency? How to Share It…

Vested Partners A Multi-Family Office Blog

You’ve completed all the estate planning documents your lawyer recommended, do you really need to take another step?

One of the most important things about getting your affairs in order is making sure the important people in your life have access to the information they need to act as your agent. Some people are private or even secretive, but it is imperative that the persons you have designated to take on fiduciary roles upon your incapacity or death know that you have selected them and have access to the information they need to do a good job for you.

One way we help clients organize important information is to give out a checklist of important documentation that can be used as an index for a notebook.  This is a more “old school” way of organizing information.  Another tool we make available to our clients is a subscription to Everplans (paid for by us).  Everplans is an online tool for recording and uploading important financial, personal, and health information to a secure website which you can then share with your family or other substitute decisionmakers. If you are an existing estate planning client and would like for us to email you an invitation to you to join or just investigate Everplans, please contact us.

A quick search on Amazon also reveals that there are books you can buy that help you organize important information, including a book called I’m Dead Now What?: End of life planner, Make life easier for those you leave behind.

Another way to share information is with a letter of instruction. Regardless of your wealth and family situation, there is vital information you should organize and communicate to loved ones, heirs, fiduciaries and others, says Forbes’ recent article entitled, “Letter Of Instruction: Roadmap To Take This Important Estate Planning Step.”

Some people see their letter of instruction as an ethical will—a communication to their family that expresses their beliefs, wishes, wisdom and thoughts. However, a letter of instruction may serve other purposes. Therefore, you might consider drafting several letters of instruction. One might be a guide for a trusted friend to handle financial and other matters if you have an emergency. Another may be akin to an ethical will left to a child or others. A third might be to the person serving as a health care agent who will make medical decisions for you if you can’t do so.

Here are some suggested categories you might include in one or all of your letters of instruction.

ICE – In Case of Emergency. A vital purpose of a letter of instruction is to tell someone (e.g., the agent under your power of attorney for financial matters and the agent under your health proxy for medical decision-making) your wishes and critical information. For both your financial and health care ICE letters, you should list the location of the original legal documents.

ICE – In Case of Financial Emergency. For your financial ICE letter, you should indicate where key financial data is maintained and how to access it. In addition, list the bills to be paid and creditor information.

ICE – In Case of Health Care Emergency. For your health care ICE letter, you should provide key health information and indicate where health records are maintained. It is important to add the contact information for healthcare professionals and any particular health challenges. Your health insurance information should also be provided.

Key Family, Advisers, and Other People. Having a list of positions, names and contact information is helpful for everyone to see, so that they know if certain actions they might have to take may be in the purview of someone else. The listing should be by categories that make sense for you. Some of the positions/relationships you might list include the following:

  • Professional Advisers, such as an estate planning attorney, CPA, investment consultant and banker
  • Family; and
  • Trustees of trusts, the executor under your will, and powers of attorney agents

Reference: Forbes (June 18, 2023) “Letter Of Instruction: Roadmap To Take This Important Estate Planning Step”

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