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Create an estate directory

Having important information in one place is a gift to heirs.

When dealing with a death in the family, tensions run high. There are decisions that need to be made quickly, and it’s not always clear who should be making them. Adult children who live nearby may think they should handle things, while their far-flung siblings often feel left out. Both sides may feel threatened, everyone is grieving, and all of those feelings can lead to arguments and permanently damaged relationships.

One way to help combat this scenario in your own family is to make sure your wishes are known well before anything happens to you. Every adult should have a will, and everyone who owns a farm, ranch, or other business should have an estate plan in place. Beyond those important documents, though, all kinds of information will need to be relayed and shared. Getting it organized now can help those left behind avoid frustration.

Get it in writing

Kurt Jackson is a retirement lifestyle planner in Liberty, Missouri. His insurance and financial services firm, KJ Financial, helps individuals and business owners develop strategies for retirement and beyond. 

One thing he has his clients do is complete an estate directory form. This editable PDF is basically a warehouse of information that will help the survivors carry out a person’s wishes and will provide them with everything they need to know in case the person dies.

Rather than waiting until advancing age or an illness, Jackson recommends every adult compile a document like the estate directory. 

One good way to encourage aging parents to make a list like this is to do one for yourself and share it with them. Hopefully that will inspire them to do you the same courtesy.

While completing this document may seem like a grim task, Jackson says it brings a sense of relief to his clients because they know they’ve just made things easier for those left behind. 

“The emotional burden of grieving needs not be compounded by financial and logistical issues,” he says. “This tool will play an important role in bringing both you and your loved ones peace of mind.”

If married, filling the document out with your spouse is a good idea, Jackson says. “This exercise will open discussions about gaps in your planning,” he says. A financial adviser may also be brought into the process.

Helpful Info

The estate directory includes basic information like birth date, place of birth, driver’s license number, marriages and children, citizenship information, and Social Security number. It also includes personal facts you might not think of, like where your parents are buried and funeral preferences.

In the event of a death, there are people who need to be contacted. The document includes a place for names and contact information for a financial planner, lawyer, executor, accountant, stockbroker, insurance agent, and religious contact, for starters. 

Important documents like birth and marriage certificates, tax records, vehicle and property titles, military records, wills, power of attorney paperwork, household records, and guardianship letters may be kept in different places. The form includes a check box for each document, along with space to list where it is located. There’s also an entry for safe deposit box numbers and key locations.

Jackson’s estate directory form features an area for passwords, so the person you designate will be able to log on to computers, phones, and other devices, and will be able to access everything from online banking and bill paying to social media accounts. 

Since passwords may be changed more often than the estate directory is updated, he suggests using an app like LastPass, which keeps track of all of your passwords and can be easily updated. Then you just need to list the app login and password in your estate directory. “It is a huge hassle to be constantly updating changing passwords,” Jackson says. “This makes it much easier.”

Once you’ve completed an estate directory, Jackson says the task isn’t quite finished. He recommends sharing a copy not only with your spouse or next of kin and an adult child or other representative, but also with your legal and accounting advisers and executors. If you have multiple children and share the document with just one, make sure they all know the document exists and that you have designated their sibling to open it and share as needed when the time comes. 

You can share a printed copy of the plan or store it digitally along with other scanned documents on a thumb drive.

Jackson also suggests reviewing it on an annual basis and updating as needed. Don’t forget to share updated versions with everyone who was given a copy of the original. Learn more at

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