What to Keep in Your Estate Planning File

If something were to happen to you today, would your Successor Trustee know exactly where to find all the information they would need to handle your affairs?

Death sometimes comes unexpectedly. We’ve seen many family members, especially successor trustees/executors, inherit a mess when it comes to paperwork. In order to achieve a painless and smooth transition when the time comes, it helps to create an organized and thorough Estate Planning file to keep all relevant information. 

Here are our top 10 items to keep in your Estate Planning file, to help your Successor Trustee know exactly what to do when you’re gone.

#1 All Current Estate Planning Documents

This includes any trusts, wills, Advance Healthcare Directives, Powers of Attorney, and other supporting documents. If your documents have been replaced, you may want to destroy old versions to prevent confusion as to which is the controlling document.

#2 Burial Plan Information

If you’ve arranged for a pre-paid burial or cremation ahead of time, your Successor Trustee needs to know where to find those documents. Keep a copy of any related documents in your Estate Planning file for easy access. 

Important note for families of Veterans: In order for a veteran to be buried at a military cemetery, the family needs to present the veteran’s discharge papers (DD 214). Keep a copy in your file. 

#3 Up-to-date Schedule “A”

For clients who created a living trust, they also should have created a Schedule of Assets at that time. Every 5 years or so, you should update your Schedule “A” and put a copy in your Estate Planning file.  This provides your Successor Trustee with a useful snapshot of your estate assets and makes it easier to track them down after your death.

When you update your Schedule “A”, include a list of companies and services direct debited from your bank accounts and credit cards. This will help your Successor Trustee know to cancel the services when you’re gone.

#4 Copies of Tax Documents

Keep these in case of an audit. Consult with a CPA concerning how long to keep these documents, but 7 years is usually a safe bet.

#5 House Instructions  

House instructions should explain the alarm system, sprinkler system, gas and water shut-off valves, the keys to open the garage door if the electric opener fails, etc.

#6 Information about any safes/safe deposit boxes or other storage units

This should include a list of contents and how the unit can be accessed.

#7 P.O. Box Information

Don’t forget to include the location and key!

#8 Medical History Information on Allergies, Prescriptions, and Medical History

Information on your medical history, including allergies and prescriptions, can come in handy if you end up in the hospital.

#9 Any Life Insurance Policies or Retirement Plans

Be sure to include paperwork from the military or former jobs.

#10 A Letter of Instruction 

A Letter of Instruction explains many of the minor details that aren’t typically included in a Living Trust, such as who will inherit your personal property, and much more. 

One final note: Make sure your file is kept either at your Estate Planning law firm’s office or in a secure place where your Successor Trustee can find it.

Daniel Hunt

Daniel Hunt is lead attorney and owner at Law Offices of Daniel Hunt. He is also a California State Bar Certified Legal Specialist in Estate Planning, Trusts & Probate Law.