During my childhood, family vacations were a time when we loaded up the station wagon and headed on an eight-hour journey over West Virginia country roads to my grandparents’ home in Richmond, Virginia. Back before seatbelts were required, my sister, two brothers and I would play in the back while my mom was in charge of driving and my dad was giving directions because he was too distracted by the scenery to drive. In recent years, with my husband and our two boys, our vacations have taken a slightly different turn. While we all buckle in safely, we still take some risks. Our recent vacations have all revolved around hiking. This year we traveled to the Canadian Rockies and explored a few trails near Lake Louise and Jasper National Park.
Our first hike, Sentinel Pass, was seven miles and 2400 feet of elevation gain. On the trail, we befriended Paul from Calgary. As we climbed, Paul told us about his favorite hikes—Sentinel Pass, Fairview Mountain and Mount St. Piran. On our third day, we decided to try a hike Paul had suggested—Mount St. Piran (eight miles, 3,200 feet). We left behind crowded hiking paths and forged ahead only to find that we were the only four people attempting this hike. As we climbed above the tree line, the path became a series of narrow, steep switchbacks. We traversed over loose rock called scree left behind by avalanches and rockslides.
While taking in the beauty of the mountain ranges and the lack of anything to stop a fall, I started talking to my boys about “what if.” What if I slip? What if I fall? What if I get dizzy…? My first statement was to remind them that I was expected back at work on Monday, as if that would make them realize my concern about my ability to continue climbing. Next, I reminded them that I love them and am proud of them. Again, they failed to understand my mounting concern. Finally, I told them something I’d never shared before. I told them what I wanted them to name my grandchildren: Lucile, my grandmother’s name—call her Lucy. In addition, name another grandchild Hampton, my maiden name—boy or girl. These instructions were new to them. This was something beyond my usual, “Call Bragg when I die. They can help you.”
What I realized on this climb is that my children would not know where to look or who to call if they needed my power of attorney, health care power of attorney, or estate documents. As your financial advisors, we stress the need for you to prepare estate documents and keep them up to date. Taking this a step further, we think it is also important for you to store your documents where they are accessible. Talk with your executors, attorneys-in-fact and family members. Let them know where they can find your documents and what your wishes are.
Lynn Araujo’s article Estate Planning 101 mentions there are four basic estate planning documents: power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney and living will, HIPAA documents authorizing disclosure of your medical information, and your last will and testament. Debbie Taylor’s One Last Gift includes a simple checklist you can include in your plan for survivors. While the checklist prompts you to list where additional documents are located, we find it is helpful to keep these important papers and certificates with your estate planning documents. This would include marriage, death, and adoption certificates; deeds and mortgage contracts; updated lists of assets and accounts; list of account numbers with passwords, user ids, and PINs; funeral instructions; contracts; letters to loved ones; ethical wills; the most recent investment and bank account statements, and any other paperwork you deem to be important.
Accessibility is key. Your documents need to be stored in a location to which your executor and/or family members have access. We suggest your originals be kept with your lawyer or in a fireproof safe—make sure someone has the combination. In addition, consider providing copies to your executor, close family members, your attorney, your physician and Bragg Financial. Having access to the documents in an emergency can prove difficult. Had I fallen when climbing Mount St. Piran, would the doctors have taken instructions from my husband? Most likely, yes. Had my adult son fallen when climbing, would the doctors include me when determining how to care for him? Maybe not. My son’s healthcare power of attorney form is in my fire safe box at home.
How can you have accessibility and keep your documents secure? Consider virtual document storage. DocuBank and Mind Your Loved Ones are specifically designed to store your estate documents. Google Drive, Drop Box, and Bragg’s Client Portal can also be used. My family chose to store their estate documents on both Bragg’s Client Portal and Google Drive. On Bragg’s Client Portal, we securely uploaded our family’s documents to the vault. Documents stored in the portal vault are accessible any time you log into your portal. And, in Google Drive, we created a folder to hold our family’s estate documents and then shared the folder with my boys and my sister. Now we have access to our documents anywhere in the world.
Please remember that as Bragg works with you to craft and monitor your financial plans, we will often ask for copies of your estate documents. We review your documents, coordinate them with your financial plan, and keep electronic copies for future reference. We will store these securely in our internal electric files and we can also store them in the secure document vault within your client portal for you.
This fall take time to gather your documents, complete the checklist in One Last Gift, and talk to your executor and those you have given power of attorney, so they understand your wishes. Create a binder to house all this information (paper and electronic) and share this information as necessary with those important in your life. Your family and friends will thank you.
This information is believed to be accurate but should not be used as specific investment or tax advice. You should always consult your tax professional or other advisors before acting on the ideas presented here.