What Your Family Should Know: A Checklist

It is important to periodically review your records, and decide whether you need to prepare a summary of your property and debts, so that others can effectively administer your estate if you are disabled, or when you die. If you are disabled before you die, your family must know about your debts and insurance, so they can make payments as they become due.

A recent loan application and tax returns often provide a good starting point to identify your assets, but these won’t include some important property.

Will your family know the following?

  • Location of vital documents (birth, death, marriage, divorce, adoption)
  • Location of employment records (and military records, if applicable)
  • List of real estate owned (including partnerships/joint ownership)
  • Location of deeds, loan documents
  • Payment information for mortgages, taxes, insurance
  • Name(s) of person(s) most knowledgeable about property
  • List of valuable personal property. Make sure your family knows if any of your furniture, artwork, or other personal property items have a special value (emotional or financial); consider the possibility that the family members who already know about these things may not outlive you
  • Information regarding employee disability and survivor benefits
  • Information regarding Pension/Retirement Benefits: IRA SEP Keough 401(k) Social Security other
  • List of bank and investment/security accounts
  • Children’s savings accounts (including trust and custodianship accounts)
  • Investment accounts (broker, mutual funds)
  • Business
  • Location of corporate records, documents, share certificates
  • Information re: management, employees, etc.
  • Information relevant to valuation of business
  • Names of advisors (accountant, attorney, insurance agent) continued
  • Securities/Investments not held in financial institution
  • Partnerships (including limited partnerships, investment pools, “tax shelters”)
  • Mutual funds
  • Shares of stock in publicly-traded companies
  • Bonds (including corporate bonds, municipal bonds, savings bonds)
  • Shares of stock in closely-held companies (together with info re: transfer restrictions or repurchase obligations)
  • Intangible property: copyrights, patents, trademarks, other
  • Burial/Funeral plans, prearrangements
  • Motor vehicles (Description; location of vehicle; location of title; loan and insurance information)
  • Stock options: terms; deadline(s) for exercise; location of documents
  • Safe deposit box; storage lockers; safe; lock box (Location; Who has key & access rights? Detailed list of contents)
  • Insurance Information (Location of policies & related documents; Life Insurance company, policy number, amount; Disability Insurance; Health Insurance (including Medicare/Medi-Cal); Long-Term Care Insurance; What are the “premium due” dates and amounts for each policy?
  • Loans, Promissory Notes (Debts you owe; Debts others owe to you; Payment terms, amounts, due dates; location of documents; State your agreement or intent re: forgiveness of debts, or plan to offset from future inheritance)

Other Helpful Sources of Information

Social Security: Every person should request a “Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement” at least once every three years, to confirm accurate recording of your earnings and to help predict your future benefits. Call 800-537-7005 to obtain a form to request the statement.

Employee Benefits: If you work for a large company or government agency, check with the personnel office for assistance and information about benefits and retirement options.

Books: Check out your local library for many helpful books on estate planning. If you prefer to buy a book, I recommend Harvey Platt’s Making a Will and Creating Estate Plans (Longmeadow Press, 1991, $4.95), which is only available through Waldenbooks.

Credit Reporting: To learn how to obtain a copy of your credit report, call TRW (800-392-1122), Equifax (800-685-1111), and/or TransUnion (800-851-2674).

Long-Term Care: The California Department of Aging produces an excellent booklet on long-term care, called “Long-Term Care. ” You can obtain a free copy from any insurance agent who is licensed to sell long-term care insurance, or from the Department of Insurance (800-927-4357) or online. (You will need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader available for download here. )

Choosing an Attorney: If I am unable to represent you in a matter, I can refer you to other qualified attorneys in the area. Or call the Lawyer’s Referral Service (LRS) of your local county bar association (see the “Attorney Referral” section of the Yellow Pages):

Sacramento County Bar Association ARS: (916) 444-2333

If You Can’t Afford an Attorney: The Voluntary Legal Service Program (VLSP) provides free legal assistance on civil law matters for low income clients only. Clients must reside in Sacramento, Yolo, Placer or El Dorado counties. Legal services are provided by volunteer attorneys and paralegals who donate their time to help people in need. Contact them at (916) 444-6760 or by e-mail.

This booklet is intended to provide basic information about estate planning for Californians; it is not legal advice. Each person’s estate-planning needs are unique. You should consult with an attorney before making specific estate-planning decisions.