The following items should be included in the post-mortem letter.
- Notify your employer (remember to include phone numbers).
- Notify certain friends and relatives (provide a list with phone numbers).
- If you have volunteered as an organ donor, provide the information necessary for your family to act on your wishes.
- Notify the Social Security Administration (include your social security number for convenience).
- Any instructions on the care of pets.
The location of your final executed will should be mentioned, along with any copies.
Caution: Do not leave a will in a safe deposit box. Safe deposit boxes
are sealed on the death of the decedent in many states; this will cause headaches
Guardians of Children
The names and addresses of guardians for minor children in case they are orphaned
should be mentioned in your will. These should also be included in the letter.
Funeral and Cemetery Plot
If you have made arrangements for funeral services or have established a pre-need
funeral trust, provide details in the letter. The location of your cemetery plot
and the location of the deed or certificate relating to the burial plot should be
mentioned. Any specific instructions for the executor relating to burial should be
mentioned in the letter.
Tip: For the reasons mentioned above under "Wills," do not leave the
cemetery plot deed or certificate in a safe deposit box.
Safe Deposit Boxes
The location of safe deposit boxes, along with the location of keys, passwords,
and combinations, should be mentioned. The letter should indicate whether anyone
else has access to the boxes.
Tip: If other people have access, ask the executor to take inventory
of the box before anyone else is allowed to take items out of the box.
If you have rented a post office box, include the number, location of the box
and location of the key.
Bank and Credit Card Accounts
All checking and savings accounts and their account numbers should be mentioned.
Instruct the executor whether a stop should be placed on withdrawals from these
accounts, and whether anyone else has the right to withdraw from them, whether
as a co-depositor or under a power of attorney.
Tip: Be sure to mention any accounts that are not in your name, such
as deposits in a Swiss numbered account. Otherwise, these accounts may be lost
because no one knows about them.
Tip: Keep savings accounts active by periodically sending a request
for the balance in writing, or by making deposits. Inactive accounts that
are left for a certain period may revert to the state.
A list of credit card accounts and numbers should be included. The executor
should be instructed to cancel credit card accounts immediately, and to change
joint accounts to single accounts.
Provide information on any outstanding debts. Some loans such as student
loans and home mortgages may have an insurance feature which cancels the debt
in the event of your death. In the case of student loans, this was often paid
for in the form of a fee at the amount the loan was disbursed and many people
are unaware of this feature. Examine your loan documents for any such features
and detail them in your letter.
The location of copies of your income-tax returns going back as far as possible
should be mentioned.
The location of copies of any gift-tax returns filed at any time should also be
mentioned. If copies cannot be located, your memory of when and where the gift
tax returns were filed, and the gift to which they related, should be mentioned.
If there are any refund claims pending, or if you feel a refund should be filed for,
mention these as well.
Attorneys and Other Professionals
Mention the names and addresses of any professionals associated with your affairs,
or who could be of assistance to the executor. Include accountants, attorneys,
insurance agents, financial advisors, bank officers, realtors, and brokers. If
you relied heavily on these people, they could save your estate plenty of money
and trouble just by answering a few of the executorís questions.
Tip: Also mention your physician's), since your executor may need help
in proving you were mentally competent.
Mention all life insurance policies owned, with the policy numbers. Give the
location of the policies. Do not neglect to mention employer-provided group insurance.
All property, liability, malpractice, business continuation, and other types
of insurance policies should be mentioned. These policies may save the estate
from having to pay a claim, and may also contain the location and description
of properties. Further, access to these policies may allow the estate to obtain
reimbursement for expenses incurred immediately prior to death.
Tip: Mention policies that have lapsed, since they may still have some value.
List all assets you own, and give the location of deeds and titles. Include
personal and real property.
Tip: If you know of a market for some of your assets that might otherwise
be difficult to sell (e.g., a special collection or unique asset), tell the
executor about it.
Donít neglect to mention property that will not be easy to locate, e.g.,
property you have loaned out or sold on consignment.
Tip: If there is any reason why the executor should value a piece of
property at less than its fair market value, explain why.
List all brokerage accounts and other investment vehicles, such as limited
partnerships or interests in real estate.
Give the location of brokersí confirmation slips for purchases of securities
going back as far as possible, in order to establish the cost of securities.
The cost is your tax basis, which will affect the amount of tax you pay on a
sale for securities you may have sold prior to death. The basis of securities
held at the time of death will be determined with reference to their current
value. If you cannot locate confirmation slips, then at least make a note of
transfer dates shown on stock certificates and registered bonds. These dates
will allow you to look up the price of the stock.
Provide information on all retirement accounts, including IRAs. Indicate your
designated beneficiary and describe where statements are located. In the case of
IRAs, provide information on the tax status of the account. In particular if
non-deductible contributions were made a portion of the account may not be taxed
to the beneficiary.
Provide a list of all prior employers, no matter how long ago you worked for them.
You may be entitled to pension benefits or death benefits.
Tell the executor where to find a description of any pension benefits you are
Provide the executor with a record of any governmental employment, past or present.
For the armed services, include the branch of service, serial number, and approximate
dates. You may be entitled to veteransí benefits or survivorsí benefits.
Mention the location of your passport and your birth certificate, which may be
needed for Social Security benefits and employee retirement plans. Naming the
location of your marriage certificate, which may be needed in connection with the marital deduction, joint gifts, and statutory spousal rights. A divorce decree will also be necessary, and should be mentioned.
Describe where your current and past checkbooks and canceled checks can be found.
These may save the estate from having to pay a claim or expense that has already
been paid, and can establish the cost of an asset.
If you received an inheritance from someone, include the name of that person
and the date of death. The executor may be able to claim a state or federal
estate tax credit for transfers within ten years of your death. Note the location
of any letters from the personís executor, if any.
If you have any future rights in someone elseís property, whether by will or
by trust, include those details.
If you have ever set up a trust or been named as a trust beneficiary, where
the trust instrument is located and when the trust was set up.
Money Owed to You
Mention debts owed to you by others and any proof that the debt exists.