A client was telling me a story about how the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of a business he used to own passed away unexpectedly. Of course, it was a very sad event both personally and professionally. But an unexpected additional consequence was that the business was locked out of internet banking. The CFO had many important passwords committed to memory (for security). The business had to pay staff the week following his death without any access to banking! This taught my client a very important personal lesson. That is, make sure your loved ones are looked after in the event of your unexpected demise. Don’t leave them in the dark!
Here are a few things you must organise.
Its ridiculous how many passwords we have these days – almost too many to keep track of. If your spouse or loved ones don’t have ready access to your passwords, it can be very frustrating and stressful – at a time where additional and avoidable stress is definitely unwanted. You need to make a list of important passwords, including:
- Online banking
- Superannuation accounts;
- Managed fund providers or share brokers; and
- Any other investment providers.
There are password apps you can use or a simple password protected Excel spreadsheet does the trick. Save the file in Dropbox (or similar) and share it with your spouse (or executor/s). This is simple to do and will avoid a lot of unnecessary stress.
Summary of assets and liabilities
It is important to have an up-to-date summary of all your assets and liabilities. This will make it easier for your executor/s to ascertain what assets you have, their value and what immediate actions need to be taken, if any. It is also useful if you have a summary of regular financial commitments such as loan repayments to ensure these are met on time. This will help your executor get on top of everything. Perhaps you can include this information in the password-protected Excel file mentioned above.
List of personal risk insurances
You should also maintain a list of personal risk insurances such as income protection, life and total & permanent disability insurances. You need to note policy numbers, sum insures and insurer. This will be important because if you have an accident, your partner/spouse may be able to lodge a claim on your behalf.
Who to contact list?
Your spouse or loved ones will need to know who to speak to for help. Therefore, keep a list of any trusted advisors including a description of what they do for you and when to contact them, including:
- Financial advisor
- Accountant/tax advisors
- Insurance advisor
- Estate lawyer (person who drafted your will)
- Mortgage broker and/or banker.
Your investment strategy and what steps to take
Sharing your investment strategy with your spouse and loved ones is very important as it will ensure they have a clear picture of what steps to take. They should know exactly what to do if you pass away (e.g. sell assets, repay loans, invest insurance proceeds, etc.) and what to do to have a safe retirement. They should also know who to speak to and when.
This will obviously be a very stressful and emotionally painful time for them, so its best if you can ensure they don’t have any financial worries (or at least less worries). Communicating this important information will ensure they aren’t left in the dark and don’t need to worry about the future.
Each spouse MUST understand their financial position, tax structures and borrowings
I find that typically one spouse takes more of an interest in the family’s financial affairs – often because they have a genuine interest. As such, that spouse usually takes on the responsibility for ongoing financial management. However, each spouse must have an understanding of their financial structure including asset ownership and liabilities (i.e. if they are liable for any loans as either an applicant or guarantor). Lack of interest is not excuse for ignorance. Having an understanding of your own personal financial situation is not a responsibility you can delegate to someone else. It is your money. It is your responsibility. You don’t need to immerse yourself in all the detail – a high-level understanding is satisfactory.
Letter of Wishes accompanying your will
A letter of wishes is not a legally binding document but is a document that provides you with the ability to give guidance to your executor/s. You can outline who is to receive what assets or assistance, or more importantly, when not to provide such assistance (e.g. if a child is irresponsible with money or has an addiction). Your instructions can be more direct, descriptive and personal. You can also update your letter of wishes at any time without needing to see a lawyer. It’s a good way to help your executor/s fulfil their duties without second-guessing whether they are making the right decisions.
Will your spouse or loved ones need help?
Does your spouse and loved ones have enough confidence, knowledge and experience to make financial decisions if you are not around? If not, they might need to engage a trusted advisor. Selecting a trusted advisor can be a stressful and difficult task. Perhaps this is something you need to arrange in advance?
What if your spouse and you pass away at the same time?
Acting as an executor can be a very time-consuming and stressful responsibility. You can make this a lot easier by ensuring any executor (i.e someone other than your spouse) have all of the abovementioned information in case you and your spouse pass away at the same time. Therefore, share this information with your executors – particularly if you have young children to look after, as guardianship and parenting need to be addressed.
Having a financial advisor is a simple solution
Having a trusted financial advisor makes things nice and easy because they maintain the above records on your behalf. All you have to say to your spouse and loves ones is; speak to this person and they will look after you.
If your spouse is less financially minded, then at least you will know they will be well looked after and not burdened with the sole responsibility to make all financial decisions without independent counsel and support.
Plan for the worst, hope for the best
I hope you live a long and enjoyable life. None of us plan to die tomorrow. However, for the sake of our loved ones, it is good to ensure everything is organised. My advice is to set aside one to two hours over the next month to organise and/or document these matters.
To learn more about wills, power of attorney, testamentary trusts and so forth, click here to read a blog that summarises these matters.
Of course, if you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.