Estate Planning: When the Plan Can’t Be Found

Estate planning advisors are used to asking questions. One of these is a consistent process—asking clients about their estate planning documents. Advisors may find that many clients have had documentation in place for years, but their heirs and executors aren’t informed as to where to find related information that is needed to take action.
If a client has named a relative as their personal representative but hasn’t given them copies of any estate planning documents, advisors are facing a potential disaster. Many people hide these documents—sometimes locked in safes or other storage devices with combination locks, but don’t have mention this to their executors so that their personal representatives know where to find the documents needed to push forward with their wishes.
Remind clients that anything can happen and that it’s in their best interest to keep their heirs or personal representatives apprised of their plans after their death. Not doing so can cause exponential problems for both you as the advisor, and the executor to carry out estate planning efforts according to plan.
Remind clients that it’s important to make it easy for personal representatives to help them—encourage them to give copies of all the estate planning documents, instructions how to enter the home—including any hidden keys/pass codes—as well as instructions on how to access the client’s computer.
This is a crucial element of discussing estate planning with clients. A good follow-up is to offer to send clients a template—a ‘to-do’ or info list of what they should give to personal representatives to carry out the estate plans after your client passes. Explain that the purpose of this document is to ensure the person they’ve chosen as their attorney-in-fact, personal representative, or even trustee knows that they have been chosen to carry out client’s wishes. This document also provides the person in question the directions as to where they can access the needed information for estate plan execution.
You will probably find an overwhelming majority of your clients have not even had the thought occur to them—giving their designated fiduciaries a key to their house or instructions on how to get into combination safes isn’t exactly top-of-mind for most people. This alleviates stress and drama when the time comes to execute the estate plan.