It's gruesome to think about, but it's a fact of life: we all die, eventually. And when we do, if we've not made some arrangements, we can leave our loved ones not only with a massive heartache, but also a massive headache. You can save your family a lot of trouble by putting down in writing for them the following information:

  • Your financial portfolios: List what you own and specify names of brokerages or institutions and account numbers. If your spouse isn't a joint owner, you can simplify estate issues by making him or her a co-owner.
  • Details on bank accounts and safety deposit boxes.
  • Details on insurance, pension, annuity, and retirement policies and accounts.
  • Real estate: What do you own and where are the deeds?
  • Where you keep valuable papers and items.
  • Your will: Where is it, and is it up-to-date? It's smart to have a living will and durable power of attorney, also. If you fear that your survivors (likely your children) won't agree on who gets what when you're gone, you can elect to be very specific in your will. Alternatively, you might have some family discussions and decide together who gets what. Make a list of family valuables and heirlooms and come to a mutual agreement regarding who gets what.
  • Your after-death preferences: Do you want to be buried or cremated? A fancy, plain, or very plain casket? A memorial service or a funeral? Flowers or donations to a charity? Amazing Grace or Muskrat Love? Who should be invited to various services?

On a less financial note, there are some things you can do now that will probably make your family and descendents very happy:

  • Preserve your life story. Take some time to write down the story of your life. You might fill a notebook with it or type it into a word processor. You can also record it on audiocassettes or a videocassette.
  • If you're one of the few people who can put names to faces in old photographs, take some time to label these photos.
  • Buy or rent a video recorder and record at least several hours of your family talking and sharing. One day one or more of you will be gone and the tape(s) will be treasured. (Camcorders aren't just for filming babies -- they're great for filming grandma, too!)

Learn more about estate planning at (the not entirely unbiased) Estate Planning Links. Of related interest is info from the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the long but enlightening Funerals and Ripoffs. Also, check out our previous "Ask the Fools" on how much funerals cost, what a will can do, and how to plan your will.

And by the way, if thinking about investing makes your head hurt and you'd like an actual person (a financial pro, no less) to talk to about your financial situation, look into our TMF Money Advisor. It's a valuable service we're offering, featuring customized independent advice from a variety of objective financial experts. You need to make sure you're saving enough and well enough to meet all your needs; if you need some help doing that, look into this offering.