|If you have already done your estate planning, you have taken a significant step toward ensuring that your loved ones will know how to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated or die. However, simply having a will or a trust and related estate planning documents is often not enough. A detailed inventory of all of your accounts and property is crucial for helping your loved ones manage your legal and financial affairs effectively.
Most estate planning attorneys have received calls from distressed children who knew that a deceased parent had a will or a trust, but had no idea what accounts, insurance policies, or items of real and personal property the parent owned. If an inventory was never prepared and shared with the parent's attorney, the child likely had to spend countless hours meticulously combing through the parent's file cabinets, drawers, tax returns, mail, and online accounts to identify what the parent owned.
Needless to say, this is not something that anyone wants to happen. Even if you do not have a will or a trust in place, you do not need to wait to prepare an inventory of your property until you have created these legal documents. In fact, assembling an inventory can be an excellent first step when it comes to your estate planning. This preliminary effort will allow your attorney to immediately begin focusing on the creation of a will or a trust that takes into account each of your accounts and pieces of property and how they should be coordinated with your estate planning goals. If you take this step, your attorney is guaranteed to be impressed and grateful for your preparation.
How to Create an Inventory
Creating an inventory of your accounts and property does not need to be very complicated. It can be a simple word processing document or even a handwritten list. Many individuals create spreadsheets in software programs like Microsoft Excel, Numbers, or Google Sheets. There are also numerous online services that can help you create a thorough inventory of your property. Many of these services enable you to automatically share your inventory with chosen individuals at a time that you designate before death or disability strikes. The bottom line is that any of these methods can work well—the important thing is that you create an inventory. Below is an example of an inventory formatted as a spreadsheet with columns and rows:
Of course, this is just an example of what an inventory could look like. You should include any information that you think will be helpful to someone who is put in charge of collecting your property after you have passed away. You might include additional details, such as where the property is located. For example, if you keep certain items of jewelry in a safe, or a boat you own is stored in dry storage, this would be crucial information to include.
In addition, though you will not share this with your attorney, consider using a software program or other service to store passwords for online accounts and even store digital copies of your important documents.
Probate and Your Property
As you create your inventory, you will review how each item is titled or who is named as the beneficiary on certain accounts, which will enable you to identify those items of property that will have to go through probate. Probate is the court process that appoints an executor or personal representative to inventory your probate property and distribute the property according to state law or the terms of your will, if you have one. Generally speaking, any account or property that meets the following conditions will have to go through the probate process: (a) is owned only in your name, (b) is not owned jointly with another person, (c) is not titled in the name of a trust or business entity (like an LLC or partnership), and (d) does not have a named pay-on-death (POD) or transfer-on-death (TOD) beneficiary associated with the property.
Probate can be an expensive, time-consuming, and public process that most people would rather avoid. If avoiding probate is a goal of yours, preparing an inventory well before you pass away can alert you to those items of property that will require a probate so that you can take steps prior to your incapacity or death to transfer ownership or retitle them.
Additional Benefits of a Complete Inventory
By creating an inventory with the type of information demonstrated in the example above, you can help your loved ones understand their next steps with regard to taking control of your property for management and distribution. Certain items and accounts, such as the following, may be distributed according to the unique legal aspects of that type of property:
After creating your inventory, make sure to store a copy where your loved ones will be able to easily find it should something happen to you. Consider the following locations:
Some people find it helpful to choose a specific date each year when they will review and update their inventory and also review their estate planning documents. Whatever will work best for you, make a plan, implement it, and then stick with it. Your loved ones will praise your name for years to come if you do. If you need assistance or have questions reviewing your important documents, feel free to give us a call.