Estate plans are valuable and important tools in planning for your death. Your estate plan is a kind of inventory, a “snapshot in time,” identifying most of your assets as of the time the estate plan documents are signed. A well-prepared estate plan can make the task of handling your affairs easier for your loved ones as they go through the shock and grieving process that is to be expected after your passing.
But is your estate plan complete? Do your loved ones know the names and codes for access to your computer or the various accounts and websites you use? Do they know where your safety deposit box is, or where the key is? And, what if you become seriously ill or injured and don’t die. What if your home and its contents are lost to a natural disaster, such as fire, flood or earthquake? This information can be even more critical at such times.
Personal Computer Information
In this age of identify theft, internet fraud and the possibility of unauthorized remote access to personal computer databases, we are encouraged not to keep complete account numbers, PINs (“personal identification numbers”) and other information needed for bank accounts, websites, etc. on our computers. It is strongly recommended that you make a written record with this information and keep it with your estate plan or other written inventory.
In Case of Natural Disaster or Theft
Death and disability are not the only things we need to be prepared for. Three percent of all homes in the U.S. are burglarized each year. A massive earthquake is overdue in Northern California. In 1991, over 2,800 single-family homes were lost in the Oakland Hills fire. The entire town of Paradise, California was lost to fire in 2018. All of these events, and more, can result in the permanent loss of your assets.
Your estate plan may help document your losses in the event of a disaster, but not completely and not if your records are lost along with your house. Similarly, your estate plan may not be, of itself, sufficient to provide the complete record necessary in case of burglary. Additional information is needed in case of a disaster or theft in order to expedite an insurance or tax deduction claim. Your insurance agents may assist you in creating an inventory of your assets.
Personal Property Inventory
Most estate plans only identify personal property assets of significant financial or sentimental value, such as family heirlooms, and who you would like to receive the item after you are gone. In addition to this information, you should also consider creating a record of personal property in case it is stolen or lost in a disaster, such as a fire or a flood. This should include the original cost of the item and the date of acquisition or purchase (the original receipt is the best record), or an estimate of its value (such as an appraisal of antiques or art, or even an eBay printout of the sale of a similar item). Serial numbers, especially for computers, should be recorded.
Photographs (or videos) are excellent for documenting the existence and nature of your property and its condition; the more the better. Take photographs of the exterior of your house from a variety of angles; make sure you have at least one for each side. Do the same for each room in the house, with a separate picture for each antique or piece of art. Don’t forget the contents of drawers and closets. The photographs can be printed or kept in electronic format. Many retail stores will transfer your digital images to CD. Take photographs of your cars and recreational vehicles, making sure to document any custom features.
Where to Store the Inventory
Ideally, you will make several copies of this record, keeping one in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box, preferably with your estate plan documents, another out of the area with a trusted family member or friend and another might be maintained electronically (though without complete identification numbers). You should also consider providing a copy of the personal property inventory and a duplicate of photographs to your insurance agent, to be kept in your confidential file.
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For further information, ideas, and even software programs, you might simply word search “Home Inventory.”