If your family is like many others, you may choose to divide responsibilities among the members of your household. In this situation, the duty of handling financial planning, budgeting, bill payment, account maintenance and more, often falls squarely on one person’s shoulders. While taking on the full range of financial responsibilities for your family seems efficient, have you considered the consequences if the unthinkable occurred and you unexpectedly passed away or became incapacitated?
Although it is a difficult scenario to contemplate, as the money guru in your family, you owe it to your loved ones to set up a contingency plan to address how to continue necessary bill paying and more if the unexpected occurs. Full-scope financial contingency planning is complex and involves a wide range of estate planning documents including wills, powers of attorney, trusts and more. However, you can get started down this path today with a few simple steps to help your loved ones quickly pick up the pieces in a crisis.
Start by Compiling All Financial Account Information
One of the easiest, and most beneficial, steps you can take right now to move toward establishing a long-term financial contingency plan is to gather all of your family’s vital financial data including:
- Name, address and phone number for all financial institutions, utility companies, mortgage lenders, credit cards and more
- Account numbers and routing numbers for each account
- Usernames, passwords, security challenge questions and answers, as well as URLs to access accounts online
Be sure to also collect data, including recent statements, for all financial accounts including, but not limited to:
- Loans: Home mortgages, second mortgages, refinancing paperwork, home equity loans, auto loans, student loans, general purpose loans and more
- Checking accounts
- Insurance accounts: Life insurance, homeowners insurance, renters insurance, medical, dental, vision insurance and more
- Credit cards
- Dividend earning accounts: Money markets, savings accounts, term accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds
- Retirement accounts: Employer-specific savings plans, IRAs, 401(k) and more
Include a Schedule of Recurring Financial Obligations
As the financial planner in the family, you are in a unique position to quickly prepare a full list of your family’s weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual bills including due dates and payment method (online, automatic payments or via check by mail). You may also opt to establish an electronic or paper calendar to include in your contingency file listing each bill including:
- Mortgage payments
- Car loan or lease payments
- Utility bills
- Credit card payments
- Rent payments
- Monthly subscription services
- Gym memberships
- Lawn maintenance
- Homeowners association fees
- Charity contributions
- Property tax payments and more
Other Important Documents You May Wish to Include
In addition to account numbers and a bill payment schedule, it is a great idea to keep originals or copies of the following documents in your family’s contingency file:
- Social security cards
- Marriage certificates
- Birth certificates
- Tax returns covering at least the past three years
- Location of safety deposit box along with keys
- Copies of insurance policies, wills, powers of attorney and more
Discuss Your Family’s Monthly Budgeting Strategies
Be sure to spend some time with your family discussing how you budget to cover essential expenses. This budget discussion is also an opportune time to brainstorm how they could make ends meet with the unexpected loss of one or more family members’ monthly income. This discussion also represents an opportunity to reconsider your current life insurance coverage, savings contributions and other long-term monetary strategies. You can even use this time to begin forming a holistic estate plan including a power of attorney, a will and a trust.
Store Your Contingency File Both Electronically and in Hard Copy
Now that you have a basic contingency file including account information, bill payment schedules, a notional budget and other essential documents, where and how will you store it? Will it be easily accessible to all family members? How will you protect it from damage, theft or fire? Consider the following strategies:
- Take photos or scan all important documents
- Maintain an encrypted spreadsheet with all account information and passwords, but be sure to provide the access code to one or more trusted family members
- Keep hard copy financial account statements
- Place hard copy documents, thumb drives, etc. in a secure, fireproof home safe or a safety deposit box at a local financial institution
Once you establish a comprehensive and easily accessible contingency file, you’ll rest easier knowing your family will not be left in the dark if the unexpected occurs. However, this file is only one component of a full-scale estate plan which includes wills, powers of attorney, trusts and more. With so much at stake, it is beneficial to contact a lawyer for professional legal advice to discuss additional considerations including survivor benefits, probate, child custody and much more.
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