5 Critical Items You Need to Include in Your Estate Plan

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Over the past several weeks, my wife and I have been starting to take over the finances of one of our parents. This parent has been widowed now for about 2 years … and has basically destroyed any type of financial estate planning that had been done by the couple in the past.

Just in the past 2 weeks, it was determined by a doctor and social services that this parent was no longer capable of managing their finances. So they recommended that the financial power of attorney be invoked.

The couple had planned ahead back in the day and setup the power of attorney for both finances and medical. Fortunately, this parent still kept that part of their estate planning intact.

The bad news is that we are dealing with a jealous sibling who it trying to control the finances all on their own.

The good news is that we are setup to have the financial power of attorney for this parent.

This sibling is deeply in debt and for the past decade (probably more) has received monthly stipend from the parents to help pay the bills.

Unfortunately, the sibling has started to put our parent in debt … by following the same behaviors that put themselves into debt.

Eventually, my wife and I will get our parents finances under control.

However, as we are starting to locate different financial accounts (banking, credit cards, etc.) that our parent has open … we’ve started having other issues, which I’d like to share with your today.

Having Access to Financial Accounts

The parent that we are managing the finances for had given us a list of accounts and passwords about a year ago. At the time we thought this was helpful … but never really needed to use the information … until now.

As we are finding out … the passwords have all changed since getting a copy of the document.

Some of the usernames are not correct.

And the document only has about half of their accounts listed.

So while it has helped track down some of the accounts … most of the document is useless.

As we are going through all of the accounts and figuring out to do with each … we’ve come across many issues when trying to access them.

Here is a list of 5 pieces of information we have needed in order to access financial accounts online.

This information is so important we are finding out … that I’ve made it a point to update our estate planning documents with it … so whoever is in charge of our finances one day has it.

1 – Security Questions

Some financial institutions ask a list of security questions as part of the password reset process. A lot of times, these answers are only something the account holder (and maybe the spouse) should know.

While this can be a way to protect financial accounts and sensitive information, it can make it difficult for those with power of attorney to access them.

For example, we recently realized that our parents PayPal account was being hacked. Fortunately, the credit card on file that was being charged triggered a fraud alert … and the payments were rejected.

In order to reset the account password for PayPal, we needed one of the following – credit card number on file (which we don’t have), receive a phone call (which has been disconnected), or answer 2 security questions.

The first two options were not possible for us, so it came down to answering 2 security questions to try and reset the password. Once we saw the questions, we knew there was no chance in getting them right.

The good news is that we requested the PayPal account to at least be frozen so no new charges could be made.

I would have never thought to include security questions in our estate planning documentation. However, after dealing with this ordeal … I have started updating our “In Case I Die” documents with any security questions and answers for all of our financial accounts.

2 – Account Numbers

While most financial account numbers are considered to be sensitive and should be kept private … it still helps to have access to them if you are responsible for someone else’s finances.

For example, we are trying to get access to the main credit card that our parent has open. This is the card that had fraudulent charges pending against it.

In order to reset the password, we need the credit card number. Since we don’t have the credit card (and only know the last 4-digits), it has made it difficult accessing the account.

So while this data needs to be protected, it should be made available in some manner to anyone you leave power of attorney to.

I know in our situation, I am making a document that will be stored in a physical safe that my wife can refer to if something were to happen to me. All of our account numbers will be found on this document.

3 – Access to the Email Account

Having access to the email account is very important when trying to manage finances as the power of attorney.

Most password resets will send a link through email, so having access to the account can help.

Most credit cards and banks will send email reminders about payment due dates or if payments are late.

It’s only because we have access to our parents email account that we have realized the number of accounts they have open.

If it weren’t for having email access, we may have never found out about our parents PayPal account getting hacked.

So in whatever estate planning document you put together … make sure to include the email address that is tied to the account.

And if you are like me and have about 5 email accounts … it will be important to reference the correct email used for each financial account.

4 – Phone Numbers

Another tool that financial companies use for 2-factor authentication are phone numbers.

I’m sure that you have seen accounts that will send you a PIN to your cell phone that needs to be used to login or reset a password.

As we’ve discovered with our parent, they used their home phone number in a lot of their accounts. That phone number has since been disconnected because they are no longer able to live at home.

If you change your phone number or disconnect a number … make sure to keep any financial accounts that use the information up to date.

Some of the other accounts our parent has use the cell phone number … which is still active. But the parent is living out of state and we don’t have access to the cell phone.

This also brings up a question of when someone passes away … I’ve realized that if you are in charge of their finances, it’s probably important to have access to their cell phone to clean up any financial accounts.

It will make it much easier for accounts that require 2-factor authentication.

5 – Passwords

I don’t recommend storing passwords where they can easily be accessed by anyone. However, knowing the passwords on the accounts for our parent would really help right now.

In our case, I have started using a password safe tool that will store all of our account information. These tools can even help you create a long, random string password that you won’t need to remember.

Just keep it stored in the password safe and make sure whoever you put in charge of your finances knows where they are kept.

If you aren’t comfortable with the technical path in using a password safe, then writing them down and keeping the document in a physical safe would be another option.

This was what our parent had done with all of the accounts … but they never updated the document with passwords when they changed.

Whatever method you decide to use for storing and managing your passwords, just make sure to keep the tool up to date when you reset them.

Thinking About Our Estate Planning

As you can see, there are a lot of critical pieces of information that my wife and I are trying to locate in order to properly manage the finances of our parent.

Since most of this data is not readily available to us for our parent, we are making a list of what we need. One by one we will eventually get access to accounts, pay off the debts of our parent, and one day close the accounts that need to be.

But in the meantime, we’ve realized what a mess and headache this can be.

So when it comes to planning our estate, we are making sure to track the following so that our power of attorney doesn’t have to go through the hassle.

  1. Security Questions
  2. Account Numbers
  3. Email Accounts
  4. Phone Numbers (and access to cell phones)
  5. Account Passwords

So what items have I missed? I am sure there are other pieces of data we don’t have currently that we will need.

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