Estate Planning: Helping Loved Ones Navigate Your Assets

Estate planning may not be on your list of favorite hobbies, but it's an important part of life and preparing for the future.

Your first step should be to ensure you have a will or trust, and to make certain you have designated beneficiaries for assets like insurance policies and 401(k)s, says John Rivera, Vice President and Financial Advisor at Regions Investment Solutions. But your estate planning shouldn't stop there.

Make preparations to help your loved ones navigate your assets after your passing. "If you communicate to your beneficiaries and heirs what your assets are, along with important information about each one, such as where an account is located, it will make life a whole lot easier for them," Rivera says. Here are three tips to help.

1. Make a List, and Check It Twice

This stage of estate planning doesn't have to be elaborate or official. An informal, handwritten list of assets and accounts will do.

"It doesn't need to be notarized or anything like that," Rivera says. "It just needs to be a simple list of what types of assets you have — like bank accounts, investment accounts, and insurance policies — plus where they're located, and the names and phone numbers of who should be contacted at those institutions."

You might also include account numbers and approximate account balances, but you should probably keep online logins and passwords in a separate document that's stored in a secure place.

2. Store the List in a Safe Place

Having a list of your accounts is only helpful if the appropriate beneficiaries and heirs can find it when they need it. Store it somewhere secure, and share its location with whoever will need access.

"A fireproof safe is probably one of the best places to store that kind of information for your heirs to locate later," Rivera says. "Just be sure to provide your heirs with the key or combination."

3. Share Information from the List and Update It As Needed

Along with a master copy stored in a safe, you might share a copy of your list with your attorney to help him or her advise you regarding your overall estate plan. That is, your attorney may recommend that revisions be made to your will or other steps be taken as additional assets are acquired in order to accomplish your estate objectives. 

You might also share the location of the list with the person who is named in your will as the executor of your estate. This should help him or her in the event that it needs to be accessed in order to ensure the proper administration of your estate.

By taking the steps to create and share an inventory of your assets and accounts today, you'll help your loved ones better navigate an emotionally trying time later. Learn more about estate planning.


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