Estate Planning: A Checklist for Your Family Survivors

Keeping your important family documents in good order for your heirs is truly a gift to them. It can save your children hours of frustration having to play detective to piece everything together during a time that may also be very emotionally difficult. While this may take some work up front on your part, having organized family records is essential should a family member die or become disabled.

Getting Your Estate Organized

To assist, we have created an estate-planning checklist to help you through this process. We recommend keeping everything in one binder or stored electronically (securely and backed up), and sharing it regularly with your loved ones and possibly your attorney, CPA, and financial advisor so they have copies on file.

Contact Information

An indispensible element of any after-death checklist is information on individuals who will need to be notified. This includes those who are involved in your financial and legal affairs, and whose guidance will be essential to dealing with your estate. It also includes those with whom you may have business relationships, and of course friends and acquaintances. Even if information for these people is already recorded in an address book or digital source (including on your phone), creating a separate survivor checklist of the key individuals who must be contacted will make things much easier for your survivors.

Financial Contacts

At the top of every checklist for family survivors should be the professionals who have helped guide your financial life and will guide your heirs through settling your estate. Ensure that their contact information is collected in one place. These key individuals include your:

  • Estate Planning Attorney
  • CPA
  • Financial Advisor
  • Banker
  • Insurance Agents

Other Contacts

Your planning-for-death checklist should also account for those individuals with whom you have recurring business. It will be helpful for your survivors to know of any scheduled services they’ll need to cancel, as well as people you wish them to notify of your passing, as a courtesy. These may include:

  • Friends and Acquaintances
  • Doctors
  • Hair Dresser
  • House Cleaner
  • Gardener

Organizing Important Documents

It can take a sizeable collection of documents to define your financial and personal life. Gathering them together and correlating them to a survivor checklist ensures that when they’re needed, your heirs won’t have to search high and low for some essential piece of paperwork. If you’re keeping especially critical documents such as deeds, trusts and wills in a safe deposit box, you might consider keeping copies along with the other materials on your checklist. Clearly note on these copies where the originals can be found.

Estate Documents & Other Items

The key estate materials involved in planning for death will vary depending on the structure of your estate plan, the types of assets you hold and any business in which you have an interest. The list below includes the documents and items most commonly needed by survivors when settling an estate:

    • Wills
    • Trusts
    • Power of Attorneys
    • Advance Health Care Directives
    • Real Estate Deeds
    • Letters or Notes Detailing who is to Receive Personal Belongings
    • Safe Deposit Box Key, Institution, and Box Number
    • Beneficiary designations for Retirement Accounts, Annuities, and Life Insurance
    • Business Succession Plan
    • Plan for Rental Property

If you haven’t yet developed an estate plan, or believe that your existing plan may no longer be adequate for your current situation, EP Wealth Advisors can help. We invite you to learn more about our Estate Planning Services and how it can help fulfill your legacy wishes.

Personal Documents

Heirs involved in settling your estate may need access to various types of personal identification, as well as documents describing your investments, benefits and taxes. As with wills and trusts, if you’re keeping some of these items someplace secure such as a safe deposit box, including copies with other materials that are more easily accessible can be very helpful. Personal documents that may be needed include:

  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage/Divorce Certificates
  • Social Security Cards
  • Driver’s License
  • Passport
  • Military ID Cards
  • Bank Statements
  • Investment Statements
  • Insurance Policies
  • Tax Returns
  • Details for any Pensions, Social Security, and VA Benefits

Other Personal Items

The items we’ve discussed above all are essential to helping your survivors deal with your passing. But they’re not the only things to consider. Take some time to think about any “loose ends” you might like to tie up. These can range from the purely practical, such as must-haves for household access or online security, to personal matters, including how you’d like to be remembered. This brief list is good place to start:

  • Passwords for Online Access (consider a password storage-management system)
  • Alarm Codes, Extra Keys to the House, and Keys to Locks
  • Wishes For Your Final Arrangements such as Burial, Cremation, and/or Memorial Service
  • What Would You Like Your Obituary to Read
  • Consider Writing a Personal Note to Your Children or GrandchildrenOnce you have the information compiled, consider hosting a family meeting to discuss the details, or at least be prepared to walk through everything with the executor of your estate. Make sure to keep your information repository up-to-date and to review it with your designated executor anytime anything changes.

Get in Touch with an EP Wealth Advisor

If you have any questions about this list, or if there is anything we can do to be helpful, please do not hesitate to reach out and contact us. If you have lost a loved one and there is something on this list we have missed, we would also greatly appreciate hearing from you. Our full range of capabilities includes Life Transition Planning, Retirement Planning, Financial Planning and other services to help simplify life and achieve your goals.

• Contact information for the professionals you work with including your estate planning attorney, CPA, financial advisor, banker, and insurance agents.
• Other contacts such as house cleaner, gardener, doctors, hairdresser, etc., as well as friends and acquaintances.
• Estate plan including wills, trusts, power of attorneys, advance health care directives, real estate deeds, and any letters or notes detailing who is to receive any special personal belongings.
• Safe deposit box key, institution, and box number.
• Information on how to access important documents including:
o Personal documents such as your birth certificate, marriage/divorce certificates, social security card, driver’s license, passport, military ID cards.
o Bank statements.
o Investment statements for any retirement and non-retirement accounts.
o Insurance policies: life, health/Medicare (including dental and vision), property & casualty (home, auto, umbrella), disability, and long-term care.
o Tax returns.
o Beneficiary designations for retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance.
• Details for any pensions, social security, and VA benefits.
• Employer and HR information if you are still employed.
• If you own a business, details on your succession plan.
• Consider creating a net worth statement listing your assets (liquid such as bank or investment accounts, and illiquid such as real estate and vehicles) and liabilities (mortgage, credit card, etc.).
• If you own rental property, any pertinent details.
• Passwords for online access. Consider a password storage management system.
• Alarm codes, extra keys to the house, and keys to locks.
• Wishes for your final arrangements such as burial, cremation, and/or memorial service information and ideas.
• What would you like your obituary to read?
• Your wishes for any pets.
• Consider writing a personal note to your children or grandchildren.


Visit our estate planning page for more information on our estate planning services.


EP Wealth Advisors (“EPWA”) makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information presented in this report. EPWA has used its best efforts to verify the data included in this report. The information presented was obtained from sources deemed to be reliable. However, EPWA cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information offered. All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice.
Information presented is general in nature and should not be viewed as a comprehensive analysis of the topics discussed. It is intended to serve as a tool containing general information that should assist you in the development of subsequent discussions. Content does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice nor is it intended to supplement professional individualized advice. Please consult a tax, legal, financial, insurance or other relevant professional prior to implementing any of the topics discussed here.

Working with or hiring a financial advisor and/or financial planner does not guarantee of investment success and does not ensure that a client or prospective client will experience a higher level of performance or results. The risk of investment loss cannot be eliminated; all investment and financial planning strategies have the potential for profit or loss.

EPWA is not engaged in the practice of law or accounting. Always consult with a legal or accounting professional regarding your specific situation before acting on anything referenced herein.

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Laura R. Knolle, MS, CFP® is a Vice President with EP Wealth Advisors. In her role with the firm, she specializes in working with clients to bring together all the pieces of their financial lives. Her expertise includes every aspect of financial planning from retirement planning to estate planning and cash flow management to tax planning. Laura is passionate about client education. She believes deeply that knowledge is true power and thus spends a great deal of time educating clients about their situation and their choices. Bringing all professionals to the table, Laura is collaborative in her approach to ensuring that clients have a team working in concert for their best interests. Laura has been in the financial services industry for more than 10 years. She graduated with honors from Michigan State University with a B.A. in Finance, and from Golden Gate University with an M.S. in Financial Planning and Taxation, with an emphasis in Estate Planning. She is an active member of the Financial Planning Association. She heads up a study group for local professionals, and is also a volunteer bookkeeper for senior citizens through the Diablo Valley Foundation for Aging. As an experienced planner, Laura has provided expert commentary on a number of financial-related topics for publications such as The Fiscal Times, MarketWatch, MORE magazine and Forbes. Laura is a new mother and spends her time lavishing son Johnny Ray with love. She has a passion for fitness, nutrition and traveling. She also enjoys hiking with her husband John and their two dogs, biking, boot camp and lifting weights. Her love of travel extends well beyond that of a two week vacation, as Laura has had the opportunity to live and work abroad in London, England and Sydney, Australia.

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