Helping Federal Employees and Annuitants Understand Their Benefits


Organizing Your Estate Plan

Estate Planning Guide (Part 5)


In part 4 I talked about basic estate planning and why it was an essential step in the retirement process. This section addresses getting organized and compiling the information you will need not only to prepare an estate plan but to know who’s on first and what’s on second. Remember Abbot and Lou Costello’s baseball skit? This article will assist you with laying out your personal estate planning binder and subsequent articles will review what is inside each section with samples that you can use where appropriate.

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Before I continue, one sentence from the previous section truly stands out and warrants repeating.

“Estate planning pays BIG dividends up front that at first glance seem transparent. By going through this process you will know who will inherit, what they will receive, where all of your assets are NOW, total net worth, and it will help you focus on consolidating and simplifying your estate so that you can better manager your assets TODAY.

The key to this process is a simple binder with 8 tabs. I update my “Survivor’s Instructions and Guide” every other year or sooner if major changes are needed. You can use the  back cover inside pockets to store  original signed and witnessed copies of your documents. If you hire an attorney, they will provide a binder with all essential legal documents, you will still need to compile the survivor's instructions for your heirs.

The Eight Sections are as Follows:

  1. Letter of Instruction
  2. Checklist (PDF Download)
  3. Survivor’s Report
  4. Emergency & Caretaker Report
  5. Financial Reports, Including Beneficiary Designations
  6. Home Inventory with Photographs
  7. Annuity and Special Forms
  8. Contact Information

I keep this binder in my safety deposit box because it includes all official documents plus most of the information that the executor will need to settle our estate. It is wise to update your binder as things change Some of those changes include; maturing CDs, securities that are bought and sold, new car purchases, passwords, or change of residence. You may also have to update contact lists for your trusts. I am always amazed at just how many things can and do change each year when I do my update.

The first section is titled “Letter of Instruction” and includes just that, instructions to your heirs. This document summarizes binder contents with additional supplemental information such as safety deposit box numbers, attorney name and phone number, date the information was last updated, and provides some insight into the wills and trusts that your executor will need when the time comes. It also directs the executors, my wife and our children, to the two key reference books that I keep in my book case, Plan Your Estate and The Executor's Guide that will help them administer and settle the estate with the help of our attorney.

NOTE: Those with small to average estates will find this article especially helpful. Small estates may only require a Letter of Instruction, Survivor’s Checklist, and a basic Will.


Go to Part 6 - Estate Planning Checklist
Go back to Part 4 - Basic Estate Planning


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