It was ten years ago that my wife, son and I (and our golden retriever) had to evacuate our house along with 15,000 other residents of La Nucia, Alicante, due to fire risk.
With forty mile-an-hour winds, the fire was fast approaching; we grabbed two suitcases of necessities, computer and personal documents case – that was about all we could fit into the car.
Fortunately, we returned 12 hours later and our house was still intact!
This reminded me to update my personal records because had they been lost, or worse still had I demised in the fire, my inheritors, loved ones, would have had undue strain at the most stressful time trying to deal with things. So, within a week I had updated everything in my fire-proof case and also recorded things digitally and let my executors know where all could be found.
Are you confident that all of the papers and documents you hold are not only all in order, but in equal measure, somewhere where they can be found and easily understood in the event of your demise? I know some individuals and couples who don’t know where all of the important documents relevant to their lives are.
We all spend time every year making sure the ITV for the car is sorted, house insurance and car insurance policies are up to date, tax returns are filed etc. How about putting some time aside to create a folder (let’s call it “THE Folder”) or fire-proof case where documents can be found?
So what is THE Folder?
It is a single file (physical or digital) where all important personal and financial information is kept? This allows access to these documents in the event that you are no longer around. If it is only one family member that takes the lead on the finances, it is imperative that other family members or executors know where to locate things.
So what should be in THE Folder?
Financial documents such as:
• Birth, marriage and divorce certificates, as applicable!
• Bank account details, including online login details
• E-mail and social media account details and logins
• Life assurance policies
• Funeral plan policy
• Pension documentation and statements
• Investment documentation and statements
• Wills (Spanish, UK, etc)
• House ownership deeds
THE Folder can be very simple, and I always suggest contact details for each of the relevant assets should be marked up as well. Also, make sure that when THE Folder is complete, you sit down together and explain all of the information it contains.
Is it worth the effort?
At a time of loss it can be stressful enough, without having to try to piece together the deceased’s financial affairs. This can be a really difficult time for family members, even more so if your support network, typically children, is back home in the UK.
However, preparing THE Folder is much more than just avoiding stress; if you leave behind an administrative nightmare, you could delay access to inheritors’ funds and potentially cost a small fortune in legal fees.
Which is best physical or digital?
This comes down to personal preference but I’d suggest both if possible. A digital file listing all your assets can be accessed by inheritors but, of course, there are original documents like wills, birth & marriage certificates to consider, hence, a fire-proof case.
An electronic file can be stored on your main computer, in the cloud or on an external hard drive. Make sure everyone knows how to access the computer, cloud or hard drive though!
A physical folder keeps all of the important information together, but make sure it is large enough to keep everything together. I’ve known one client 20 years, now elderly, and throughout have been unable to persuade her to use anything other than plastic bags! I even bought her two shiny new folders and volunteered to help her organise things. At least, when she declared her Modelo 720 (Overseas Assets Declaration) in 2013 this was half the job done!
How often should THE Folder be reviewed?
Firstly, note when it was created and last reviewed so that anyone using it knows. Then reviewing the THE Folder on an annual basis should be sufficient or, of course, whenever a significant change occurs which you consider materially important. Again, be sure to tell someone about it! There is little point going to the effort of creating such a folder if no one knows of its existence or where to find it.
Incidentally, along with my sister, I’m power of attorney (POA) holder to our mother that includes financial and health & welfare. It actually took months to record everything because of the added burden of having to write to all – as in the financial documents list above – with certified copy POA’s.
Please let me know if you would like a digital version of THE Folder that is printable as well.