Is a Mess Awaiting your Heirs?



July 16, 2014



The death of a loved one brings a great deal of grief for survivors to bear, and the stress of estate transition only adds to it. Unnecessary stress results from estate transition methods that remain largely stuck in the 1980’s. How we manage and track our personal finances has changed radically since that decade, when personal computers first began to enter the average American home.


We now live in a digital age. Some of a family’s financial accounts only generate a paper statement once a year. Other accounts may be entirely paperless. Estate transitions that look for paper trails may completely miss these assets.


An elderly couple, who were clients of ours, call them Sam and Rita, both passed away recently. They left a son and daughter as their beneficiaries. The son lives in Dallas and the daughter in San Francisco. They came together in Houston for the funeral and went through their parent’s files and documents. Having independently identified what they thought were all their parents’ relevant financial accounts, they contacted me. I quickly realized they had missed several primarily online accounts worth a very significant amount of money. Without a clear paper trail to follow, they simply had no knowledge of those accounts’ existence. They were completely surprised when I informed them.


How can you prepare your estate to avoid this problem and be set for a smooth transition when the time comes? Here are a few things I recommend:


  • This kind of situation underscores the need for financially successful families to have a PERSONALCFO, someone who maintains a 360-degree view of their wealth. I knew at a glance that Sam and Rita’s kids had missed key accounts because I played that role in their lives. It was my job to understand the full picture of their wealth. Many households, by way of contrast, have advisors – from investment managers to insurance brokers to CPAs – who operate in separate silos that prevent them from seeing the family’s full financial picture.


  • I recommend that my clients keep a single document that summarizes the information needed in case something happens to the more financially knowledgeable spouse, or to both spouses. It should include information for all financial accounts, insurance policies, etc. Don’t forget to include passwords for online access. Click here to view the template we use. Keep this document in a safe, secure place that is accessible to the family. Virtual cloud-based storage is ideal.


  • Have an Excel-type file or secure web page that gathers and summarizes all of your financial account values into a simple, one-page summary of the family’s net worth. Ideally, it should update dynamically as account balances change.


At PARTNERSINWEALTH, it’s our job to make sure you are prepared for important life events such as estate transitions, college expenses and retirement. Your PERSONALCFO serves as your single point of contact on financial matters, integrating diverse streams of information and enhancing the effectiveness of your existing advisors through collaboration. The result is confidence and peace of mind knowing that you are in control of your financial life. For more information on what having a PERSONALCFO can do for you, please contact Jim Waters, CFP®, at PARTNERSINWEALTH, 713.964.4028 or