Death Letter

Michael Franks |

It always arrives unannounced. Mixed in with the Pottery Barn catalog, bills, and offers for a new paint job for the house. A hand addressed envelope from my father - I open it right away and then realize it’s the ….“Death Letter”. I already know my brothers got one also.

My Dad sends it about every two years and I always call right away to check that everything is ok. Fortunately, it always has been, but my Dad just wants to us to know where everything is “just in case”.

A more formal name for a letter like this can be a “financial organizer” or an “affairs organizer”. It is a paper or form that lists out all important accounts and contacts.  Dad lists out all his bank accounts, brokerage accounts and retirement accounts. He also includes info on insurance policies, safe deposit boxes, cemetery plots, deeds, and where to find a copy of his will, living will and powers of attorney. He lists out his key financial, legal and medical contacts.

As a financial planner, I think this biennial practice makes a lot of sense. Financial lives have become very complicated. With the potential for multiple job changes over a long career, accounts can be spread out.  Retiring or snow birding to a different community can also lead to accounts being held at numerous intuitions. A simple letter like this can make some things easier in an otherwise challenging time.

As a son, I also really appreciate this habit. My brothers and I jokingly call it the “Death Letter”, but it is just another example of my Dad thinking about how he can make things easier for us.

I encourage you to have a family discussion and get your financial and legal papers organized. Consider creating your own version of the “Death Letter”. You don’t need to be retired and living alone for this practice to have value.  No one knows the day or hour.

While I hope I still don’t need to use my father’s letter for many years, I see it as another wonderful gift from my Dad.