Now that another tax season has come and gone, I have been thinking about something that happened during that time that made a real impression on me. A client was widowed suddenly, and quite unexpectedly. Fortunately, her spouse had the foresight to leave some information behind that was most helpful.

We all realize that some estate planning is necessary, even if it involves nothing more than a will. But, there are many small things that can be extremely frustrating for someone already dealing with a very stressful situation. I am referring to information regarding household finances such as account names and numbers, identification numbers, passwords and phone numbers.

In many households, one spouse is responsible for all things financial. When that spouse is the first to pass away, the surviving spouse will benefit from some basic information in order to keep things moving. In addition to the previously mentioned items, many other items could be added to the list depending on the complexity of the specific household finances. In many cases, it would not be over simplification to add things like the location of the checkbook and the due date for monthly payments such as the mortgage and utility bills. It would also be helpful to know the contents of the safe deposit box and the location of life insurance policies. With some thought, many things will come to mind that will be useful.

The best part about this type of planning is that it is free. You do not need a CPA or an attorney, you can do it yourself. All information can be hand written and put in a secure place such as the safe deposit box. Just make sure your spouse knows where it is. As things change, you can make necessary additions or deletions

My experience, and the experience of my client, was that this thoughtful estate planning truly can make life easier for the one left behind.

Along the same line, while you are at it, don’t forget that advanced medical directive. You can pick one up at Martha Jefferson or UVA hospitals to complete.

-James W. Bell, CPA