The Most Necessary Roadmap You Don't Need
by Ben Simiskey on Oct 14, 2020
One of my favorite technology tools to use is a GPS navigation software app called Waze. I turn it on every time I’m in the car – even if I already know where I’m going. It’s not just a map with turn-by-turn driving instructions. It’s populated with user-submitted, live information. Motorists submit real-time data about things like accidents, traffic, construction, debris on the road, weather issues, detours and more. The cool thing is that drivers do that not to benefit themselves but to benefit people coming after them.
My dad passed away last year. Between he and my mom, he was generally the one responsible for the finances. Professionally, he was a chemical engineer and built several chemical plants around the world before he retired. He was very smart, detail-oriented and results-driven. And those qualities helped him do a reasonably good job with the family finances.
But what he wasn’t as good at doing was documenting his often-quirky thought process or leaving behind a roadmap for whoever would assume the primary role with the finances after he was gone. As “luck” would have it, that person was me. When he passed away, I was appointed as executor and had to try to sort my way through his collection of scattered documents and scribbled notes. Unfortunately, much of the knowledge I needed as executor died with him.
After living through that experience firsthand, the importance of an estate planning version of Waze is crystal clear to me. We don’t need to do it for ourselves. We’re doing it for those who come after us. And because none of us know when that mandatory transition will occur, we need to make our preparation a priority.
One step in the process of building an effective roadmap is documenting the names, contact information and details of relatives, professionals and others who will need to be contacted after our passing. To help my clients (and me) with that step, I put together a roadmap spreadsheet. It walks the user through various categories – including personal information, family information, professionals / providers, assets, liabilities, insurance and other (executor, pastor, etc). There are spaces for names, contact information, descriptions, account types, account numbers and more.
While it’s a highly valuable exercise to go through the process of completing the roadmap document, it is, of course, not enough. The user must ensure that the person or people who will need the roadmap have access to it or know how to find it. If you have a spouse or significant other, that person should not only know where the document is but should actively collaborate with you in completing it. This is a team effort.
You will also want to make sure that your designated executor has access to the roadmap. If your spouse will be your executor, consider including the first alternate, in case your spouse predeceases you or the two of you die at the same time or your spouse is unable to fulfill the executor duties. You may also want a trusted advisor to have the roadmap. My clients share theirs with me, and it’s a part of my annual process to check with them for updates.
If you have a safe deposit box, you may consider keeping a hard copy there (along with a copy of your will and other important documents) – and then make sure the appropriate people know that you have that safe deposit box and how to access it. For any hard copies of the roadmap, I recommend marking it with the date it was created/modified so it will be clear which of multiple versions is the latest.
There are several other key items to make your overall roadmap as complete and clear as possible. But this is a great first step, and those who come after you will be forever grateful for your foresight and love. Remember: this isn’t for you; it’s for them.
If you would like a complimentary copy of the roadmap spreadsheet I use with clients or if you would like help with this or other steps in your preparation and execution, send me an email today at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TODAY’S ACTION ITEMS (Time involved: 15-30 minutes)
- If you don’t already have a system for collecting and maintaining the roadmap information described above, email me at email@example.com for a copy of the spreadsheet I use with my clients. Otherwise, pull yours out and dust it off.
- Spend 5-10 minutes completing or updating the personal and family information sections of the roadmap spreadsheet (or the similar sections of your existing system). This will be very quick. It is basic information for you, your spouse, your mother/father/mother-in-law/father-in-law (if living) and your children – full names, dates of birth, contact information, etc. If you don’t have any of the details handy, leave that space blank for now. This is a speed round.
- Spend 5-10 minutes dropping in the very basics of the remaining sections. Again, speed round. Don’t worry about the details right now. For example, in the section for professionals, just include the names of your financial advisor, CPA, attorney, doctor, etc. Don’t worry about all their contact information or other notes yet.
- Spend 2 minutes to choose a day and time within the next two weeks to work on completing the rest of the roadmap. Block off 30 minutes and see how far you get. You can always schedule another session if you aren’t able to finish in that amount of time.
- Add that 30-minute commitment to your calendar.
- Pat yourself on the back for having the foresight to address this while you still can. You’re saving your loved ones immeasurable amounts of time and stress.