Estate planning. Will. What to do on death. Helping your executors.

Does Your Family Know Where Your 'Box' is?

Tim McArthur was in his final year studying Economics at Trinity College. His father John was also an alumni of Trinity. John called his son Tim to let him know that he'd be flying to Dublin the following day in his own private plane to try to close an important business deal. Tim, himself a keen pilot (having learnt from his father) suggested that his father would be better to take a commercial flight as the potential weather forecast could make flying in a small plane hazardous. John laughed and reminded Tim that if anything tragic happened; to remember to get the "green box" out of the closet in his bedroom.

The next day, John was killed when his plane crashed into the side of a mountain in North Wales in very low visibility. Several days after the funeral, Tim remembered his father's words about the green box. He called his mother and they brought the green box to the family solicitor. Inside, they found 28 envelopes.

Here are the labels on the envelopes:

• Letter to my wife
• Letter to each child (3)
• Letter to the employees
• Letter to my mother
• List of the most important five employees in the company and their strength/weaknesses
• Off-balance-sheet deals
• Organisational chart
• Details of any company trusts
• List of personal and business people that should be contacted in the event of passing.
• Deals in progress and his evaluation of them. 
• Strategy that I have been thinking about but I have not told anybody about.
• List of trusted advisers and their roles (may or may not be currently working with the company) such as solicitor, accountant etc.
• Instructions not addressed in Will
• Copies of 'Power of Attorney' documents
• Copies of passport, birth certificate and marriage certificate
• Copies of all credit cards
• Copies of physical property titles
• Personal share portfolio information
• Details of life insurance (personal and company-owned)
• Details of all other insurance
• Copies of personal property valuations (jewellery, guns, collectables, etc.)
• Computer passwords
• Personal financial statement
• Extra passport photos
• Medical/dental records
• Funeral/burial instructions.
• Mementos and to whom you'd like them given

This isn’t an original script and I can’t find the origin otherwise I would be very happy to give them all the credit however what I can tell you is that over the years I have been providing financial planning to families, very few have managed to get their affairs to the state that John left them for Tim and his family. Unfortunately, those responsible are not here for me to find out why so I’m left to provide my own thoughts.

There are very few things that people delay more than taking steps to put their house in order. It’s cliché, but I frequently compare getting ones’ house in order to getting physically fit. We all know we should eat healthily and exercise regularly, and yet most people don’t abide by these simple rules.

Perhaps it’s the difficulty in distinguishing the difference between a ‘results’ goal and a ‘habits’ goal. Getting all your affairs in order is a result, keeping them that way requires developing a habit or change in behaviour by dedicating some regular time to stay up to date, just like going to the gym to stay fit.

Perhaps it’s the perceived lack of urgency or the number of issues and deciding where to start tends which paralyse people. The human brain isn’t hardwired to make these rational decisions Our cognitive and emotional biases take over. 

The good news is that it doesn’t take long, make it a 30-minute activity and schedule it to run alongside your financial planning. You’ll get great peace of mind and satisfaction as a result.

I hope that this article propels you into taking some action even if it is just talking with your loved ones. Get over how it makes you feel and think about how much easier it will make others feel about you.


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