Beyond the Grave: Estate Tips and the Best Way to Store Paper Documents

You’re a planner. You have thought about what needs to be done in most circumstances and have all the answers for whatever crisis there might be. But at some point, we all leave this world and only our stuff remains behind. A Last Will and Testament, Insurance Policies, and all the legal documents and accompanying lawyers are important and necessary for our surviving beneficiaries. But where should you keep your will? And wouldn’t it be nice if you could assist in the actual execution of your final plan? Consider creating an estate tip folder to assist family members to more easily and less painfully put your final wishes into motion. Here’s how to get started and the best way to store your paper documents so they’re always safe.

How to Get Started

If you’re old school, you can begin with a three-ring notebook and label the spine “Estate Instructions” or something similar. If you are more comfortable with an electronic version, just be sure it’s something that will be easy to find and easy to read as technologies and software programs change over the years. This needs to be something with which you can include written instructions, as well as possibly photos, maps, documents, or other items you want to use to help make your instructions more clear.

What Information to Include 

Plan to keep this notebook or file very safe, such as locking inside a Cannon fire rated safe. Make sure you use copies of any official or legal documents you include or attach as part of your instructional packet.

Last Will & Testament 

If everyone had an updated and completely detailed Will & Testament, this would be the only document needed. But alas, people are people. If your estate folder includes a copy of your Will, write the location of the original as well as contact information for whomever may have a copy of it already.

Funeral Arrangements 

Many people make funeral arrangements early and have caskets and plots already picked out.  Sometimes the arrangements can be one or two moves (or marriages) early. Include a copy of any contract or receipts for services already arranged. This is one area where a map may come in handy, especially if the burial plot and funeral home are in another state.

Financial Information 

You may wish to include a list of all your various life insurance policies here, as well as the names and account numbers of your financial institutions. Besides banks with checking and savings accounts, people have retirement funds, credit cards, mortgages, lines of credit, store accounts, even individuals that may owe you money or vice versa. Don’t forget about the cash you keep in your safe or hidden elsewhere in your backyard or mattress.

Letter of Instruction 

This is where you can really help make things easier on your Executor or family members left behind.  Besides a list of people or institutions you want to be notified of your death (professional associates and friends), this is where you can really provide some insight or tips. While your Will may declare who gets what, you could include a series of “why” answers here, should you feel that they could help. With a little thought, you can answer as many anticipated questions in your Estate Instructions notebook as you wish.


Obviously, this type of notebook could contain some very sensitive information that you would not want known before it was time. Use adequate security cautions for the storage of this document and be sure that those who need to know where it’s located know about it before hand.

Living Document Until the End 

One great thing about this type of document or package is that it is not something that you finish once and put under glass until it’s required. As children age and grandchildren are born, this document is easily updated and can be used as a reminder to get your legal representative involved when necessary. Once someone dies, they are no longer able to provide any security to those they left behind unless wishes and directives are provided from documentation. As you plan to be safe while among the living, include some planning for after you’re gone.


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