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Have you made your ‘Folder’ ?

By Gareth Horsfall - Topics: Italy
This article is published on: 6th November 2022

I prefer to start an article on a positive note but unfortunately have to start with a sad event that happened recently in our lives. My wife’s grandmother died on the 8th October at the ripe old age of 94. She was very ill in the end and as it has been said many a time for people in her condition, that it was a blessing in the end. However, it is obviously a sad time for the family. I will remember her fondly. I knew her for 18 years and she was a very Southern Italian ‘Mamma’ type. Always keen for you to take more food from the table (resulting in my first few years in Italy coinciding with a 5 kg weight gain – I can’t blame it on her – my ‘golosità for good food was more to blame!). She was also a great support for my wife and I when my son was born and came to live with us for a period to help out in the house and provide much needed help at a tough time for all new parents. I also had a few run-in’s with her, but nothing serious. All in the name of a good healthy relationship. As I said, she will be sorely missed.

But as always, when a family member dies we are left with a number of bureaucratic and administrative hurdles which need to be dealt with. In Nonna’s case, there are various bank accounts, US social security and ‘succession’ issues which now have to be worked through. Hopefully it won’t be too complicated as Nonna had very little left in her name when she died.

This is not always the case and in fact my experience is that the deceased tend to leave quite a lot more bureaucratic matters than perhaps they would have wanted to, and certainly than the remaining family members would have wished for. But, we can make some preparations, in life, for the ‘inevitable’ and leave the best parting ‘gift’ possible for the remaining family members.

The following article is one which I wrote first back in April 2018 (https://spectrum-ifa.com/preparing-the-folder/) and since then I have shared it again on a few occasions. It seems appropriate to share it again with you now, especially since we are 4 years on since that date, we have all lived through Covid and faced with some interesting times ahead, so it would seem. (I have also made some updates to the original article to take account of changing technological developments). I hope you find it useful.

This type of article is never an easy one to write. Ensuring that your papers are in order in the event of your sudden death is incredibly important when living in another country. It will provide you with peace of mind that your loved ones will not have too much difficulty in administering your estate and your family will be eternally thankful that you did it for them.

The big problem is that as ‘stranieri’ we often have documents spread across multiple locations. The office, a house in another country, with family members and in that old box that no-one dares look in – papers that look like they came from the Victorian age in alot of cases. But whose job will it be to track all those down?

The purpose of this article is to outline a proven way of organizing ‘THE’ folder to minimise problems in the event of your death.

have you made your folder

So what is ‘THE’ folder?
It is a single file (digital or physical – preferably both) where you keep all of your important personal and financial information together. It allows easy access to these documents in the event that you’re no longer around to help. It is really important to have it in place especially where one family member takes the lead with the family finances (typically one member of the household tends to dominate over money matters, but with the advent of shared technologies it is becoming more common to find that 2 or more family members are involved in the household finances). This includes paying bills, managing accounts and storing documents.

Is it worth the effort?
Yes, yes yes and yes. A time of loss can be stressful enough without having to try and piece together the deceased’s financial affairs. This can be a really difficult time. Don’t underestimate the kind of favour you will be doing to the executors of your estate if you have one place with all your financial and legal documents in an easy to understand format. You may not be around to hear their appreciation, but I can tell you, from experience, it will be eternal.

However, preparing ‘THE’ folder is much more than avoiding stress; if you leave behind an administrative nightmare you could delay access to inheritors’ access to funds and potentially cost a small fortune in legal fees.

According to an Independent financial adviser website in the UK (unbiased.co.uk – what is the probate process) the average time for probate to get settled is between 9 months and a year. In the USA the average time is also about a year. I also spoke to someone recently who confirmed that in their case it took over 1 year to deal with their parents’ estate.

So which is best…..physical or digital?
This comes down to personal preference, but I would always recommend both. Whether you choose to have a digital folder with all these documents in or not, you should at the very least have your documents scanned in case of fire or theft, and quite often companies will now accept scanned copies of documents instead of hard copies, if they can be certified or electronically signed.

With a digital file you can give access to a trusted individual who can access it in the event of your death. (Remember they will also get access during your life, so ensure they are a ‘trusted’ individual) A google file, for example, can be updated over time and which you and a family member have shared access to. This file can then be stored on your main computer, in the cloud or on an external hard drive. You can use a physical folder to keep all the same information together.

For what it’s worth, I decided to do both when building mine because my wife prefers paper and so is happier with hard copies of everything. I prefer digital. I have also shared the digital folder with some trusted family members.

What goes in The folder

So what should go in ‘THE’ folder?

Birth, marriage and divorce

  • Personal birth certificate
  • Marriage licence
  • Divorce papers
  • Birth certificate / adoption papers for minor children

Life insurance and retirement

  • Life insurance policy documents, including beneficiary nomination forms.
  • Details of any employer death in service benefits
  • Personal pension documents (including any beneficiary nomination forms)
  • Occupational / Final Salary pension details
  • Annuity documents
  • Details of any entitlements to state pensions

Bank accounts

  • List of bank account numbers with account numbers, login details and passwords
  • Details of any credit cards
  • Details of any safety deposit boxes

(see my comments on passwords below)

Assets

  • Property, land and cemetery deeds
  • Timeshare ownership
  • Proof of loans made
  • Vehicle ownership documents
  • Stock certificates, brokerage accounts, investment platform details and online investment account details
  • Details of holding of premium bonds, government bonds and investment bonds
  • Partnership and corporate operating/ownership agreements ( incl offshore companies)

The issue of which documents to throw away and which to keep is a common one. I always suggesting keeping everything if you are unsure
and then once a year with your financial adviser or legal professional have a clear out and keep the file tidy.

Liabilities

  • Mortgage details
  • Proof of debts owned

Details of gifts

  • Dates and amounts / values (potentially helpful when calculating inheritance tax liabilities

(A word of warning here! If your estate is likely to be subject to Italian succession law on your death. [This might mean that you have lived in Italy for 10 yrs + before your death, as an example], then any gifts which have not been fully notarised may still make part of your overall estate and be subject to the provisions of forced Italian succession law. i.e the donee may have to give the money back and it be distributed between the rightful heirs according to Italian law, ‘should’ the beneficiaries request the funds.

Notarising gifts would normally need to be done where the benefits outweigh the costs of the action itself.

(Bear in mind that you will need to pay the notary costs of approx 5% on the value of the gift, plus any taxes and one off fees for the gift)

Income sources

  • Making a list of all your sources of income, especially the ones which your family may not know about

Employer details

  • A copy of your most recent tax return or accounts

Monthly expenses (so they can be continued after death or accounts closed)

  • Utilities
  • Insurance
  • Rent / mortgage
  • Loans
  • Subscriptions / membership details

Email and social media account details

Essentials

  • Wills / Testaments + details of the legal firm that helped create it, if relevant
  • Instruction letter
  • Trust documents
  • Burial / Cremation wishes
  • A copy of a living will, should you have ‘end of life’ instructions that you want medical professionals to be aware of should you be unable to communicate these due to severe illness or disability

Contact details

  • List of names and contacts numbers for: financial adviser, doctor, lawyer/solicitor, accountant, insurance broker etc
time for a review

How often should ‘THE’ folder be reviewed?
Firstly, it is sensible to note the date that it was last reviewed so that anyone using it has an idea of how up-to-date the details are.

Going forward, reviewing the file on an annual basis should be sufficient.

Online passwords
The issue of passwords has become infinitely more complicated in recent years because everything we access these days requires a password and it would be a full time job to document these and then keep them updated every time that one needed changing. There are now various Password Manager applications that you can buy to securely hold all your passwords. You can find some of the best HERE. However, if you are reluctant to use technology, which let’s face it could be hacked, then you are left needing to log all those passwords the old way…..writing them down!

And finally…
Be sure to tell someone about it. There is little point going to the effort of creating such a folder if know one knows of its existence or where to find it.

If you need help with putting your folder together or are unsure where to start then you can contact me for help on
gareth.horsfall@spectrum-ifa.com
or on my cell at +39 333 649 2356

Article by Gareth Horsfall

If you live in Italy and or have financial interests in Italy you can contact Gareth Horsfall directly on: gareth.horsfall@spectrum-ifa.com to request more information about how he may be able to help you. Alternatively you can complete the form below and a message will be sent to him. If you would like to read more about Gareth's work you can follow his blog on tax and financial planning in Italy HERE

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