If he or she is to be your executor, it may seem like overkill to provide your name, rank and serial number to your spouse. You have missed a lot of birthday cards if he or she doesn’t already know your date of birth.

You may think that because you have appointed your spouse as your executor you can rest easy that your estate will be settled in an equitable manner without much input from you. And in most cases, that might be true – even though it will be more taxing for your spouse. Wrong! Quite often, a virtual stranger will settle things the way they think best. How can that be?

In my days as a financial advisor (fancy name for stockbroker), I was aware of two cases within a year of each other in which the intended executor died first. No problem, you say? Sorry, but you’re wrong again; both individuals who had appointed the departed executors were suffering advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and were incompetent to appoint a replacement.

If my own experience is any guide, this type of circumstance may exist for as many as one in every 200 deaths.

But, once we pay attention to the possibility, it’s relatively easy to protect our families. In the event a substitute is appointed, or someone other than your spouse is to be your executor, name, rank and serial number, together with your birthplace and names of parents (including mother’s maiden name), brothers, sisters, children and grandchildren will be part of a useful list. It should also list your occupation, employer, military service (and location of discharge and other documents), church and other memberships.

These and other details will be useful in preparing your obituary. Alternatively, you may wish to spare others the stress of deciding what should be said by writing your own. (If you are famous, the news media has had your obituary on file possibly for years.) Just keep it short.

If this gets you in the writing mood, you might consider writing or taping the story of your life to date. You can add to the story from time to time. In this way you will be a more real person than data can reveal to future generations and those interested in genealogy.

What have you done with your life so far? What have you learned? What would you like to have done better? In what ways could you have done so? What was the happiest day of your life, and what made it so? Your thoughts, views, dreams successes, disappointments, lessons learned, loves and hates paint a full-color picture of you and help to keep you alive long after you have gone.

Back to the data sheet listing your name, rank and serial number: it could be useful if you list allergies and other health problems suffered by you or your spouse that may be inherited by future generations. Details could result in quicker diagnoses and treatment for descendants.

You may not make it into the history books, but the history you provide may be interesting, useful or both to unknown numbers of descendants and their families.

Oh, and if you put your will somewhere for safekeeping, do tell where.

This is just one of dozens of helpful ideas presented in The Estate Manual and its electronic counterpart, THEMES™ – estate planning’s missing link. The manual organizes the human side of estate planning. This area is often overlooked, but it makes a huge (and obvious) difference to survivors. It is an easy-to-use system for making sure nothing is left out of your planning. Learn more at http://www.estatemanual.com

Sydney Tremayne


  • Sydney Tremayne has enjoyed successful careers as a journalist on three continents, as a government official ("Whew!" is his only comment), and as investment advisor. His first book - on investing - was a Canadian best seller.

    His most recent book, The Estate Manual, puts a human face on estate planning. It encourages readers to take charge of all the personal details -- documents, bank accounts, real estate, training an executor.

    Sydney is an Empowering Caregivers featured expert, learn more about Sydney