My dad passed away unexpectedly last year and, as emotionally difficult as it was to go through his things, the family was heartened to find that Dad had quietly done us yet one more huge favor.

He left behind impeccable financial records and a one-page letter telling exactly where to find everything. His letter was so simple and yet so complete – and proved so invaluable – that I’ve filed it away as both a keepsake and an example.

Yet no matter how much foresight Dad had, he could not see around corners. Estate-tax laws are in constant flux. The trust he had placed the house in was out of date. The bank stocks that made up much of his net worth – and now Mom’s – have since tumbled.

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