“Today there is a major aspirational class in India that wants to invest for growth….According to the Association of Mutual Funds, the assets under management of the mutual fund industry in India in 2014 were around 10 lakh crores. In these eight years, by June 2022, it has increased by 250 percent to 35 lakh crore. That is, people want to invest. They are ready for it”. This is Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the inauguration of the International Bullion Exchange in GIFT City, Gandhinagar on July 29, 2022. These are not words that India has ever seen coming from the political leadership. To the contrary there has been a deep-seated suspicion of markets in general and stock markets in particular. This discomfort with markets has led to decades of sub-optimal investment options for Indians wanting to keep savings ahead of inflation.
What’s holding Indian women back from being financially independent? How can you break out of that mindset? Ritu Ailani finds out
Almost every young Indian woman wants to be financially independent, yet so few are the gatekeepers of their own money. Their quest for financial independence often ends at getting a job, contributing to family expenses and spending on whatever they want – clothes, cosmetics or expensive coffee – without being answerable to anyone. The money left over used to be stashed away in steel almirahs. Today, it’s parked in fixed deposits. And both these are inept financial moves.
Women Come Late To The Pay Party
Private banker Sudha Wariar, Lead Executive Director for Offshore Investments at Torus Wealth Private Limited, has had over 20 years of experience working in the Middle Eastern market, and countless interactions with women from non-finance backgrounds, including at a recent webinar she conducted for Dheya Career Mentors on money management. Wariar observes that the reluctance to take charge of money probably comes from the fact that earning money, in itself, feels like such a huge accomplishment to women that they hardly think about what to do with it.
Women Come Late To The Pay Party Private banker Sudha Wariar, Lead Executive Director for Offshore Investments at Torus Wealth Private Limited, has had over 20 years of experience working in the Middle Eastern market, and countless interactions with women from non-finance backgrounds, including at a recent webinar she conducted for Dheya Career Mentors on money management. Wariar observes that the reluctance to take charge of money probably comes from the fact that earning money, in itself, feels like such a huge accomplishment to women that they hardly think about what to do with it.
It’s Time To Redefine Financial Independence
Dipti Periwal, professor of MBA in Finance at BRIMS Thane, Maharashtra, and a PhD student with a focus on working women and their investment decision-making, agrees. “Earning money isn’t enough. Unless you actively make decisions about what to do with the money earned, you’re not financially independent.”
You must think about your future needs more than your current ones; be frugal with your expenses, so that you can not only save, but also invest in assets that multiply your money even while you sleep. Financial independence has less to do with splurging, and more to do with having an emergency fund that ensures a crisis like COVID-19 doesn’t decimate your savings overnight. It’s not about chasing get-rich-quick schemes, but building generational wealth. It’s about living a life that is not dictated by a pay cheque, a life where you’re free to pursue your real hobbies.
Financial management is not an option, but a life skill. Women tend to ignore it, and then scramble when stuck in a tight spot – a debilitating illness, the death of the breadwinner in the family, or a divorce, occurrences that are more common than we imagine and hit us out of nowhere. Whether you’re a working woman or a homemaker, actively participate in your family’s decisions on the financial front.
Are You Guilty Of Disinterest?
Having been deprived of financial knowledge for the longest time, women still undermine their own capabilities in this domain. Periwal, for instance, shares that even though she’s more academically qualified than her husband and teaches finance at a post-graduate level, she feels the need to consult him on every little financial decision she makes. It’s not like her husband enforces this or that she’s less informed, but getting his stamp of approval seems important. “My wariness probably comes from my mother, who never dealt with finances her entire life,” she explains. “Although I am a little better off than her in that aspect,
my children might pick up certain unspoken cues from my behaviour. We have to make conscious efforts to break the chain.”
If you’re an Indian woman who’s still under confident about managing money, think about how efficiently you run your life, or even your family’s life. Give yourself credit for your budgeting, bargaining and saving skills. Now transfer those chops to financial management.
Monika Halan, a personal finance expert and author of the best-selling Let’s Talk Money shared these simple steps for women to take charge of their finances:
Start by changing your attitude. If you find yourself saying “I have no head for numbers”, “I don’t understand money” or “It is too tough for me,” know that you have bought into a gender stereotype. Make financial independence a priority and set goals for yourself to achieve it.
Set up a cash flow system. Start by creating three bank accounts. Your salary account is where all the money comes into your life. Call it an ‘income account’. Move what you might spend in the month to the second account – the ‘spend it account’. All your spending happens from this account – payments to your credit card, wallets, BHIM – everything. This way you can put a cap on your expenses of the month. The money left over in the income account must go into the third account – the ‘invest it account’. Don’t fret about investments at this point. Simply practise separating your expenses from your savings.
Start an emergency fund. In six months, you should have a nice build-up of money in your ‘invest it account’. Use it to start an emergency fund. Build a balance of six months of your monthly spends. Put this money in a fixed deposit or, if you already understand debt funds, in one that is low on risk and duration. It’s after you have created an emergency fund that you can educate yourself on short-, medium- and long-term investments.
Do this to take the reins of your financial future in hand. As they say, the best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is now.
A change in the narrative to an I-want-to-be-rich one has the potential to drive the next few decades of economic growth
If you have ever found yourself wondering why the accelerator pedal is not doing its thing, and then looked down to see that if handbrake was on, you know exactly what India’s young are going through – a desperate urge to be rich, but being held back by an old poverty narrative that paints the rich as morally corrupt and evil.
14 January 2022
An engaging conversation around Indian women and the work situation in today’s times with Mitali Nikore, Jyotika Kalra, Ira Singhal and Deepanshu Mohan organized by Argumentative Indians.
This article is part of the series 30 Years After: Review and Renew the Reforms Agenda.
At the heart of the complex web of bits and bytes that is the modern financial system is the ability to exchange and transfer capital (money) between various participants in an economy. Borrowers, lenders, investors and entrepreneurs form the four corners of this very busy square. Traffic flow and participants can either be controlled and owned by the government as it was in India till 1991, or it can be regulated by a set of independent regulators appointed by the government, as it is today in 2021.
When we see the hectic activity in the Indian financial system today, we tend to forget what it was like just 30 years ago — in terms of scale, products, efficiency, cost and service. The sole job of a financial system is to trundle money around to find its optimal use in terms of returns at a low-cost and safety of transactions. But the centrally planned Indian economy used the state-owned financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies to gather household savings for its own use, hard coding this into the reserve ratios in banks and investment guidelines in insurance firms.
Insurance has been the buzz word ever since the COVID-19 pandemic. In the special show ‘Smart Money’, CNBC-TV18’s Sonia Shenoy spoke to Sumit Rai, MD and CEO at Edelweiss Tokio Life Insurance, and Monika Halan, Author of Let’s Talk Money, to understand what is the protection cover that one must have for one’s family. They also shared some hacks to buy life or health insurance.
This is a bit morbid, but extends your duty of care even when you are not there anymore.
In my book Let’s Talk Money, the chapter on Life Insurance asks you to do this exercise to figure out what the family’s life looks like after you are gone. Shut your eyes and imagine you are gone. And then see the family’s distress in trying to piece your financial life together. You can’t message them from the other side or whisper passwords in their ear as they try and open your mobile and email to access crucial money details.
Each of us who manages the family finances has a duty of care towards those who either depend on our money or on our ability to manage the household finances and investments. The duty of care towards the family extends to after we are gone and we need to leave an ‘If-I-Die-Before-You’ file.
Digital or physical?
The first decision is about whether you want to maintain this file online or in a physical form. The problem with online content is that its location and access might not be that easy in case the passwords are not known by the family. Also, digital content is vulnerable to hard disk crashes, hacking and getting erased by error. A physical location in a notebook, file or register is easier to locate but is open to falling in the wrong hands.
This is a personal call that you make, but if you are not very easy with using services like a cloud or have trouble finding files in your computer and forget your passwords often, it is best to maintain this record in a physical form. You will need to be vigilant and keep it safe and also ensure that the immediate family knows about the content and the location of this file. Some people buy a note book or register, others prefer to use a ring file folder in which sheets can be added by opening the metal ring to thread fresh pages in. Remember that information in the file is dynamic and will keep changing. A hard format will reduce your ability to change the information like changes in service providers, account numbers, passwords and gadgets.
There are some basics that you need to put into this file, but other than that you can keep adding whatever you think is needed.
Will and ID cards.
The location of the Will must be documented. Some people keep a copy of the Will in the locker and one copy with the financial planner or lawyer. Put down the name of the executor of the Will along with his or her phone number and email. If you still have not made your Will. Do so now. I cannot stress the importance of this step enough. Read this piece for more on why you need a Will. Your PAN, Aadhaar, driver’s license and voter card number and date of expiry must be put down. Also tell your surviving family where you keep these documents.
Put down the names, email and phone number of the people who you know will help the family when you are gone. A financial planner, CA, lawyer are the people who need to be there. Choose a friend who you know will help the family and put her or his name down as well. Go back to the first piece I wrote on this to get a detailed list of people to contact here.
The names and basic details of all your bank accounts and lockers need to be documented here. The name of the bank, branch, account number, IFSC code, name of nominee (this presupposed that your bank account has a nominee), locker number are basic details. Next put down your digital banking username and password. Most banks also have a set of three questions you need to answer periodically. For example: name of your first pet or city of birth. Put down the questions and answers too. Keep a page for each bank since some details will change. Bank passwords change and you will need enough room below the password to strike out the old for the new. It is a good idea to put a date on the new password. That also reminds you to change in every six months or so. Put down the location of the cheque books, passbooks if any, locker keys as well.
Credit and debit cards.
Write details like the bank that issued the card, what kind of card it is (Mastercard, Rupay or Visa), card number, pin, date of expiry and the phone number linked to the card. India has a two layer level of protection on our card use where after entering the PIN, we also get an OTP to complete the transaction. Therefore access to your mobile phone will be a very important part of handing over control to the family. See the section on ‘Digital’ for that.
Document your username and password for the e-filing site. Also put down the location of the physical tax files in your home or office. Your CA’s name is already there in the important people list. No harm in remembering to check if you have put it down already or not.
Digital wallets and UPI.
Think of usernames and passwords of digital wallets like PayTM and of access details to your UPI account, either through BHIM or other apps that run on UPI such as Google Pay or Whatsapp.
This will have details of your broker account, NSDL account, the platform you use to invest into stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Usernames and passwords along with details of each account. Here is a list of the various kinds of assets an average family has. Put down the location of the papers and files that go with each account.
You need to document all the properties you have. The location of the papers and loans if any. Document if any of these are on rent, where the rent agreement is located and how much rent comes each month.
Life, health, vehicle and home covers are the most often used insurance covers. You need to put down details of each policy. Then name of the policy is important. People often say to me: I have XYZ policy. Now XYZ is the name of the company that has at least 25-30 products. You need to put down the name of the company, the name of your policy, the number of your policy, the premium you pay each year on what date, what is the date of the policy maturity and if you know, what the policy pays out. Document the name of the beneficiary of the policy. Putting down the name and contact details of the person who sold you the policy is also a good idea. Write the location of the policy documents.
An average household has a home loan, a car loan and sometimes a personal loan. Put down the details of how much was taken, when for what interest and what is the EMI you are paying and when this gets over. If there is a relationship manager who is attached toy our loan, document his or her contact details here. Again this information will keep changing, so keep one sheet per loan.
Read this piece here to get a list of all the different digital footprints we leave and how the family can access some of it. The details of accessing your computers, tablets, phones, email accounts, social media accounts, apps such as digi-locker need to be shared. Again one page per gadget or service provider. Remember that your phone is one of the most important parts of the financial reconstruction for the family. Smart phones have pins, patterns, facial recognition and fingerprint locks. Whatever you choose, remember to put two locks, so that if your finger or face is not around, the family can use the pin or pattern to unlock. Some people actually put the spouse’s finger print as the alternate print that unlocks the phone. Just as an aside – no your dead finger or face will not work on the phone. Morbid, but true. Telecom service providers too need to have a nominee feature now that the phone is such an important device in the financial life of a person.
This will have details of all your utility service providers such as water, electricity, gas, wifi, phone and whatever else you are using. Most of these will also have a digital interface with usernames and passwords. Keep a sheet for each relationship. You might even want to put down the location of the physical bills here.
Our passwords have become the crucial link to opening digital locks to much of our money life. Different people use different ways to remember their passwords. You need to have a password protocol in place for you and your spouse. Some logic that you use to design PINs and passwords so that even if the password was changed before you could document it, the spouse might be able to figure it out.
Update the file. This is a habit that you will need to work on because the work is not done when you create the file, it is continuous. Each time something changes you need to update the file. Most often it will be passwords. Less often it will be a financial service provider. Whatever the change, it needs to be recorded in the file.
You might even want to leave instructions on how to invest the money from the life insurance proceeds and warnings of what not to do. Read this for more ideas on what the family will do in the first six months after you have passed.
Keep this information safe. This digital or physical data is really the key to your entire money life. So have your security protocols in place and the spouse needs to know how to find this digital or physical file.
When you begin creating this file it might feel like a sombre process – it is never easy to contemplate your own death. But once you do it for a while and get more comfortable with your own mortality, the process becomes easier and the unintended consequence is that you begin to value close relationships even more. Each time you look at that file it is a reminder on the fragility of life and the good fortune that you still have it. Some people I know even put in cutesy messages in that file so that when it is finally accessed, the family will get a smile in a hard time on their faces!
Do not rush into anything. Slow and steady steps will take you towards a more secure future.
Even though we believe that we will not be able to live without a loved one, the physical body has a routine that will prevail. The running of the house too has a rhythm that will ask to be maintained. And in dealing with the demands of the body, the family, the work and the home gives us the external push to limp back to some sort of order. If the principal income earner has passed away, we will need a lot of work to get the financial life in order. Here are six steps towards a financial recovery. Small alert: this is not going to be an easy exercise and you will need to mentally prepare yourself for some hard work and decisions.
1. No hasty decisions. The months immediately after are the most emotionally charged ones and it is best to keep the cold money decisions away from the surge of emotions that well up. I have known people walk away from family assets in a fit of emotion. Others might want to relocate at once and make hasty real estate decisions. Yet others rush into investing the insurance money chased as they are by their banks. Do not allow your bank to suggest products from your insurance money proceeds. In the first six months after the passing of a spouse (I will use the word spouse here, but replace it with an appropriate relation depending on your situation), do not take any big financial decisions. Park them for a time when you have a better grip on the ground reality, when all the paperwork is done, when all the assets and liabilities are in place and when you know how much you need and what you have. Six months later you might be in a better place emotionally to take a more rational decision.
2. Cash flow audit. If the first step is to not do anything, the second one is to understand the rhythm of money in and out of the house. You need to understand the monthly, quarterly, annual inflows and outflows of money. For salaried people it is relatively easy to check the monthly credit into the bank, for business owners the mapping will be a bit more complicated. Next, itemise the regular monthly spends. You will need an excel sheet or a notebook to put down the regular recurring expenses each month. The bank and credit card statements will be a good starting point for this exercise. You can reach out for help with this here and here.
3. The spending audit. From the cash flow audit you have now got the main items of expenditure. From this we need to put down the must-do ones. EMI, rent, utilities, school fees, domestic help salaries, groceries, premiums into health, home and vehicle covers are spends that you will need to continue. Stop all investments that have no cost of a mid-way exit such as a mutual fund. You might even be able to pause some investment-oriented insurance policies if you speak with the company. Till you get an audit of the income you can draw from your assets, curtail discretionary spends as much as you can.
4. The asset audit. See this article to understand what the asset pile can look like and find what you own now and what is it worth. If there was a life insurance policy whose money will get paid to you, it is best to park it in a six month deposit before you decide on how it is to be invested. Include proceeds from the provident fund account, the gratuity if any, PPF, mutual funds, stocks. If there are more than one real estate assets, consider (but do not decide just yet) if you want to rent it or will be better off selling and investing the money for a regular income. Count the money in the other assets so that you can put a number down. The goal is to see how much the total pool of money is so that we can work on drawing rent, interest, dividend or profit from it. The income from your assets will have to replace the income of the deceased.
5. The liability audit. You might find that the asset you thought was yours actually belongs to the bank. This could be a house or a car. Add up all the loans value and check if there was an insurance against that loan. If there was, then the insurance will pay the remaining loan left leaving the asset in your possession. If not, you will have to decide if you have the money to keep paying the EMI – for example, if you plan to go to work to replace at least a part of the income, then you could keep the loan. But in most cases, it is best to be loan free and pre-pay loans if you can.
6. Big decisions. After the grunge work of figuring out your financial situation, now you can take important decisions about your future. Decisions such as relocating to a cheaper city, or with parents or siblings might be needed if there are few assets and debts are large. You might plan to go to work, or a young adult in the house could need to forego the higher education plans and get a job quickly. You may need to sell some assets such as jewellery, vehicles, additional real estate holdings so that there is money to put into income generating assets such as FDs, bonds and mutual funds. These decisions will depend on how much the total net worth number looks like and how you are able to deploy it to meet your costs over the rest of your life. These costs will only rise due to inflation, so ideally the asset pool must be so large that it can support an increasing spend over your lifetime.
Ideally use the services of a financial planner to rebuild your financial life. And you put down detailed notes for others to follow as you figure out your financial life, so that the cycle of unknowing does not repeat.
Next up. How to make the If-I-Die-Before-You file.
It helps to have a list of things we are searching for and know where to look
We’re trying to reconstruct the money life of the person who is suddenly not there to look after all the things that needed to be done. In this piece, I discussed the seven important people to contact as the first step and in this one I listed out the seven digital footprints to follow to rebuild the financial life.
Today I will list out most of the documents you need to find and possible locations for them. You need personal identifiers, papers that show ownership of assets and debts. Documents such as certificates of death, succession and legal heir are to be got from the government departments, but to begin on that, you need to have some documents that you can show to prove that you are indeed the legal heir or beneficiary.
Remember that this work is tedious enough, but this is just the beginning. Even for people with most of these in place, dealing with a multitude of government agencies and financial service providers is going to prove exhausting. Mentally prepare for a long haul on this money trail.
You will need documents that prove the identity of the deceased and your own identity and relation with him or her. To be a legal heir you need to have a Will that gives you the assets. In the absence of that, you will need a legal heir certificate and a succession certificate. Google on how to get these – there are plenty of resources that take you through this process.
- Will. The family financial planner or lawyer are the first two people who might have this document. It may also be in the locker in the bank or at home.
- Passport. Most families have one location for all passports. Find it there.
- Aadhaar card. The wallet or a box that has all the important cards is the usual place for this. It can also be downloaded from here.
- Driving license. Wallet is the usual place for this.
- Voter ID Card. Usually there is a box with all important cards.
- PAN card. People either carry it in the wallet or keep it in a safe box.
- Birth certificate. In the absence of a birth certificate, the class X mark sheet is used often to prove the date of birth.
- Marriage certificate. Some people don’t register their marriages. If the spouse’s name is on the passport, then that works to establish relationship.
- Any other document that establishes your status as an heir and beneficiary.
Tax and Bank
- Tax filing papers. Usually there is a file with the various years tax returns. Find the papers there hopefully. The tax filing site too has a lot of this data. You will need to access it using the PAN number plus mobile OTP.
- Bank statements. These will establish the inflow and outflow of money. You will get a fair idea of how much was getting saved and possibly where those savings were going. You will also find a list of the most important spends that need to continue.
- Cheque book stubs. Other than the regular income that comes via a bank transfer, sometimes there can be credits that are deposited through a cheque. Look at the stubs to see who paid and for what.
- Fixed deposit certificates. Some banks still issue physical FD certificates and others just give a digital copy.
- Corporate deposit certificates. These should have certificates. These are investments made in company bonds.
- Bonds. There could be government bonds or other tax saving bonds like 56 EC to offset profits of a previous real estate transaction. Some people buy them online now, so getting to the banker and broker will be crucial to find these bonds.
- Post office deposit certificates. Good old fashioned post office deposits will have certificates. Usually stored in a safe box or look for a digital copy.
- National Saving Certificates. Likewise, try and see if there are any certificates. Some banks offer online as well.
- Provident Fund, gratuity and other dues from the place of work. Locate the UAN number to access the PF. Or the office accountant will help.
- Public Provident Fund documents. Some banks still give physical certificates, others just give a digital copy and account statement.
- Home ownership papers. This is a fat bunch of papers. Will be hard to miss.
- National Pension Scheme (NPS) PRAN number. Both digital and physical documents should be there for the NPS account, if any.
- Combined Account Statement for mutual funds. The R&T agents Karvy and Cams give a combined account statement of all the mutual funds held. The Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI) tells you how to access it.
- Stock broker accounts. Mostly digital now, find clues on who is the service provider from emails and bank statements. It is crucial to find the assets listed with the broker account.
- NSDL monthly statements. The National Securities Depository Ltd gives a monthly statement of the stocks, mutual funds, bonds, gold bonds owned by a person. Look for emails from NSDL.
- Gold. The location of jewellery in the home is usually a shared piece of information with the close family members, but do look out for gold held through mutual funds and sovereign gold bonds.
- Car and other vehicle papers. Find the RC, the pollution certificate and now the FAST tag information.
- Life. There might be a term plan. If you know about this, then it is crucial to find the policy because if you are the beneficiary, you will get the proceeds of the policy. There could be others like Ulips, endowment plans, money back plans and whole life policies. At this stage just collect the policy documents, we will figure out what to do with each later. The bank or agent should help.
- Some offices too insure their employees. Find out from the office if there is such a policy.
- Health. You might have already used the health cover, but it now important to rework the policy. Get hold of the agent who sold this policy.
- Vehicle. This is an annual renewal. Find the insurance papers. Usually a copy is in the dashboard of the car’s glove compartment.
- Home. If you have a home cover, that too will itemise the valuables that were insured. This too is an annual cover and will need to be updated.
- Annuities. This is a regular income and if there is such a policy, you will need to find the document and begin the process of getting it to start paying.
- Loan documents. Find out what you owe. This is important to keep the loan payments going or will help you to close the loans that you want to exit by prepaying them. Usually there is a home loan, a vehicle loan, gadget loans and personal loans. Find out from the credit rating agencies the list of all loans in his or her name. See more about this here.
- Credit and debit cards. You will need to find the cards and then begin the process of cancelling them.
Where to look
Locating these documents will be easy or impossible depending on how organised the deceased was. Most people have a system they use to store their paperwork. The well organised have files neatly labelled stores in file managers or cupboards that too have lables. These kind of people put a label on a label maker! But these are rare. You will most probably need to look in a variety of places to collect all these documents. Look in:
- Bank lockers. The location and number of the locker and code will be crucial to accessing the locker after the bank has done the legal formalities and allows you to access the locker.
- Office. Check with the boss or assistant so that all personal files and documents from the office can be shipped to you. Some people keep documents in office where they are most likely to do the work of updating and maintaining.
- Locker at home. The good old Godrej cupboards have a safe. I’m sure that is the first place you would have checked in any case.
- Document cupboards at home. If there is a study, look there. If the dining room is used as the mini office, then search the cabinets in that room for files.
- Some people maintain registers or notebooks where they document the financial details. You might strike lucky and find a list of passwords for various account in such a register.
We are still just collecting all the documents and papers. The work of putting them to work is still to be done. Next time I will write on how negotiate the few months post the death and build a plan for the future.
How to retrace the digital footprints of the deceased
This is a series to help reconstruct the financial life of a person who is no more. While death never came with just old age, but the Wuhan virus has brought the fragility of life right into our homes. In this piece, I discussed the seven important people to contact as the first step of rebuilding the money life of a person who is not there to tell you what is where.
The next step is to use the deceased person’s digital exhaust to trace out some important details of their finances. Our digital footprint reveals a lot about who we are and what we do. Big tech platforms use this to direct advertising at us. You too can use the footprints to find some missing pieces of the money jigsaw you are trying to make.
- Phone. One of the key devices to help you trace out the money profile of a person. Your first gate to unlock will be the phone password that locks the device. I am hoping that the password is something you either already know or can guess given the set of passwords a family tends to use. We all have a certain method in using passwords and plenty of couples share the mobile pins with each other. If the phone has a face or fingerprint lock, you will need some techie help to unlock the phone. There are resources on the web that deal with this, but are specific to the kind of phone, the version and the associated platforms used. So, yes, there might be a way to unlock, but no, I won’t go into it. You will need to get some techie in the extended family or friends to help with this.
What are we looking for? We are looking for phone numbers of the people mentioned in the earlier story on who to contact. Look in the ‘recently called’ list. Take an hour’s time and then search through the entire phone list and forward to yourself numbers that have anything to do with finances. Most people save numbers with the function or the contact details will have the name of the firm the person works for or runs. We are also looking into the photos and specifically for pictures of documents that the person might have saved. Some people save images of their important documents like PAN, Aadhar, passport, driving license and such like on their phones. You might even find images or PDFs of insurance policies, mutual fund account statements, bank account statements and other such documents on the phone itself. The deceased might be using an app to manage the budget and that too will give plenty of clues as to the regular outflows. You might see the premium for an insurance policy that you did not know about. You might see systematic investment plan (SIP) outflows on a monthly basis.
- Computer. A desktop and or laptop is also an extremely useful device to unpack since it is a significant storehouse of the deceased person’s digital footprints. Again, I am hoping that the passwords are shared with you and you can access the computer. If not, get some techie or use google to figure out how to open a locked computer. Assuming that you are able to open the device, you are looking for documents scanned and stored. Documents such as PAN, Aadhar and other identifiers. Downloaded insurance policies – most car, home and life insurance policies are now sent in a digital form as well – are usually stored in the hard disk of the computer. Look for a folder with tax details. Another one might have bank details. There could be NSDL (depository) monthly statements on shares and mutual funds held. Property papers might have been scanned and stored. Some net worth and asset lists might be maintained. There may be an excel sheet or a word file with a list of regular payments that are due, such as rent, EMI, premiums, SIPs. Speak to the office assistant or boss for help with an office computer.
- Tablets. Most people today have a multiple set of devices. Look for a tablet such as an Ipad or an android tablet. If the person preferred to use the tablet more than the laptop or desk top, you might find the details stored in this device.
- Email. Unlocking the emails is another way to access the financial details of the person. Even if you cannot access the phone or computer, you can try and open the email if you know the password. The combination of a one-time password (OTP) along with an email address registered with service providers will give you access to most accounts.
- Whatsapp (or Signal or Telegram – some messaging app) messages. Assuming that you have been able to unlock some device, now go through the messages. The messages to a financial service provider will give clues to what bank accounts, what assets and what liabilities the person had. Some people message themselves important updates and details on whatsapp instead of using the ‘notes’ features on phones and laptops.
- Digi-locker. Few people will be using this cool new app (https://digilocker.gov.in) that aims to store all your original documents in one place. This is a government portal and app and some people are already using it to store documents. Again some combination of OTP plus email will be needed to unlock this app as well. The documents stored here are treated as originals.
- Cloud. The deceased might have been using some kind of a cloud service such as Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox or some other service. These help store files and data not just in the hard disk but in remote servers that can be configured so that all the devises can access the data. OTP, passwords and emails are again crucial keys to open this lock as well.
Often, most used sites and programmes are left open on laptops or office desk tops. If you are able to access these devices, then just keying in the name of the site might open it up for you. Children and young adults are usually good with technology, so if you are unable to do this yourself, enlist the help of trusted extended family members to help you out.
Next time, we will go on a physical search of places to search for files, documents and paperwork. This is a tough time. We all need to just belt up and keep going.