Think for a few moments about what would happen if you suddenly became incapacitated or died.  Just this morning, my wife and I were discussing what she would need to do if her mother died.  Then I asked her what she would do if she woke up one day to discover that I had died.  One of the ironies of being an estate planner is that I haven’t prepared her as well as I should for that event.  We often talk about wanting to die together, but that rarely happens for couples.  So we need to be prepared for the possibility that one of us will out live the other.

I told my wife that I remembered talking with a friend about this subject a few years ago.  During our conversation, he pulled out a notebook he had labeled the “When I Am Dead Book”.  His idea was for his wife to be able to simply pick up the notebook and have at her finger tips all of the information she would need to handle their personal financial affairs if he was suddenly disabled or dead.

When your spouse or family faces this situation, will they know what to do? Will they know where to find important records, assets and insurance documents? Will they be able to access (or even know about) online accounts or files on your computer? Will they know whom to ask if they need help?  Putting the effort in now to establish a formal document inventory can alleviate unnecessary anxiety and turmoil in the future.

The Key Takeaways
·      If you should suddenly become incapacitated or die, your family would need to know where to find the information they would need.
·      Let your key relationships know where to find your document inventory.
·      Do not assume your process will be readily understood by others; have a trial run to make sure they can find and understand your records.
·      Keep your inventory current with an annual review.

What Information Would They Need?
There is a large volume of documents and information that your family would need during a calamitous event such as incapacitation (even temporary) or death. This basic list will help you start thinking of the critical information you would want your family to have.

·      legal documents (will, living trust, health care documents);
·      list of medications you are taking;
·      list of your advisors (attorney, CPA, banker, insurance agent, financial advisor, physicians);
·      insurance policies (health and life);
·      year-end bank and investment account statements;
·      storage facility location, access method, and inventory;
·      list of other assets, including location, account numbers, date purchased and purchase price;
·      safe deposit box location, list of contents and location of key;
·      list of people to whom you owe money (mortgage, credit cards, etc.);
·      list of people who owe you money;
·      death or disability benefits from organizations;
·      past tax returns.

Also, many of your records are probably on a computer or stored online. If you scan documents or receive financial statements electronically, someone else may not even know they exist. If you use a computer accounting program such as Quicken, QuickBooks or Mint, those records would be on your computer. Family photos may be stored digitally or online. Much of this information is password protected.

What You Need to Know:  Your document inventory requires a methodical listing of both hard copy and digital forms.  While the effort will be more challenging at the start, the maintenance of the inventory is much simpler.  Be mindful that your digital footprint will likely grow much faster in the future than it has in the past.

Actions to Consider
·      Give current copies of your health care documents to your physicians and designated agent(s).
·      Keep your original documents in one safe place, like a fireproof safe or safe deposit box. Make copies for the notebook described next.
·      Buy one or two three-ring binders to organize your personal and financial information. You can enter it by hand or create spreadsheets on your computer, but having it all in one or two binders will make it easy for your family to find and use. (If you leave it on your computer, they may never find it.) Include locations, contact information, account numbers and amounts.
·      Include a list of online accounts and how to access them (including passwords).
·      Clean up your computer desktop and put important files in an easy-to-find desktop folder.
·      Have a trial run. Ask your spouse or other family member (or your successor trustee or executor) to pretend that he or she needs to access needed information.
·      At least once a year, review and update your notebook, computer desktop files and passwords for online accounts.

Maybe you’ll want to follow my friend’s example and create your own tabbed/indexed “When I Am Dead Book”.  Can you imagine anything that you could possibly do that would make your incapacity or death less stressful for your spouse and/or your family?  I can’t!  And I’ve told my dear wife to harass me until I get it done!  I think we will both sleep better at night when it’s in place.