Spring has sprung. Birds are chirping. Flowers are blooming. Beaches are calling and many of us are looking forward to a little downtime to recharge our batteries. The feeling of possibility is palpable this time of year. And then there is the possibility of you getting hit by a bus. Sorry, couldn’t find a better way to transition to this topic. But the reality is, each of us must prepare for the worst. If you were gone tomorrow would your loved ones and business partners be able to locate your important documents, access your personal accounts and carry out your wishes? Personal disaster planning is not only practical planning, it is compassionate planning. It may not be fun, but it is necessary.
Create and Secure a Master Life File
Organizing important documents and papers will ensure your family and business partners can find what they need, without adding undue pressure to an undoubtedly trying time. Let’s call it your Master Life File. The great thing is, this type of organizing will benefit you while you’re here, too!
Below is a list of items you should consider for your file:
- Personal legal documents, including social security cards, passports, birth certificates, adoption papers, marriage licenses, etc.
- Property records, such as deeds, bills of sale, mortgage information, vehicle titles and the like.
- Tax information, forms and previous tax returns.
- Insurance policies, including health insurance coverage and any long-term care policy documents.
- Your will and any medical power of attorney and/or living will documents.
- Financial records and account information, including, if necessary, disability or unemployment records, investment statements and retirement/pension plan information.
- A document that outlines devices, platforms and possibly passwords one would need following your untimely death. (More on passwords below.)
- Information on pre-purchased burial plots or funeral insurance.
- A list of any safe-deposit boxes you maintain.
- An index of items included in your Master Life File
Resources for the Legal Documents
A bit beyond the scope of my blog topic, but I’d like to share a few resources for some of the larger and/or legal documents/concepts that will comprise your Master Life File.
- Many hire a lawyer to draft their will, but there are credible will creation resources online. Some find partnering with an estate attorney makes most sense. This article provides guidance for decision-making around this topic.
- Drafting and executing a formal will, which, beyond child custody, financial implications and assets, should include your desires for final disposition. You do not want your family to have to make assumptions on what to do with your remains or whether or not organ donation would be your desire.
- Set up an advanced directive, also known as a living will or healthcare power of attorney. Again shifting the burden off your loved ones, this document outlines the medical care you would want to/not want to receive, should you be deemed unable to direct care for yourself. MyDirectives is an good resource for establishing advanced directives.
Digital and Paper Copies
Yes, I am an advocate of paperless filing systems, but when it comes to your Master Life File, I believe both electronic and paper copies are best. Purchase a fireproof home safe to store the original documents of your Master Life File. Scan and file the documents on a USB thumb drive. File the UBS thumb drive in the safe, in a safe-deposit box, or give it to a trusted family member or friend for safekeeping. Ideally the friend or family member would store the drive in a fireproof safe or safe-deposit box. Some find also giving a master paper copy to a family member provides them with peace of mind.
Passwords and Access
Social media is a modern way so many of us exchange information, and news of death is no exception. You may have a specific idea of how you’d like information shared on your social media. If that is the case, share this information with your trusted family member. At some point down the line, you may also want your family to change the status of your social media – which brings me to passwords. And not only are our social media accounts password protected, so are our online bank accounts, our subscription services, our business payroll systems, our electronic devices and so much more. Providing trusted family and friends with access to your passwords will help them carry on with necessary business in the days and weeks following your death.
LastPass – A Valuable Tool for Today and If the Worst Happens
I am a big fan of LastPass, which provides you with secure passwords for all your platforms. This is an excellent, practical tool for you to use today while you’re here with us! LastPass securely stores all your passwords, across all your devices, without sacrificing security. Passwords are stored in a “digital vault” you can access via one master password, so you’ll never be locked out. Even if you’re working on a non-personal device, using the master password, you can enter the vault via the web to uncover the password needed. A great tool for business collaboration, you can add and remove other’s access to designated, password protected documents and platforms. And, using their Emergency Access feature, access to passwords can be granted posthumously when your designated survivor implements the secure emergency access feature.
LastPass also features a secret notes section where you can store information, such as frequent flyer account numbers (again, good for the living now!), information on where cash or valuables may be hidden (good for the surviving and possibly the living now if you’re forgetful!) or even a copy of your Master Life File index, password protected.
Whether you choose an automated tool like LastPass or 1Password, another great password manager, or you choose to use some other system of documentation for passwords, the key is to put a resource in place for those you leave behind to access your sites and devices. Information on your password documentation system should be included in your Master Life File.
Just Get Started on It
Now that I’ve planted this concept in your mind, spend the next couple of days thinking through what those you love might face should you suddenly become incapacitated or die. It may seem daunting, or even depressing, but if you systematically run through your business and day-to-day activities, the information needed will become clear. Reflect on your wishes and document your important to-dos. Start a running log of things you’d like to document, then begin to compile the information. You’ll have a plan in place – and peace of mind – in no time. Then, it is time to share it with your family and trusted business partner.
Have the Discussions and Get Frank
It may not be the most uplifting conversation to have, but thinking through and talking about your desires after death is important. This is a practical and compassionate way to care for those you love and care about. It is a proactive way you can craft your legacy. To this end:
- Let those closest to you know where/who has your Master Life File.
- If you have a safe-deposit box, let those who need to know know where to locate it.
- Share with your family how you’d like your memorial service, if desired, to proceed. Get specific with your wishes. Would you like someone to speak? Do you have favorite music you’d like to have included? Would you like an over-arching theme?
- Some people choose to author their own obituary. If this speaks to you, get started on yours.
- Discuss disposition or donation of your remains with those closest to you, don’t let it be a surprise in your will.
- Consider crafting a message for your loved ones, be it in writing or via video. This may too seem daunting but can be a comforting last gift.
- Are you a journal keeper? Would you like others to have access to your journals? If you use a password protected online journal, you could share the password, if you’d like to leave your journal for others to read. If you have paper journals and do not wish to have these read, entrust your spouse, a sibling or close friend with their proper disposal.
Take Action Today So You Can Focus On the Here and Now
Not the most uplifting thing to mull over, I agree. But it is still springtime. And you’re still here. Put the plans in place. Address the practical and take your time with the personal. Communicate your wishes and the constructs of your personal disaster plan with your family and/or business partner(s). Then, turn your sights to the possibilities of the here and now. We’ve got some living to do.
Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop. She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.