If you were to suddenly die today, would your loved ones know how to quickly find your estate planning documents? Would they know how to access all of your financial accounts? How about your insurance policies? What about your login and password info to all of your digital assets?
One crucial part of estate planning that frequently gets overlooked is ensuring your loved ones can easily locate all of your planning documents and other key assets upon your death or incapacity. One simple way to handle this important task is to create a “When I Die” file. According to A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death, this is a “findable file, binder, cloud-based drive, or even a shoebox where you store estate documents and meaningful personal effects.”
This new book, authored by Shoshana Berger and BJ Miller, was recently excerpted in TIME magazine, and the excerpt discussed the importance of creating such a file in order to “save your loved ones incalculable time, money, and suffering” upon your death.
I agree with Berger and Miller, and would add that this file is every bit as important in the event of your potential incapacity, not just your death—and perhaps even more so. I also offer some additional guidance here about how to ensure your “When I Die” file provides maximum efficiency and effectiveness for the people you love.
Death can be a logistical nightmare
Following the death of her elderly father, Berger learned first-hand how agonizing it can be to not have a “When I Die” file. Though her father made his will and trust easily accessible, Berger and her sister spent nearly two years tracking down his other planning documents, assets, and finalizing his affairs.
Berger recalls “sleuthing through his file cabinet and mail and requesting what seemed like a mountain of duplicate death certificates to prove to various companies that he had actually died.”
Berger recommends that in addition to creating your “When I Die” file, you should also call your internet, cable, cell phone providers (as well and any other companies that bill you on an ongoing basis) and add your partner or children as joint owners. Unless you add a loved one’s name to these accounts, Berger says those you leave behind could be in for a torturous ordeal.
“If billing accounts are not in both your and a loved one’s name, your survivors will end up spending hours…begging bureaucrats to shut them down or convert the accounts to their name so they can manage them,” she says. “Think of every frustrating call you’ve had with your cell provider, and then multiply it by 10.”
Beyond burdening your loved ones with needless work and expense, if your planning documents, such as wills and insurance policies can’t be located, it will be as if they never existed. The same goes for valuable assets like stocks, bank accounts, and other financial property that no one knows about.
Given this, you should make sure your “When I Die” file contains an updated inventory of all your assets and their location. And don’t forget to include your online property in this inventory.
Don’t forget your digital assets
When it comes to digital assets like cryptocurrency, email, photos, video, and social media, your loved ones must not only be able to locate these items, they must also know how to access them. Given this, you should include login and password information in your “When I Die” file, along with detailed instructions about how to get into the accounts.
If you store your file online, password management apps like LastPass can greatly simplify this effort. In fact, I highly recommend you scan and upload copies of ALL the items in your “When I Die” file to the cloud and store them online. This not only makes your file much easier to access, it also prevents it from being destroyed in a fire, flood, or other natural disaster.
All of my estate planning clients are set up with a SmartVault account, where all of their estate planning documents, as well as memorial instructions and other “when I die” documents and files can easily be located by the client during their lifetime, but also by their loved ones when the client dies or becomes incapacitated.
What to include in your file
Because the TIME excerpt only includes a partial collection of the items Berger and Miller suggest including in your “When I Die” file (their book has the full list), I’ve added a few items to their list below to provide a more detailed inventory.
An updated inventory of all your assets and their location, including password and access info for all digital assets
- An advance healthcare directive
- A will and living trust (with certificate of trust)
- Marriage or divorce certificate(s)
- Instructions for your funeral and final disposition
- An ethical will explaining why you made the choices you did in your real will (in my office, we typically do this with a video called a Legacy Interview, but it can also be done in writing)
- Letters, cards, photos, and other treasured sentimentals
- If you have minor children, a Kids Protection Plan® naming long and short-term guardians, along with detailed care instructions for both
Get your affairs in order—before it’s too late
Each family is unique, so this is just a minimum of what can be included in your “When I Die” file. When you work with me, I have systems in place to help ensure all of your assets are properly inventoried throughout your lifetime for the utmost convenience and care of those you love most.
My firm’s Client Care Program’s members (membership is free for one year after their estate plan is put in place) are invited to attend special events where we dig even deeper into the 160 Decisions™ that must be made by loved ones when someone passes away. The ultimate “When I Die” file would include your documenting as many of these decisions for your loved ones as possible, before you die.
The bottom line is that, because death or incapacity can strike at any moment, you don’t want to wait to get your affairs in order. If you do, your loved ones might experience the same lengthy ordeal Berger did when her dad died.
This article is a service of Beverly R. Davidek. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure that families and business owners make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for themselves and the people they love.