…And all the things you should put in it
Grieving for a loved one can be an all-encompassing experience. The last thing you want to have to think about if you’ve recently had to say goodbye to someone very close to you is paperwork. But one of the unfortunate facts of our society is that if you are the designated executor of someone’s household (which usually means you were very close, indeed) you have to think about all the legal and financial obligations that person might have had and close the book on them. This is often a lengthy and complicated process, which can be made even more difficult if you don’t even know where to start.
One way you can make the grieving process easier for your loved ones is to get all your own things in order and create a “When I Die” file (for lack of a better name) to be referenced whenever you no longer have the capacity to share this information.
Think of it as a doomsday prep kit, but without the tinfoil hats or weird bunker in the backyard. A “When I Die” file can be something that you provide for your loved ones in case you are just temporarily incapacitated or are no longer able to do the daily logistical tasks you currently do. (Or, if you’re anything like me, you tend to forget all kinds of things, like important passwords, and account usernames. Call it the “What Was It Again? File” instead, and use it for your own references. Whatever works.)
What to put in the file
Without prior arrangements, fully closing the affairs of a deceased loved one can take up to two years. Many companies that provide the subscriptions and accounts we use on a daily basis make it exceedingly difficult to cancel, especially if you aren’t the official name on their documents. (Have you ever tried to get information about a credit card when your name isn’t listed correctly? Or tried to argue with a utility company if the account is in your spouse’s name? Think about that hassle, but exponentially worse. It’s awful.)
So your first step is to designate one place to keep all this information. It can be a desk drawer, a shoebox on the shelf of your closet, or even a folder on your personal computer. Just make sure you have told someone you trust where it is! If you’re taking the computer route, be sure any password you use to access your computer is available information to pertinent family members. If you decide to keep this information and important documents in a safety deposit box at the bank, make sure to keep copies at home as well so that a family member or friend can access them if they need to. (Side note: if you have a safety deposit box, be sure someone besides you has access to it.)
Once you have a secure place to collect everything, gather all your important personal documents. These can include items like your Social Security card, or any certificates pertaining to weddings, divorces, citizenship, or name changes. Make a list with contact information for any doctors, lawyers, close friends, or organizations you belong to. Make sure to include any legal documents like a will or living will.
Next, you need to include any and all financial records. Gather the information for all of your bank accounts, credit cards, insurance information, investments, and tax returns. Get copies of any mortgage documents, rental agreements, and car title and registrations. Heck, if you buried a box of gold in the backyard, make a map with an X on it.
Make a list of all the bills you pay each month, and how they get paid. If possible, call these companies and add the person who will most likely be taking care of all this to the accounts as someone who can access information and make decisions. This will make their job so much easier when it comes time for them to close the accounts or take care of billing while you’re incapacitated.
Finally, include any usernames or passwords, such as the code to unlock your phone, your computer password, email accounts, and any social media that you access. That way, your loved ones can use these things to communicate with people about your situation (if necessary), and they can also close it out. Nothing is worse than getting notifications from a recently deceased family member (and Facebook is notorious for this.)
Do I Have To?
Yes. This is a lot of work. This is uncomfortable work. But it is so much easier for you to do it now, than for your loved ones to try to do it while grieving. So break it down into little chunks. Add to it whenever you pay a bill, or open an account. And if you’re up for it, write letters to include things that are important to you. We never know when the worst can happen, and wouldn’t it be nice to feel secure in the fact that anything that has gone unsaid is safely sitting in that file? You can make it more palatable by adding things that might not be legally or financially important but have great sentimental value, like family recipes that aren’t written down, or how you actually fold a fitted bedsheet.
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