Prepare your information for a disaster


When COVID first hit, I, like many people, began to think about my own mortality in a new light. Here was this unknown disease that knocked people down. What if it happened to me?

What I felt was not so much a fear of my own mortality as a worry about what would happen to my family when I was no longer here. I have good term life insurance, but that was only part of the equation.

What about our accounts? Does my wife Sarah know where everything is? What if we were both pass on? Would our children’s guardians know where everything is? Could they access all of these accounts?

Worries stay on your mind until you take action to resolve them.

The basics of life documentation

Life record is simply the record of all of your most important financial and personal account information in one very secure place to help relieve your loved ones in the event of a premature death. When you compile such documentation, you will often see a lot of small maintenance tasks that should be performed, such as: B. adding a new family member to an account.

What about security?

The first question about something like that is safety. How can such a document be? to back up?
The best approach is to break the information you want to share into “safe” and “nonsecure” stacks. What information do you want to keep safe? Passwords are definitely in the “safe” pile, especially for financial information. Other information is likely to require less security. For example, if you know you have an account with Fidelity, someone watching your email might find out.

For information that you want to keep safe, you should develop a very secure way of storing that information and protecting your accounts. One method is to use secure password management software like 1Password paired with a very long master passcode. In this software, you can save and organize passwords for all relevant accounts as well as relevant notes for each account. Then focus on securely storing the master password for your password manager by giving that code to an attorney or keeping it in a known safe place.

The less secure information can be stored in a more accessible document, e.g. B. a printed document or an easily accessible digital document.

Physical or digital storage – or both?

Physical and digital storage have advantages and disadvantages.

Physical documents are the easiest to access and can be used later. On the other hand, it’s much more difficult to keep them up to date, which means you’ll often have to reprint or rewrite sections of the document. For security reasons, the best strategy with physical documents is to keep the most sensitive information in a small document in a highly secure location, while keeping the less sensitive information in an easily accessible location.

Digital documents are much easier to update over time, but may be difficult to access and use later. For example, you can save a document digitally on a memory stick and update it regularly by simply inserting the stick and copying it over a new document. Certainly a good strategy is to have the most secure items under some form of passcode protection, as described above, with a password management tool.

Who should know about it?

For less secure information (like a reminder to close a Netflix account), a document stored with other important items that several people in your life know about is fine.

For more secure information (like the passwords for your key accounts), consider storing that information in a safe place. A good approach is to discuss this with a family lawyer or use a safe. If you use a password manager for much of your documentation, all you need to do is save the passcode for that password manager.

Who should know about this information? A family lawyer is a good choice, as is your partner. Your executor and other family members should know that if you die, you will need to contact your attorney for access to these documents. For physical items (such as documents or a memory stick), you can keep them in a safe or a safe at a bank, provided your partner and lawyer know the location.

How to get started

The first step in creating a life record is to simply list all of your accounts from which financial transactions take place, as well as any material assets that you own. For some, this may be a long list. You can do this on the computer or with pen and paper as you wish.

If you need help figuring out what to include on that list, Charles Schwab provides a great template for making a list of your assets. For your financial accounts, start by listing your bank accounts, investment accounts, and credit card accounts and use those statements to make a list of other accounts as your statements will show you where the money is coming from and where it is going.

It is important to realize that this is one living list. Over time, you will open new accounts and close old ones. These changes should be reflected in this list. You should therefore make a habit of regularly updating this document.

What should you keep?

When making a list like this, there is one simple rule you need to follow: if you’re not sure whether to include it, add it. Put everything in this list so your survivors don’t have to search something in cleaning up the accounts and assets you left behind.

Here’s a checklist to get you started. Provide account numbers and online credentials for each of these items.

  • All of your bank accounts
  • All of your credit card accounts
  • All of your investment accounts
  • All of your other debts, such as mortgages and auto loans
  • All of your insurance policies (especially life insurance, but also other insurances made out in your name)
  • Any monthly services you pay for, such as B. Your cable bill, Netflix account, utilities, etc.
  • All the assets you own that are more than face value (real estate, vehicles, collectibles, art, etc) and where to find them
  • All debts owed to you and contact persons
  • All outstanding business interests and contacts

In the process, consider whether each of these accounts and assets are currently up to date with the correct beneficiaries and other details. Do you still need this account? Is there a good password for the account? Do changes need to be made? Ask this for each account and asset you add to the list. During this process, you can also decide that a better overall plan is a good idea. In this case, reaching out to a certified financial planner can be a wise decision.

It’s a good idea to schedule an annual date on your calendar to update this list.

My own life documentation

My life record is saved in different ways. My less private documents are kept in a folder in a safe at home. It does not contain sensitive information such as passwords. With this documentation I also have estate documents and a letter to my executor.

For account information, I have logins, passwords, and some other pertinent information for each account that is stored in a password manager. The master code for this password manager is very complex and is noted in two secure locations. See the less secure documentation for instructions on how to use it, but the password itself is stored very securely.

I also have a slip in my wallet that identifies the people I can turn to in the event of serious injury or death. The people on this paper know enough to get the ball rolling on these matters.

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