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Don’t die. But if you do, hook your loved ones up beforehand.
FIRE isn’t just about your numbers – it’s also about planning for your health and well-being in general. You go through life expecting to live happily ever after… but I’m sorry to break it to you, #$%^happens.
No one really wants to think about this, but it will happen to you. That’s right, you’re going to die at some point. It might be decades from now or it might be today (though I hope it’s not!), but you just never know.
Regardless, if you die, your loved ones will appreciate that your affairs are in order beforehand. And here’s the thing, you can’t just consider what your spouse or partner will do because there’s always the possibility that you both will reach your demise at the same time.
Man, this post is starting out to be pretty morbid – sorry about that (I’m really not).
But the point is that you need to consider the possibilities all around. If you have kids, you damn well better have a plan in place for the idea that it’s possible you and your spouse die at the same time.
So what do you do?
Obviously, a will is critical and, in some cases, a trust can make a lot of sense. I talked about these things along with other powerful tools in my posts The Importance of Estate Planning and Protecting Your Assets.
However, that’s not what this post is about. Today we’re focusing on giving instructions on bringing it all together and instructing where to find everything… a path to follow, so to speak.
If you die, would your spouse or other person in your life know where to find your estate documents? Would they know what life insurance you have in place?
Think about this for a second. Let’s take this a step further…
Would they know how to access your social media accounts to shut them down (if desired)? Would they know any of your login credentials for any of your accounts on the Internet?
Unfortunately, for many of us, the answer is no.
And what’s even more unfortunate is that the accessibility of this information can easily be planned out ahead of time.
The good news is that I’m one of those guys that’s meticulously organized. So, I’m going to take you through what I do and maybe that can help to spark some ideas of your own.
Keep your physical documents safe
First off, if you don’t have a fireproof safe, it’s time to get one.
I personally own the SentrySafe Fire and Water Safe (SFW123DSB). It’s a good size to add all your critical documents with room to add more valuables as well.
The interior measures out to be 13.8″ H x 12.6″ W x 11.9″ D. It’s currently floating just under $200, but that’s money well spent.
I keep physical copies of all our estate-planning documents in it. That includes copies of:
- Our wills
- Our revocable trust
- Declaration of trust ownership
- Signed beneficiary designation forms
- Durable general powers of attorney
- Health care powers of attorney
- Assignments of LLC interest (for our side businesses)
- Life insurance policies
- Disability policies
But it also gives us an opportunity to bring together all those other important documents that you might have laying around in different places…
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificate
- Social security cards
- Medical ID cards
Think about how easy this makes it for someone you designate to get to all these documents in one fell swoop. This is probably the most important thing you can do for those you care about. We’ll talk more about where to keep that safe combination shortly.
It’s a digital world, my friend!
Reading the above section, you’d think I’m an old-school guy who likes paper.
I don’t. I hate it.
I keep a copy of everything digitally and only print off copies of documents where I deem necessary. Every morning, I take any extraneous physical documents I received in the mail, scan them to PDF documents, and shred the original. I think I have a PDF copy of every bill I’ve ever had for well over a decade… and perfectly organized to boot!
I’m not expecting all of you to be that much of a stickler when it comes to storing all your documents. However, if something happens and you lose all your physical copies of your important docs, it’s going to be a nightmare to get everything back on track.
So how do you fix this?
Keep a digital copy of all documents that would be important as it could pertain to your estate planning.
The first thing you need to do is figure out where to store your docs…
Personally, I created a BitLocker container to store all my financial documents. This is specific to Windows. How-To-Geek has a great step-by-step guide on how to do this. It’s appropriately named:
This will keep your private financial matters out of the hands of prying eyes.
I don’t want to get too technical, but even though I have my hard drive already encrypted, I still created a container just for my financial documents. The reason I did this was for backups and security.
The encrypted container looks just like a single file filled with gobbledygook. Then when you open it and enter your password, it creates a new drive letter on your computer with access to everything.
So when my backup runs, I have it skip that new drive letter and just backs up the single BitLocker file. It’s encrypted so even if the file is stolen, it’s useless to the thief.
I’m no expert on the Mac side, but the good thing is that How-To-Geek is an expert on that side as well. He offers a guide on how to do something similar to a BitLocker container in this article:
If you’re using a Chromebook, you’re not going to be storing your docs locally as that’s not the intent of these devices. You’ll be most likely keeping them in Google Drive. And that’s Ok, as your files on Google Drive are encrypted.
It’s not my favorite place because it leaves more of a surface attack for them to be hacked. However, I think it’s still better than not having them together in the first place.
Because I keep all my financial documents in my encrypted container, I have them organized in folders named by category first. Here are a few of them:
- 401(k) Statements
- Bank Statements
- Estate Planning Documents
- Gas Bills
Your focus should be on the Estate Planning Documents folder. Within that one, I have subfolders that are more specific:
- Wills, Trusts, and Other Final Documents
- Beneficiary Designation Forms
- Birth Certificates
- Driver’s Licenses
- Life Insurance Policies
- Social Security Cards
And then, obviously, within each of these folders, I have the actual PDF versions of the documents. They’re named with the date a dash and then the name of what the document actually is.
By having a good, organized structure in place, it makes it easy to update the documents as needed (new driver’s licenses for example). More importantly, it allows your loved ones to get to everything needed in one place.
As soon as we start talking about digital copies of your important documents, we need to be talking backups. Hard drives die and more regularly than you might think! Or if you die because you’re burned in a house fire (pleasant thought, right?), your computer’s likely going to be a goner as well.
Don’t take the chance of losing everything! Have a backup in place.
The best backups, in my opinion, are online backups. In other words, backups to cloud storage. And I’m not talking about syncing software like Google Drive, OneDrive, or DropBox. I’m talking about a true backup solution.
This gets the data offsite so if a disaster happens (like a house fire), you can still get everything back.
I’ve used CrashPlan for a number of years and love it. However, they’re in the process of leaving the consumer market.
My replacement will be Backblaze by a long shot. From all the research I’ve done, this seems to be the best of the bunch for myself and most of you.
You just install it and let it do its thing. It takes a while to back everything up the first time around, but after that, it just backs up new and changed files. In addition, they support 30-day versioning meaning if you save something in a document and want an older version back, BOOM, done.
To top it off, their pricing is simple (and cheap!) – $50 a year per computer for unlimited data. That means you’re worry-free for all the data you can store on your computer for less than 5 bucks a month.
This applies to both Windows and Mac users. Chromebook users, your stuff’s already in the cloud and setting up how to create a backup solution for that is a little out of the scope of this post.
If you aren’t already backing up your computer, please, please, PLEASE sign up for this immediately. It drives me bonkers that it’s so cheap and easy to back up your data and so many folks don’t have this in place.
If you die from some disaster, that backup might be the most important thing your spouse or partner has the ability to access.
You’re not using a password manager… what??!!!
Let’s step back for one second from the whole idea of giving your family access to all your estate-planning documents.
If you’re still using the same password for multiple websites, you’re going to be ticked off when you get hacked. You’ll not only have to go through the hassle of damage control on one account, but you’ll have to go through this for every single one that uses the same password.
Please don’t put yourself in that position. Use a password manager.
A password manager let you create one good password to access the encrypted passwords inside. That’s it – you just need to remember one password, so make it a good one!
This gives you the ability to generate long, complex passwords for sites that you don’t need to remember. And that means you can have a different password for every single login you have.
I’m on the extreme side, but I currently have 841 accounts in my password manager. Yes, you heard that right – 841. And of those 841, not one password is the same as another… there’s just no reason to have duplicate passwords.
And here’s how we bring it back home… the password manager also puts everything in one place for your loved ones. When you die, they can now get to all the information they need to get things handled. They can then easily log in to your accounts and change things as needed.
A password manager should not be optional – it should be a requirement for everyone.
But it only works if you put things in it and update it with changes. You need to do this, but there’s no reason not to – it can make your life tremendously easier!
Not only that, but I recommend you put everything in it!
Think about this. If your wallet gets stolen and you have your credit card numbers and customer support phone numbers in there, how easy is it to call and cancel them?!
And, here’s a perfect thing to put in your password manager… your safe combination! It keeps it secure while super easy to get to.
So which password manager should you use? It depends on what you’re after.
I use KeePass because it’s open-source, free, and can be stored locally on your computer. That doesn’t mean it can’t be stored elsewhere though.
You can put the encrypted database in Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox, so you can get to it anywhere. That means you can access it from any computer at any time. I use Resilio Sync, but that’s a little more involved than using one of the other places I mentioned.
Regardless, that also means you can get to your passwords on your phone as well. Think about how convenient that is!
Both of these alternatives are going to be much easier for non-technical users to setup and use. They integrate right into your browser for even more convenience. They’re both free, but offer premium plans for some additional features.
Get yourself on a password manager if you haven’t done so already… and get your spouse to use one as well!!
Here’s the best part – I put the password to my KeePass database in my wife, brother, and mom’s KeePass databases. That keeps it encrypted but they can easily access it if and when the time comes.
So now that you’ve gotten a better idea of how I do things, let’s bring this full circle. You need a way to bring everything together that we talked about in case you die. Hence, the…
In case I die letter…
Once or twice a year, I send an updated copy of my “Just in Case” email to my wife, brother, and mom. It should really be called my “In Case I Die” email, but that might come off as a little morbid.
The key is that they don’t really need to do much at all. I asked them initially to create a folder in their email called “Backup (Jim).” Now when I email them, all they need to do is move the copy of the email to that folder… that’s all!
In case something does happen to me, all the information they need is at their fingertips. This will take my wife (or brother or mom) through all the most important “chores” needed to get on top of our estate.
Here’s a copy of the actual email I send to my wife, brother, and mom. Notice what I attach to the emails I send out as well.
The names have been changed to protect the innocent. I changed them to Garbage Pail Kids because it’s funnier that way…
SUBJECT: Just in Case — 03/20/18
Move this email to the backup folder that you have for me in case you ever need it.
Attached you will find two files, my password file and a zip file with a copy of all our estate planning documents. The zip file contains the following documents:
• Assignment of LLC Interest – Hippie Skippy Publishing.pdf
• Assignment of LLC Interest – Drew Blood Realty.pdf
• Declaration of Trust Ownership (Tangible Personal Property).pdf
• Mr. R2R and Mrs. R2R Revocable Trust.pdf
• Mr. R2R – Durable General Power of Attorney.pdf
• Mr. R2R – Health Care Power of Attorney.pdf
• Mr. R2R – Living Will Declaration.pdf
• Mr. R2R – Will.pdf
• Mrs. R2R – Durable General Power of Attorney.pdf
• Mrs. R2R – Health Care Power of Attorney.pdf
• Mrs. R2R – Living Will Declaration.pdf
• Mrs. R2R – Will.pdf
We have a fireproof/waterproof safe in the basement that contains a hard copy of all the estate-planning documents and a flash drive with a copy of all financial documentation, which is encrypted with BitLocker (see below). The combination to the safe can be found in my KeePass file (see attached) under the listing of SentrySafe. Remember that the password to open my KeePass file is in your own KeePass file. As a reminder, all my data is also backed up with CrashPlan and even without my laptop can still be recovered from the CrashPlan site with my username and password and decryption password (all in the attached password file). My KeePass data file can also be obtained from Resilio Sync (syncs to the PC at home and to my computer at work). Access to the security cameras and the DVR can be found under the title of “Security Cameras” in the KeePass file as well. All important financial and estate planning documents are on my computer in an encrypted file (“D:\Finances and Important Documents.vhdx”). The documents in it include:
• All estate-planning documents listed above
• Life Insurance Policies through April Showers Insurance (for Mr. R2R and Mrs. R2R) – This was done through our broker, Kim Kong Insurance Agency (555) 555-1212.
• Life Insurance Policy through Oak Kay Insurance (for Mr. R2R) – This was done through Jim’s work.
• Long-term disability insurance through Up Chuck Insurance (for Mr. R2R) – This was done through Jim’s work.
• Long-term disability insurance through Cindy Lopper Insurance (for Mr. R2R) (found under “\Disability Insurance\EFG Insurance\”)
• Umbrella policy (found under “Insurance – Home and Auto\1600 Pennsylvania Ave House\”)
• Quicken data
• 401(k), Roth IRA, 529 Plan statements
• Tax returns
• Bank statements
• Real estate documents
• Medical statements and information
• Passports, Social Security cards, marriage license, etc.
• Copies of all bills
To get to the documents, you will need to use any Windows 8 or newer computer. All you should need to do is double-click on the “D:\Finances and Important Documents.vhdx” file. It should then prompt you for a password, which you will find in my KeePass file (see attached) with a title of “Windows BitLocker – Data.” Once the password is successfully entered, it mounts the entire file as a new drive on the computer (on my computer, it should be the “F” drive) named FINANCES. That’s it – all documents are then wide-open to be read.
If the file is being opened from the flash drive, you might need to go into Disk Management to bring the drive online first.
The encrypted drive should remain open until you shut down or reboot the computer. If you are not shutting down or restarting the computer, you will want to detach it to prevent anything from getting corrupted. When you are done, open up “File Explorer” or “Computer”, right-click on the drive with the encrypted files (should be named FINANCES and is the “F” drive on my computer), and select Eject. If this was opened from on the flash drive from the safe, be sure to Eject the flash drive itself as well.
The law firm Mad Donna Law Firm also has a copy of all estate planning documents. We worked with Adam Bomb and Messie Tessie from their firm. Here is their contact info:
Mad Donna Law Firm
123 Sesame Street
New York, NY 10128
If you need help with recovering anything, you can trust Pills Barry (555.555.5678). If he’s not available, talk to Jay Decay (555.555.9876). Both guys should be able to figure out anything technical or recover data (with or without my laptop being available).
Here are a few of the important files/folders locations to be aware of (which can also be pulled from CrashPlan if needed):
• “D:\Finances and Important Documents.vhdx”
• KeePass database – “D:\BT Sync\Data Storage\KeePass\Jim.kdbx”
• All my calendar and contact data is stored on Google’s servers (https://www.google.com/calendar and https://www.google.com/contacts)
Most of my online accounts that allow it are set up to use 2-step authentication. That means if you try to access the account from a computer that hasn’t accessed the site before, you’ll have to authenticate with a PIN as well. Some are texted to my phone, some are done through an authenticator app on my phone called Authy (info is in KeePass), and some accounts have backup codes also listed in KeePass.
So there you have it – a long post, but probably one of the most important considerations you’ll ever make. If you die, or something happens to you or your spouse, you want that transition to be easy for those you love.
If you die, will your loved ones know what to do? What other ideas do you have for this?
Thanks for reading!!