The Death File And Why You Need One

Life has a way of throwing us curveballs and throwing us into emergency situations when we least expect them. You might get in an accident and slip into a coma. Or you could catch a surprise illness that takes a sudden turn for the worst. Whatever the case may be, having a death file for your loved ones to reference can make stressful situations a lot less chaotic.

The following is a guest post from Steve, aka Paper Tiger, and a long-time Financial Samurai reader. A near-death experience this summer prompted him to create a detailed “death file” so that his wife and daughter would be better informed about all the family's financial details, including assets invested, taxes, expenses/paying bills, family trust, and more.

If you haven't started estate planning yet, now is a great time to take your first steps. An easy way to begin is to familiarize yourself with important estate planning terminology.

Another simple step is to learn about the similarities and differences between wills vs trusts. Increasing your knowledge on estate planning topics will help you determine the best ways to protect your loved ones and your legacy. Now let's learn what a death file, why it's important, and how to make one.

What Is A Death File?

A death file is a binder, folder, spreadsheet, and/or document(s) that contains all the information a loved one would need in the event of your incapacity or passing. It can be in physical or digital form based on personal preference.

Depending on your circumstances, it could be as simple as one piece of paper or as lengthy as a book. A death file is also commonly referred to as an in-case-of-death-binder or simply a death binder. It can also simply be called a Letter Of Instructions.

Although nobody likes to think about when we may inevitably kick the bucket, preparing for your passing with a death file is an act of love and responsibility. Anyone who has had a loved one pass unexpectedly and had to settle their affairs can surely attest to that.

Examples of critical items that should be included in a death file include:

  • Last will and testament
  • Trust documents
  • Beneficiary designations
  • Estate attorney contact information
  • Tax accountant contact information
  • Instructions on where to access filed tax returns
  • Life insurance policy account numbers
  • Prepaid funeral and/or burial contracts
  • Burial instructions
  • Deeds
  • Schedule of Assets
  • List of all financial accounts – banks, retirement plans, credit cards, insurance, loans, investments, etc.
  • Account info for all other bills – cable, phone, internet, utilities, gym, etc.
  • Reference list of doctors, medications, medical release forms, etc.
  • Login and passwords list
  • Any other pertinent information about your life, assets, liabilities, responsibilities, and wishes.

Related reading: Estate Planning Basics

Get Serious About Creating A Death File

Death File Death Binder

In July, 2021 I had a health scare that pushed me to get serious about creating a “Death File.” The short version of the story is that I woke up one morning with a stomach ache and soon after, began throwing up and also had a bad case of diarrhea.

I thought it was just a stomach bug, but as the day progressed, I got weaker and weaker and very dehydrated. By the late afternoon, I could not lift my head off the pillow without passing out so I immediately knew this was something more serious.

We called an ambulance since I was not able to get up to go to the car. When they arrived, they tried several times to get my blood pressure and it was not registering. I assume because it had dropped dangerously low. When they finally got a measurement, it was 50/41.  

By the time I got to the ER, they did some blood work and discovered my kidney function was down to 25%. It turned out, I had a very bad bacterial infection and I was going into toxic shock. My organs were shutting down.  

I spent 5 days in the hospital on constant IV multi-spectrum antibiotics, which eventually cleared up the infection. They never were able to isolate the exact cause of the infection. But their treatment plan worked and I have fully recovered.

Related: The Cost Of Calling An Ambulance And The Nightmare That Ensued

Make Things Easier For Your Loved Ones

In our family, I have always managed the investments, paid the bills, and organized our tax documents. My wife has not shown interest in keeping up with any of this. So the records I put together now will be very important for her and our daughter if they ever have to take over my responsibilities.

The two key items that outline everything we have are on an Excel spreadsheet with several tabs, and a Word document that spells out various instructions and helpful information. I keep all of this information on two USB thumb drives.  

I keep one working drive at home that I update frequently. And I keep the other in our safety deposit box. At the end of every year, I update the drive in our SD box with the latest information and then put it back. 

A few years ago, I only had one thumb drive and I somehow managed to lose it and had to re-create everything. I learned the importance of having a secure backup the hard way. Don't make my mistake!

Create A Death File Spreadsheet

Our death file Finances Excel spreadsheet is the main repository where all of the key information is stored. I utilize multiple tabs to keep things organized and easy to update. I've listed the various tabs I use below, which you can use as a template and customize to your own needs.

Passwords

This tab has login information for every significant account we need to access. These include my computer, company deferred savings accounts, retirement accounts including 401K and Pensions, brokerage accounts, TreasuryDirect savings bonds, CDs, money market accounts, Angel investments, and private equity investments.

It also includes info for our daughter’s 529 account, our family revocable trust, wills, powers of attorney, life insurance, health insurance, checking and savings, home equity LOC, my mother’s financial information as I help manage her affairs, and medical information.  

I also include websites for credit cards, rewards programs, airline miles, homeowner’s association, ATM, and important numbers like Social Security, driver’s license, passport, memberships, etc.

Social Security

This tab lists out all of the career earning information for my wife and me with a reference to the SSA website and password where more information can be accessed. I check this once a year to make sure everything is correct regarding annual income information.  

Related: When To Take Social Security? Make So Much It Doesn’t Really Matter

Net Worth  

This is an important tab because it lays out all of our assets individually and how to access them. I update it monthly with the latest values. For example, I have a summary of the total amount in each 401K, brokerage account, private equity account, 529, Bonds, etc. Then I also list out the individual investments in each account and their corresponding value.  

Obviously, all of this is available in the online statements and I could always use an app to consolidate everything, but I have manually tracked it this way for years. I’m old school and a creature of habit.

One thing I can readily admit is that our portfolio is way too diversified and complicated. I hope to work on simplifying our investments over time as we move from accumulation to preservation. This should help ease the level of management required by my loved ones down the road.

* If you prefer automated tracking, Empower is a great free app to monitor your net worth. I've been using Empower since 2012 and have seen my net worth skyrocket, partially thanks to better money management.

Beneficiary  

This tab lists every financial account we own that requires a beneficiary and who that person is. I check this regularly. Over time this information can go missing in certain accounts and needs to be updated.  

For example, if your company changes plan administrators for your 401K, this information may need to be re-entered on the new system. I usually review this once a year for every account.

College Savings Account (529)

My daughter graduated from college in May, (Yea!). And for the last 4 years I have kept a file on every qualified expense we paid for from this account for tuition, room & board, etc. I figure this will be very helpful if we are ever audited. My wife would have no idea where to start without this. I also have a hard and soft copy of all receipts from this file.

Related: Why You Should Have A Separate 529 Plan For Each Child

Expenses

This is another critical tab in my death file spreadsheet because my wife has not paid a bill since we’ve been married, (28 years and counting). Here I track each day and month’s expenses by category.

I note every fixed expense and when it is due so that anyone looking at this could easily take over. I also track the dates and amounts of monthly income so we can balance cash flow each month. 

Home Improvement

Like you, I want to keep as much of my home equity as possible when we go to sell our primary residence at some point and not let Uncle Sam get any more than he requires. Every home improvement expense we have incurred that can be used to offset the future capital gain above the qualified exemption is captured in this file.  

We have lived in our home for 17 years and have made quite a few improvements over the years. Having everything recorded is a very helpful reference, especially since my wife hasn't been involved in any of these affairs.

Mom/Parents

Some of you may be involved in your parents' finances, which is important to include instructions for as well. I track all of my mother's expenses and cash flow to make sure she is good on a monthly basis. I also help with her investments as well as those for my Mother-in-Law.

Related post: Three Things I Learned From My Estate Planner Attorney Everyone Should Do

Tax Prep

This is where I manage the documents we need to provide to our CPA each year. Here I list out any account that has paid out a distribution or loss as well as the W2 information regarding our income for the year. 

I also track the K1s we need to submit from our Private Equity investments as well as all of our deductions so this information is easily at the fingertips.

Every brokerage account that files a 1099 is also listed and how to access those documents online. Due to the complexity of our tax returns, the information here is really critical.

Safety Deposit Box

This tab lists the contents of everything in our Safety Deposit Box which includes collectible coins, art appraisals, key documents, tax returns, estate plans, house and car titles, personal documents like marriage license, passports, insurance documents, etc.

Death File Instruction Manual Word Doc

As mentioned, apart from my death file Excel spreadsheet, I also have a Word Document which serves as the written “Instruction Manual” for how to do things related to our finances and expenses.  

While the Excel spells out the numbers, the Word document is a written explanation of everything in the spreadsheet and more. I also update this regularly. It is now up to 18 pages long. It might seem like a lot but it is, after all, a summary of 28 years of our financial lives spent together.

What To Do And How To Do It Instructions In Your Death File

As stated, the Word Document is written instruction of “what to do” and “how to do it.” I start out with a detailed explanation of the information in the death file. I wrote what is in the Safety Deposit box and how to access it. This would be the starting point after I am gone.  

I talk about the thumb drives and explain everything that is important in keeping up with our affairs. I list out a description of every investment, pre-tax and post-tax. Then I explain what it is, how to get to it, who to contact, etc. There is some redundancy, but I think that is probably a good thing.

Contact List And Paying The Bills

I also include a detailed “contact list.” This list is for my heirs have someone to call if they have a question about a particular asset, expense, taxes, pension, Trust, investment, or home maintenance need. 

In addition, I go into a pretty thorough explanation of our taxes and the timing of various forms and filings that need to be done every year. Because we have 10 Private Equity investments, I also explain the process of managing cash calls and dealing with K1s.

Next, I have a section on how to transfer assets to heirs. It explain important details about our Revocable Family Trust. And I highlight the importance of filing life insurance claims early and what to do.

I also have a significant section on how to pay bills. This will be a significant task for someone doing it for the first time. When you're putting your instructions together, don't forget to include annual and irregular expenses like home and car insurance, property taxes, homeowner’s dues, charitable contributions, alarm monitoring fees, etc.

Related: The Best Age To Get Life Insurance Based On Logic

Take The Time To Create A Death File

So, there you have it. That's the gist of how I put together my death file. There is clearly more than one way to skin this cat. But these are the ideas and information that I used to prepare my family to deal with our affairs once I am gone. These continue to be dynamic documents that I will update regularly to the bitter end.

When my father passed, I helped my mother settle his affairs. We were fortunate that he provided good information and instructions for me to follow. Things would have been so much more difficult without his preparations, especially since my mother wasn't involved in their finances.

And thankfully, I recovered from my health scare. Further, I was able to put together my own comprehensive death file instructions. It will help my family settle my own affairs sometime down the road.

I wish you all the best in preparing your own death file. Your loved ones will certainly appreciate the efforts you go through to prepare them for the inevitable.

Paper Tiger has been an avid reader and frequent commenter on FS for the past 8 years. He retired at 57 after a successful 35-year medical device executive career with a low 8-figure net worth.

Strong Recommendation For Life

Check out Policygenius, the easiest way to get multiple free quotes in one place vs. checking each carrier one-by-one. A term life insurance policy is a must for those with debt and/or dependents. Policygenius makes shopping for life insurance easy and affordable.

My wife was able to use Policgenius to double her life insurance coverage for less and match mine coverage. For years, we had mismatch coverage, which made no sense since we are both caretakers for our children.

Further, I finally got an affordable 20-year term life insurance with Policygenius! I needed to replace a 10-year policy I got before having kids and was pleased with how the Policygenius process went from start to finish.

I'm very happy to have my life insurance coverage needs squared away. For your own peace of mind, I recommend you put together a Death File, Will, Revocable Trust, and get life insurance to protect those you love. – Sam

51 thoughts on “The Death File And Why You Need One”

  1. NachoCheese

    I’ve been updating my estate plan and my attorney mentioned that any financial accounts where you have a beneficiary designated will override the directives in a will (if they’re different). I presume that this is also true if the asset is not transferred properly into an RLT but I haven’t confirmed this.
    So the recommendation was to remove the beneficiaries in the records of the bank/brokerages/etc. that don’t require it and then make sure your estate plan doesn’t conflict with those beneficiary designations in the accounts that require beneficiaries.

    1. Be VERY careful about this. Depending on where you live, having a designated beneficiary of a fund may allow the property to pass directly to the beneficiary, avoiding going into the estate and attracting probate fees. BUT be sure if someone divorces or the designated beneficiary dies, that they get replaced. Too many cases of the divorced spouse waltzing in and taking the assets after death of the ex, because the ex had not redone the beneficiary designations. So upsides and downsides, not necessarily the same for everybody.

  2. Instead of sticking all your passwords in a Google docs sheet of thumb drive, you can just use a password manager such as LastPass. You can set it up such that you can choose a trusted person that can request access to your account and if you don’t respond in a few days you’ll be assumed dead and then that person has access to your passwords and all your other details.

  3. Thanks Paper Tiger for sharing not just the method but the inspiration to start.

    After some Hollywood style bank heist to the branch where I kept my safe I started a “balanced risk” approach dividing watches, jewelry and valuable documents in many safes. That obviously is kind of chaotic and sometimes I forgot to write in the digital file driving me crazy when needed that item.

    My two cents contribution for you guys is my current way of handling it, just keep inside the box a simple log of the date of what goes in, to the detail of: “X number of $20 bills” “Passport XXXX”. “checks number x to y” “watch brand R without papers”

    If something goes out I log in the same detail plus the reason it was taken out, example “10x $20 emergency plumbing ” or “grandma earrings lend to daughter for inlaws wedding at XXXX to be returned by YYYY ”

    That simple log helped me a lot in the day to day operation, but will also make it easier if someone other than me needs to track the contents in the future and I missed to update my new death file

    1. Paper Tiger

      Thank you Carlos, great suggestion. I only have 1 safety deposit box and home safe and I do have the contents of those on my USB. I never really thought about someone breaking into the SD boxes at the bank. We don’t have a lot of valuables but we do have several documents so it would be kind of a pain to deal with.

  4. Nolo’s website sells a book & downloadable e-book titled “Getting It Together” which lays out step by step instructions needed to create a Notebook / binder that contains all of the information needed to help your heirs or widow(er) / surviving partner. This is particular helpful for someone who is less comfortable with spreadsheets. Developing (and regularly updating) such a notebook is a real gift to those who survive you.
    This article reminds me that my family needs to work on their own notebooks as well.

    1. Thank you for this rec – I’ve been looking for a template for this project for some time. There are so many things I may not think of and I’d like it to be as simplified as possible!

  5. This should be reviewed annually in case passwords have changed or accounts have been added/deleted. We try to do ours by the end ofJanuary before tax season.

  6. I have found LastPass’s Emergency Access a good way to achieve this, in particular if you want to keep the passwords confidential until you are actually dead

  7. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the motivation and tips to get the death file going. I’m going to create a Google Docs with instructions and share it with my wife.

    On the kidney issue, we’re there any indications, that in retrospect, told you that something might be wrong. Or was it completely sudden and there was simple nothing you could do about it?

    I want to do my best to be more preventative, especially when it comes to cancer etc.

    Anything you would have done differently wrt your health?

    Thanks,

    Sam

    Related: Be Risk-Averse With Health, more Risk-Loving With Money

    1. Paper Tiger

      In short, wash your hands regularly and maybe keep surfaces wiped down and clean. The reality is bacteria are everywhere and sometimes it is just the luck of the draw. We have 2 cats and I am generally the one who cleans out the litter box so it could have come from that but it could also have some from a bathroom sink or cleaning a toilet. I do some volunteer work at a horse ranch and I also clean some bathrooms and perhaps I picked it up from that. Had they been able to isolate the bug we might have gotten a few more clues, like whether it was something I ingested or just picked up from a surface but we weren’t able to figure that out.

      I was glad to help with the article. I enjoy your blog and your writing and get a lot from your reader’s comments as well.

      1. Gotcha. Sounds like bad luck then. Glad things worked out and it spurred you to create your Death File. I’m doing mine right now and I’m finding it to be very cathartic.

        1. Paper Tiger

          I guess I would have another suggestion and that would be a daily probiotic and some yogurt a few times a week. A good gut with good bacteria in it is probably your best defense against bacterial infections.

          I’m glad to hear you are enjoying putting your file together. It is a great relief and accomplishment to have all those affairs in order.

          1. Indian Tiger

            I just read this amazing article, Paper Tiger! Also, good tips on how to prevent bacterial infections and avoid sepsis / toxic shock syndrome. That thing can kill in a few hours if not attended to immediately!

            Best wishes to both you and Sam.

  8. Thanks so much for putting this together. My dad recently passed away, mom died a couple years ago. He died intestate with about a half million in cash and stocks. What a mess. All he had was a small green tin box with some notes on who gets what. Three of the five kids were named. No account information, no passwords, nothing. We have a sizable estate now and will use this information that you have provided. It seems like common sense but there is so much information that I didn’t think about or the information is only in my head (I must have over thirty different pwds to so many different websites alone!). Your article was a good reminder to get organized.

    1. Paper Tiger

      Hi Brian, I am very sorry for your losses and sorry that there were no more instructions left for you. I’m glad the article was a good reminder and hope the information is helpful as you pull together your own file.

  9. I’m glad you are safe, Paper Tiger. I can’t imagine having that happen to you, and even worse that we don’t know the exact cause of the symptoms. It makes it hard to avoid in the future without knowing the cause.

    Life comes at you fast.

    1. Paper Tiger

      David, much appreciated! We all have to deal with life as it comes and prepare ourselves the best way we know how. Some things you can’t prepare for, you just have to endure. My faith is strong and gets me through a lot of life’s storms. Thanks again and God Bless!

  10. One more piece of advice. Be sure to leave your iPhone password. My father passed away and we couldn’t get into the phone. Wanted some of his photos but as you know Apple takes their privacy very seriously.

    1. Good point. On that subject, note that as of iOS version 15, Apple bas added a digital legacy contact feature, that allows you to nominate someone who will have access to some of your phone data (messages, emails, photos, videos, documents, notes, contacts, calendar events)

          1. Thank you Paper Tiger for writing this article. I’m glad to hear that you are okay and getting your affairs in order.

            My father passed away last year, and he would have been 57 years old like you and was planning on retirement this year or the next. He did not leave a will that my sister and I could find, so we are going through probate. I imagine most readers here will have their affairs in order, but it can not be underscored that probate is a hellish experience for the heirs/executors, even if they have stellar relations like my sister and I do. You’re assuming one’s life while trying to grieve, it’s a tremendous task to take on.

            My father was also transitioning to being primary caretaker of his mother too—luckily my Uncle is still here, but it’s an absolute mess of a situation because my father left no kind of written directive. To those reading this comment, I implore you to PLEASE get your affairs in order so that your loved ones can grieve without any extra stress.

            Those who have the unfortunate event of needing to get into your loved one’s devices that happen to be ALL Apple products, I hope my experience can be helpful.

            1. If you are so lucky to know the login password to an Apple computer, prioritize getting into the computer first.
            2.Then go to Apple ID, you can change the password there, it will send a code to the attached phone number without needing to unlock the phone.
            3. Verify that the phone/ipad/Apple Watch is backed up via icloud or on the computer (ideally on the computer) recently. My father’s phone was backed up several days before he passed. This can be found in Apple ID.
            4. If it is, you are free to reset and restore and then change the passcode to one you know. Very crucial to have the phone at least operational to get two-step authorization for other accounts (like email)

            Until the digital legacy feature goes online, you need a court order for Apple to authorize access, but they won’t stop you if you manage to get into one or all of the devices on your own.

            Essentially, my sister and I lucked out because I remembered the emergency contingency conversation my Father mentioned to me back in high school (I’m 31 for reference). He told me that his login password for computers were usually one of two choices, but other accounts had harder passwords but hints in a document/application (which turned out to be in Evernote). If I had not remembered this conversation, we would have been SOL. Even with remembering the login of the computer—it still took me a couple of days to figure out the steps outlined above. Hopefully this comment saves someone who has the unfortunate experience of losing someone with lots of information stored digitally on Apple products a lot of time and energy.

  11. Thanks so much Steve for sharing your story and starting this conversation. I’m very glad to hear that you’ve recovered; unfortunately I’ve encountered 2 other very similar situations this year in which a bacterial infection turned into meningitis and although both individuals fought hard for as long as they could (over a month each) they sadly passed away. One of those individuals was my mother, also aged 57 (just 2 years away from her planned retirement).

    Although she left a simple will, she did not build out all of the information as you’ve suggested. And given her death was unexpected, I have been scrambling to tackle all of these suggested postmortem steps. I’ve since considered building an in-case-of-death binder for my family, and this post was a good reminder to jump on constructing this sooner rather than later. I hope that you have some peace of mind knowing your family will not have the additional stress of what to do and how to do in the case of your death. Hope you are living well.

    1. Paper Tiger

      J, I am sooo sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. Dealing with grief and all the work that follows is definitely a challenge. I’ve heard from a lot of folks who have relatives experiencing the same thing and the outcomes have not been good. I was fortunate that my daughter, a recent Nursing graduate, was home for the summer and convinced me to call the ambulance when we did. Otherwise, my outcome may have been much different.

      Thank you for your comments and I hope you live well and prosper too! God Bless.

  12. I have done a Death File when a friend of mine unexpectedly died during routine surgery. He left very little information. I would add the following:
    1. Many people hide cash/jewelry in their house that needs to be divulged.
    2. The three credit agencies need to be notified to avoid potential fraud if someone becomes aware of death via obituary.
    3. Safe combination and garage door combination need to be spelled out.
    4. Social Security needs to be notified.
    5. Get at least 10 death certificates since some places only accept originals.
    6. Make a spreadsheet of people you want notified—HS friends, former colleagues, financial advisor, etc. You don’t want them
    to find out months/years later. Maybe enlist a trusted friend for your kids to call to go over things.
    7. How to re-title car, real estate, etc.
    8. Cancel your voter registration
    9. List hints on various website you gave in addition to ID and Password in case they are required. Where you were born, best friend, name of high school, mother’s maiden name, etc.

    1. Paper Tiger

      My wife and daughter know where all of the jewelry is hidden because THEY hid it ;)
      Seriously, this is a great list of additions that need to be considered. Well done, James!

      1. I would also add your email address and password as so many companies are going paperless with their statements.

  13. I just reviewed ours with my wife. One thing I do is make her open it up, put in the password, and “drive”. I have her check the balances in the vanguard accounts, and do mock transfers. It is possible to handicap your spouse if you are the obsessive one with finances. I’ve got to fight the temptation to take full control of the money all the time.

    1. Paper Tiger

      Hi CK, great idea! I have also been trying to get my wife to do a “dry run” but it looks like I am going to have to ply her with wine to actually make it happen ;)

    2. Just did the same! She’s got my laptop, phone, and FS password. From there, she can access everything. She’s more organized than me.

      I gotta get my Social Security info, they never sent me my pin in the mail after I got locked out.

  14. Dave Ramsey calls this a “Love Envelope” as we are leaving this for our loved ones in case something happens to us. This was emphasized to me when my sister passed away from stomach cancer a few years ago. From diagnosis to her passing was only 4 months. She took care of all the finances for her family, and by the time we knew she wasn’t going to make it, she couldn’t remember any of her passwords, her family couldn’t even get on her computer. Being an IT guy, I was able to help them access the computer. She passed right around tax time, and I had to help my brother in law get their taxes filed, and access their financial information.

    If they had a “Love Envelope” it would have made things a lot easier. That being said, if all your stuff is on a computer or encrypted USB drive, make sure others in your family know your password or where to access your password. You can keep your password on paper in a sealed envelope safely hidden somewhere in your house or in a safety deposit box, and make sure your family knows where it is in case of emergency.

    1. Paper Tiger

      Totally agree, absolutely critical that your family actually knows how to gain access. I have both hard and soft copies of key information, including password access, in our safety deposit box and fortunately, our 23 yo daughter is computer savvy and will be a good asset for my wife if needed.

  15. Chuck Sarahan

    Good article and glad you are doing well. I had a health scare so I have a deep understanding for the need for such a file. If you are member of an organization such as the Knights of Columbus, they can help the surviving spouse in time of need.

    If you really want to punish someone, may them your estate administrator. I am one for a couple members of my family and it is a thankless job even with someone as organized you. Being an estate administrator means you are constantly dealing with impatient family members, imperial courts, and reluctant information providers. The perfect trifecta for heartburn or worse.

    1. Hi Chuck, my wife just has her Mom now and 4 greedy siblings. Unfortunately, she is the executor and her little sister is a paralegal who thinks that makes her a lawyer. This spells nothing but trouble and I have encouraged her to have a talk with her Mom about naming a trust attorney her executor and getting my wife out of that role. It will be an even 5-way split of very few assets so it really should not be that difficult but I am afraid her family will find a way to make it difficult and I don’t want my wife to have to go through that. She is the oldest of the five so you know how that can be!

  16. My father passed away last year and I was the executor. Thankfully I made him put large assets in a trust and made other accounts “transfer upon death”. If that was not done, it would have been a mess. The only issues were the life insurance. What did he have and with what insurer?

    A Death File would have certainly made it easier. Thanks for the info and glad you recovered.

    1. Thank you, Jeff. It sounds like you guys had a good plan. POD and JT make a big difference and eliminate a lot of controversies. I’ve learned more about wills and trusts than I cared to know!

  17. Paper Tiger, awesome and actionable. Thank you. Glad you are healing up, that didn’t sound fun.

    My own ‘Death File’ is a one-pager, not many moving parts. I have also included what is not in my accountings or possessions (i.e. no safe deposit box, no collectibles, no mortgages, liens outstanding, etc.) My hope is to save the Executor time that would have been spent eliminating these, because I’m using a professional Executor who charges by the hour. In my case, no account numbers listed in case the file might be misused while I’m alive; just institution names, and a copy of the Death Certificate initiates their protocol for search.

    Also, I included a statement that if there are any embarrassing personal items discovered, which brother to blame and to then disinherit them. We are targets, even in death.:-)

    1. Love it, Jay! Super-organized as usual and very creative. For me, there are some blessings and some curses to being an only child.

  18. Hi. Paper Tiger. So glad to hear you had a full recovery! And wow I am SO impressed with the amount of work and detail you put into your death file – W-O-W. And the fact that you are also consistently taking the time to keep it updated! Props to you! Thanks for so many helpful tips and suggestions as well.

    I have an estate plan in place for my family, but I don’t have the level of detailed instructions for so many misc things like you do. I aspire to get mine more specific and clear. Thanks for the inspiration!

    I need to get my parents to do something similar. I certainly wouldn’t really know where to start with settling their affairs.

    1. Thanks U-Bro, I appreciate the kind comments. I have definitely had a lot of investment creep over the years which has over-complicated our affairs and necessitated getting everything in order. My Dad did a great job with his file and made it easy for Mom and me to follow.

      One interesting note, I am an only child and when my parents did their Will 25 years ago, they assumed they had provided for all assets to pass to me once they both passed away. When it came time to look at the Will we saw that it only provided for my Mom and no instructions upon her death. That was quite a surprise to my Mom so we wound up hiring an attorney and getting her affairs in order.

      Getting organized does have its benefits!

  19. Great article and great idea! My father gave me his death book a couple of years ago, and lowered my stress level as his executor of both my mom and dads will. Fortunately I haven’t had to use it , but having that information written down, and in a secure location makes me feel better. There are a couple things I will have him add after reading the article.

    1. Hi Patrice, I use an encrypted and password-protected USB Flash Drive, 32GB, that has a military encryption keypad to make all my inputs for the Excel and Word documents. I keep a backup copy in our safety deposit box at the bank.

      They can be a little pricey but I found this one on Amazon for $48. Just type in the description above and search on Amazon and it should come up.

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