If I Die: Being prepared for incapacity or death

The cover for If I Die.

The Impetus for If I Die…

I decided to write If I Die… after my experiences with a good friend who ended up in a nursing home recovering from a stroke. Unable to take care of paying bills such as the mortgage, utilities, credit cards, etc., he needed someone to take care of these monthly bills. And, he asked me to be his attorney-in-fact, also known as a power-of-attorney.

Being frugal, neither of us wanted him to continue to pay monthly bills for services he could not use while in the nursing home so we cancelled some services and put others on a temporary hold. The whole experience was very difficult, as my friend had not thought about someone else needing the information necessary, like passwords and log-in names, to deal with these service providers.

I would get so angry with him for not having the information handy but when I thought about my own affairs…I realized that few of us are organized for some "stranger" to just walk in and take over.

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If I Die… became a set of practical documents created with the idea of providing all the information necessary for a friend or family member to take care of your financial affairs.

As I found with my friend, one does not necessarily have to die to discover that the organizational idea of If I Die… is a necessity. A term in common use which addresses the assorted living needs that anyone has, if you want to research this further, is “Essential Document Locator”.

I found several sections of information essential, not only for being prepared for the day when I'll die, but as an aid right now keeping track of my:

  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Websites and organizations with which I have a paid membership
  • Financial institutions and the account numbers where I have deposited money
  • Address and access information for my safe deposit box
  • Central location for tracking all my different insurance policies along with all their account numbers

I keep a printed hard copy on hand and make additions and changes with a pen. When it gets too messy, I insert my thumb drive and add (or delete) all the changes. Then, I print out a new hard copy. I keep meaning to save a copy to a CD and send it to my executor for their records. I probably should make a copy for my safe deposit box…I…um…just haven't got round to it yet *eye roll*.

Financial Activities Form

A Financial Activities Form (PDF or DOC) is a record of your
investments, assets, and liabilities via bank and savings accounts, credit cards, pension plans, retirement funds, monthly household bills, subscription accounts, and insurances along with your essential identifying information. It includes the name of the institution and its location, how to contact them, if someone at the company handles your accounts, the account numbers, passwords, log-in names…everything you or the person holding your power-of-attorney needs to best handle your finances.

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Financial Power-of-Attorney

A financial power-of-attorney is a legal right you set up with someone you trust to pay your bills and deal with your money if something should happen to you. It doesn't kick in unless something does happen to prevent your being able to handle your daily financial affairs. You can revoke this power at any time; your death automatically cancels their authority.

The Colorado Bar Association put together a booklet which does a great job of explaining a financial durable power-of-attorney—go with "durable". It's like a commercial version of a regular power-of-attorney but with more oomph!

Caution About Those POAs

Unless you go through an attorney who specializes in this field and can ensure that you have a very durable power-of-attorney, you could easily run into red-tape at the bank if all you have is the type of form available at office supply stores. I did manage to assure each of my friend's banks, but it was a huge hassle.

Each bank or savings and loan is likely to have their own particular power-of-attorney form. Before you go to the trouble of finding or visiting a notary public to verify the signatures on a power-of-attorney form, pick up a form from each bank or savings and loan at which you have an account.

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Essential Document Locator

The Essential Document Locator Form (PDF or DOC) tells if you have a safe deposit box and how to access it as well as where to find your will and your Five Wishes among other necessary information including where to find your original Social Security card—the nursing home was insisting on seeing my friend's original card. In the first weeks after his attack, my friend was not able to think clearly let alone remember details such as where to find an original SSN card!

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Medical History

The Medical History is a four-part form consisting of lists of your current healthcare providers (PDF or DOC), a detailed history of your past personal medical issues (PDF or DOC), a family health history (PDF or DOC), and current medications (PDF or DOC).

The Current Health Care Providers and Current Medications comes in handy right now whatever your health; I take a copy anytime I visit a new doctor; I always take a copy of Current Medications when I go to the pharmacy to be sure that any new medications won't conflict with my current drugs AND to the doctor’s office as they’re always wanting to know (or verify) what I’m taking. If you have siblings, children, or grandchildren, complete the Family History section and send a copy to everyone in your family. It's also a great excuse for you to talk to older relatives about any health information they can remember.

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Living Will

A living will is an advance directive for the type of medical care you want if you should be incapable of telling your health care providers.

If you are particular about your meals, your medical treatment, the people who coexist in your space, your grooming requirements, etc.—you want a living will. When you're trapped in a bed and can’'t move, your environment becomes incredibly important for your sanity.

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DNR or POLST Form

The DNR form is also known as a Do Not Resuscitate Order while the POLST is the Physicians Order for Life Sustaining Treatment. Both are signed by and/or authorized by a doctor, usually for people suffering from a terminal condition. It can be a part of your living will; it has to be carried around with you like the living will for it to be effective in an emergency. Explore the Living Will page for a variety of ideas.

The University of Michigan Health Center has a PDF form you can fill out. Remember to have it witnessed by two people who know you but do not benefit from your death and do not (or will not) provide you with health care.

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Will

A will saves money. It helps ensure that your money and property goes to the people you want to have it, although, same-sex couples do not have this guarantee. A will permits you to choose who will raise your children and how the property they inherit from you is administered. If you do not make these decisions in advance, the government will step in and decide for you. You know how lousy they are at making good choices…

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Keeping Your Information Secure

From a security standpoint, do not save this document on the hard drive of the computer. It contains important, private information, which someone could use to steal your identity. Save this information on an independent flash drive, which is not left plugged into the computer, or burn the information onto a CD.

Then, either file the drive or the CD with your personal or financial information, in a safety deposit box, or with your lawyer. Where you store the drive or CD will depend on several issues:

  • How often the information may change
  • How easy it is for your survivor(s) to find it or access it—be sure to tell several (trusted) people where to find this information!

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Types of Information to Track

Personal Information

The obvious types are bank and credit card accounts, the mortgage holder for any real estate, and utilities. The less-obvious types are the accounts you have for IRAs or investment funds; department store credit cards; monthly bills for video clubs, Internet service providers, and health clubs; social, professional, or fraternal organizations; insurance policies for life, medical, dental, house, umbrella, rental, property, auto, personal property, and/or disability; and, annual subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. It becomes very useful when you move too!

Your medical history comes in very handy for you right now. I got so tired of having to provide my history (and I would forget parts of it) that I finally wrote it all down. There's no point in not writing it all down as the insurance companies can find everything and the more accurate information you can provide your doctor, the better his/her diagnosis may be for you, a significant other, a child, a parent…

The person acting as your power-of-attorney or as the executor of your estate also needs to know where to find important documents such as your will and any memoranda referred to in the will; trust documents; records pertaining to any vehicles you own; tax returns; if you have a safe deposit box (and the location of the key!); the combination of any locks from the one keeping the gate inaccessible to the lock granting access to the safe; and, any personal papers such as birth and/or marriage certificates, adoption papers, divorce or separation papers, passports, military discharge papers, and/or retirement information.

It was a bit overwhelming when the nursing home started asking for my friend's original Social Security card and his tax returns amongst other records. I never did find his SSN card…and, (un)fortunately, he died before they could push it very hard.

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Business Information

If the person runs his or her own business, similar types of information will be needed for the business if it is run as a single-person's operation. A power-of-attorney form will include a line for "Business Operating Transactions"; initialing this box enables your attorney-in-fact to deal with issues for a business.

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Address Lists

One of the more frustrating aspects, which arose with my friend, was his list of friends and family. It existed as scraps of paper, bits of newspaper, and a range of business cards. Some of it was in a card file while other bits were scattered throughout the house. I wish I knew what he might have had on his computer but I turned the computer off while he was in the nursing home (he died before I had a chance to find out his computer password). I tried to assemble as much of the contact information on my own computer as I could, but, I had no idea how old the information was or if the person was a friend, a business colleague, a single-time contact or a friend as well as a business associate. Some people had up to four cards in his card file each with different contact information and no indication as to which was most current.

Do everyone a favor. It doesn't matter if you use a paper-based system or the computer; just keep a current list of addresses and contact information in one place. Keep only the most current information in this list. Come up with a code (which you use consistently!) to indicate if this person is a friend, a business colleague, a contact for house or business-related repairs, or simply a card you picked up from this really great restaurant.

My friend picked up business cards from restaurants, businesses with which he considered doing business, the drycleaners, movie theaters, and people he met at business or social functions. Some of them became friends. Some were merely references to a great place to eat. But, I'm not sure which is which. How do I let his friends and current business connections know that he died? I'm sure he would want me to tell them…

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Photo of Kathy Davie

Kathy Davie is an editor, author, and artist with degrees in Technical Writing & Editing, Digital Media, and History from Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colorado.

A huge believer in knowledge being power, Kathy has an ongoing and free set of Author Tools for authors interested in self-editing with an ongoing series of posts on Word Confusions, what’s Properly Punctuated, those tricky Formatting Tips, and the sleep-inducing Grammar Explanations. There is also an online tutorial on Using Microsoft Word’s Markup Tool.

And if you get too sleepy, explore KD Did It for various writing and editing services.

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