We’ve come a long way in the past six months. Although I have a very impressive filing cabinet and hordes of documents, there was no simple way for another person to navigate through them. In addition, should there be a flood or fire, those precious papers could be destroyed leaving a confusing hunt for insurance and account information.
Finally, I had not updated my Will, Power of Attorney, or information regarding guardianship of my child since getting remarried. My new husband had never made a Will and had no Power of Attorney. Should anything happen to either or both of us, we were completely unprepared.
I was determined to remedy the situation and came up with a 6-Month Family Document Challenge to get everything in order. We set the plan in place and committed to gathering the necessary information, meeting with professionals, and having talks with loved ones. We can now be confident that we have anticipated, and handled in advance, a variety of circumstances to the best of our ability. This is an important part of acting as responsible adults, and particularly important for parents of minors.
Here’s a recap of the 6-Month Family Document Challenge activities:
Month 1 – Have frank discussions with family about who will be entrusted with your will and POA, your children’s welfare, etc. Make known if you have certain preferences about life support, funeral and burial options.
Month 2 — Meet with an attorney to draw up a Will, POA, Living Will and something to specify responsibility for your children.
Month 3 — Meet with an agent to discuss life insurance.
Month 4 – Organize important documents, identification, up to date medical records on all family members, account information, and passwords, in a way that someone can easily find crucial data in a timely manner. Discuss with loved ones where this information is located.
Month 5 — Review how the finances are set up, what bills are automated, and where accounts are held.
Month 6 — Implement a safe storage method for all this information so important records are not lost in case of fire, flood or theft.
Keeping Personal Information Private
So here we are in the 6th month. We have gathered personal, financial and household information, scanned documents, and are ready to store this information. We also want a way to share the information with the person(s) designated to take care of our accounts in case we are incapacitated.
What are the options for safely storing and sharing this information? After the technology disaster I went through a few months back, where I lost my hard drive, I highly recommend backing up and storing files off of your computer.
Ideally, you want a solution that will protect your information from fire, water, or theft. Here are some options to consider, with pros and cons:
- A personal safe. A safe can hold both physical documents and a copy of your digital files on an external hard drive, flash drive or disc. A small safe is good protection against fire and water, but is easily removed by a thief. A large safe that is bolted to the floor would be safer in a robbery, but probably much more than most people need.
- A safe deposit box. You can rent a safe deposit box at the bank. This offers security and is the option my own lawyer recommends. The downside is having to keep up payments and make sure someone knows where it is if you become incapacitated. Also, it isn’t as convenient to switch out the information when you make updates.
- The “Cloud.” With today’s technology, you have access to plenty of storage available in cyberspace on the Cloud, or using apps such as Dropbox or Google drive. I have mixed feelings about this option. I think it is likely the best as far as ease of use for updating and sharing information. There is also no risk of damage from the elements or robbery. You can simply pass along a code to your designated Power of Attorney to access the files when needed. My issue with this is I don’t really understand enough about where the information really resides, what companies control it or who might gain access to my personal information.
- An e-mail, disc or drive at someone else’s home. You can email or use something like Dropbox to pass documents to your designated Power of Attorney online. It would be a quick, easy solution for giving them updated information. It would also make it so it something happened to your home, there would still be a copy safe with them. However, there is the risk of something happening to the files in their care or even the possibility of others getting your information as it is passed electronically. Giving them a disk or flash drive in person would solve that, but have to be done whenever you make key updates to your information.
There isn’t a “right answer” for this. It really depends on your own situation and comfort level with technology. The most important thing is to make sure you keep your personal information private, up to date, and shared with those that may need it if you become incapacitated.
If you are not yet at this point in the document challenge, don’t beat yourself up. Many people don’t have this information up to date. Do what you can, as you are able. The goal is to have as much as possible in place so that your family, pets and belongings will be cared for in your absence. Then sit back and enjoy greater peace of mind.