It’s something no one really wants to think about. But giving some thought to how your loved ones will handle your personal effects when you’re gone — such as closing out internet and TV service, shutting down social media accounts or even accessing your smartphone — can help lessen the burden during a time of grief and loss.
That’s why people young and old have always been encouraged to create a will — though, not everyone has done so. According to a 2019 survey by Caring.com, 76% of respondents said having a will is important, but only 43% said they actually have estate planning documents, such as a will or living trust, in place.
And while August and National Make-A-Will Month are almost over, it’s never too late to take steps to get your personal effects in order. In fact, taking things a bit further and creating a “When I Die” file with your cable and internet billing information, social media logins, real estate holdings and more may be your best option to ensure everything is a little bit easier for your loved ones.
What is a “When I Die” file?
The idea for a “When I Die” file comes from the book A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death by palliative care doctor B.J. Miller and Shoshana Berger, which was published this past July.
In the book, they recommend creating the “findable file” (either an actual file folder, binder, cloud-based drive or shoebox) with information to all of your accounts, billing and subscription services, how to access smartphones and computers, social media logins, real estate deeds and power of attorney information.
“The average time it takes to settle an estate is 16 months, so your family ends up with a full-time job of sleuthing through your mail and files to find all that stuff right when they are trying to figure out how to live without you,” Berger told AARP.
What should you include in a “When I Die” file?
A “When I Die” file can include anything you want it to include. However, there are some basics you should be sure to cover.
- Signed advance directive
- Will and living trust
- Marriage or divorce certificate(s)
- Funeral instructions
Billing account information:
- Bank account(s)
- Cell phone service provider
- Credit and debit card provider(s)
- Direct deposits or payments
- Home insurance provider
- Internet service provider
- Life, disability and/or health insurance provider
- Mortgage or rent company
- TV provider
- Utility company
- Vehicle deed(s)
- Vehicle loan or lease information
- Vehicle insurance provider
- Bank account login(s)
- Computer login
- Email login
- PIN numbers for bank accounts
- Smartphone or tablet logins
- Social media logins
- Usernames and passwords for other online accounts
- Letters to loved ones
- Family photos
- Small mementos
Other information to include:
- Doctors’ offices and contact information
- Pharmacy location and contact information
- Work or volunteer locations and contact information
- List of subscription services, such as magazines, newspapers, streaming accounts, monthly boxes, etc.
Also, consider contacting your monthly service providers — cable, internet, cell phone, etc. — to add your partner, child or another family member as a joint owner of the account.
This will not only clue them in as to which accounts will need to be taken care of when you pass but should also make it easier for them to close out the account or take ownership of it.
Why is a “When I Die” file important?
As mentioned above, closing out someone’s personal effects after they pass can take months to a year or more. For some, creating a “When I Die” file is a way to ensure things are done the way they want in a timely manner, while for others it may be the last act of love for their family.
In general, though, creating a “When I Die” file is a way to help your loved ones navigate your loss while they’re grieving. Instead of having to sort through your home or track down old accounts, everything is in one place.