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It’s not something we like to think about, but you don’t have to look far to realize it only takes minutes for your life to go from peaceful to panic.
Lee was working on a scaffold in New York City when it suddenly collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital in a coma. His wife Beth had focused on taking care of their five children, and hadn’t taken the time to pay attention to how Lee managed the bill paying on their computer. When he woke up after three days, her first question was “Lee, what’s the password to the computer?”
John, who lived alone, was riding a bicycle when a motorist suddenly opened his door in front of John, and he was left in a coma on the street. Finding the information needed to care for him became an overwhelming challenge.
One of the most important gifts you can give your family, or if you live alone, yourself, is to address these seven questions regarding the information that someone will need if you pass away or are incapacitated:
1) What Information Do We Need To Keep?
Start now to identify the information others will need to take over the “business of life.” It’s easy to find books, software and other resources to collect the information, but don’t let perfectionism prevent your progress. Pick one, and begin today. You can always change to another system later. Just putting notes in a file folder (easily accessible by the person you want to have it!) is a place to start.
2) In What Form — Paper or Electronic?
This question should be answered by the person who is collecting the information – or procrastination will prevail. If the person who is collecting the information prefers paper, but the person who will need the information prefers electronic, they can make the change either now or when the time comes they are actually using it.
3) Who Is Responsible for Filing It?
Of course, the answer is obvious if you live alone! In a family, the answer is the person who most often deals with the information that needs to be shared, but ideally it should be a shared task, since one person is quite likely to think of things the other person does not.
4) For how long?
It will be easier for someone else to take over your records management if you don’t give them more than they need. Create a habit of purging your information annually while you are updating any information that has changed.
5) Who Needs Access To It?
There should be at least one person who has access to everything in the case of accident or illness. (You may want to identify a second person in case the first one is not available in a timely manner.) Other people may need/want access to certain types of information. For example, you might want all your children to have access to the information you are collecting, or your primary doctor should have access to all your medical records
6) How Can We Find It?
The key to finding information you are keeping in paper format is a file index – a list of the names of the files/documents. The advantage of electronic filing is the search capability of the computer, but even in that case, make sure to put enough words in the file names to make it easy for others to find. Use consistency in recording dates – e.g., xxxx-xx-xx (year-month-day).
7) How Is It Backed Up?
If you are using paper, at least store the information in a fire proof safe, but a safer solution would be to have a second copy in a separate location. Obviously this makes updating a bigger challenge. History demonstrates that the only thing between you and a computer crash is time, so if you are storing your information electronically, and the people who need it are in various locations, the most effective solution is storing the information in the “cloud.”
Clutter is postponed decisions. Through the years, I’ve seen families with filing cabinets, boxes, and drawers filled with important information. When the unexpected happens, panic ensues, and the pain of the situation is increased multi-fold.
Start today to collect the information someone else might need to take care of your affairs. It will be a treasured gift.