Nine things to organize before a tragedy

Today we welcome Jeri Dansky to our Unclutterer content team. She’ll have a weekly post full of uncluttering and organizing advice that is guided by her many successful years as a professional organizer.

What would happen if you became seriously ill and a family member or friend had to make sure you and your household were properly taken care of?

Of course, it’s wise to have a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care or the equivalents. (The specific documents you need will depend on where you live.) You’ll also want a financial power of attorney or whatever legal document provides a similar ability to manage your money on your behalf. Consider consulting with an estate attorney to make sure you’re prepared in this regard.

Even with these legal documents in place, you still have some preparation to do. Think of all the things someone would need to know in order to run your life on your behalf. Here are just a few:

  1. What medicines are you taking? Do you have any allergies? What immunizations have you had? What are the major events in your medical history: surgeries, etc.?
  2. If you have pets, what do they get fed, and when? Are they taking any medications? If so, where are those medications and how do they get taken?
  3. What’s the password to pick up your voice mail messages? How would someone check your email?
  4. Where is your calendar — and if it’s online, how does it get accessed? Are there any standing appointments that should be cancelled?
  5. Where is your address book — and again, how does it get accessed if it’s online? Who should be notified if there’s a serious problem?
  6. Do you have a post office box where mail should be checked? Where’s the key for the box?
  7. What regular bills get paid automatically, and which ones need to get paid manually? Will someone need access to your online bill paying systems? Will someone need the PIN for your ATM card?
  8. Is there a home alarm system? If so, how does it work?
  9. Are there any quirks about your home that someone should know about? For example, in my home, the switch for the garbage disposal is hard to find.

It may seem, at first, that pulling this information together only matters if you’re single — but actually, everyone could benefit by gathering this information and sharing it with trusted people. Sometimes, one spouse or life partner doesn’t know everything the other one does. And, there are scenarios where both spouses or partners would need help at the same time.

It’s natural to avoid thinking about the chance of anything bad happening to us — but it’s a real kindness to your friends and family to take the time to pull this information together, just in case it’s needed. I remember being in the emergency room with my mom, filling out the hospital admission forms and trying desperately to remember if it was her left hip or her right that got replaced some years ago. When Mom had surgery and was away from home for weeks, I was glad I knew all the little things to do, such as canceling her weekly appointment at the beauty salon. While it wouldn’t have been a tragedy if I didn’t cancel that appointment, it was a nice courtesy. It also comforted my mom to know I’d be taking care of such things for her.

10 Comments for “Nine things to organize before a tragedy”

  1. posted by Anne on

    My husband and I have created a list of people to be notified, should we be severely injured or pass away, and included current phone numbers and e-mails. We also have lists of user names & passwords for websites and the wireless router which are password protected on our computers.

  2. posted by Loretta on

    Where would you recommend keeping this information so that it’s accessible if legitimately needed but not if someone should break in?

  3. posted by lisa on

    I made my “in case of emergency” file in the file cabinet, and I did not write out my passwords, but the clue,i.e. name of first pet, clues my family will understand easily.

  4. posted by Dawn F on

    I would also recommend adding information about a storage unit (if you have one). When my uncle passed away, my mom had a lot of problems even finding the location of the storage unit my uncle rented and gaining access to it (she was the executor). He stored some very important items that had belonged to their parents and my mom almost missed the opportunity to get them back.

    We have an In Case Of life binder stored in our locked fire/water-proof safe in our master bedroom closet along other critical documents.

  5. posted by Ella on

    It’s wonderful to see you here, Jeri; what a great addition to the site! Thank you for this excellent and timely piece. I’m constantly honing my emergency plan, so I’ll keep reading the comments for further ideas. I second Loretta’s question about where to store this information, especially if you live alone?

  6. posted by Anon on

    I have an “in case of emergency” envelope that I keep in a very obvious (but out of the way) location in my office, with the most urgent emergency information (spouse/pastor contact information, medical conditions, blood types, where to pick up children – things that won’t be able to wait in an emergency) and instructions on how to retrieve the full “In Case of Emergency” file that has passwords, bank account info etc (things that would need dealt with but that could wait). I keep the real file somewhere else, where a trusted person is responsible for its safekeeping.

    My “real” file has account information (log-in names, account numbers), but it also has instructions on where to find my passwords. So, all my info is in three spots – inspired by banks who send the debit card and PIN numbers separately.

    It may seem like a lot, but if I’m in a car accident, I don’t need the paramedics or law enforcement knowing my debit card PIN number, but someone would need to know where to pick up my kids after school – and without having to dig through random places hoping to find something. The initial envelope is easily accessible.

    It may seem like overkill, but I am happy with the way I have it set up. If I’m really gone for good, I’d rather send someone on a (easy) treasure hunt for the “master list” than leave them stranded with nothing.

  7. posted by clothespin on

    Just having gone through this – fire safes are not worth the money. I would never trust one to keep anything safe in an actual fire. We were part of a huge wildfire and numerous folks all told us that their fire safes contents were destroyed… In fact, I’ve not heard of one safe that actually did what it is advertised to do. (The safe manufacturer stated that it protects agains flames – not heat.) Safe deposite boxes are much safer for things this important. The fire safe or any safe is great though for stuff you want to keep in the house… Just a thought from one who has been there done that.

  8. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    Loretta, that’s a great question — and I don’t think there’s any one answer. Of course, much of this information could be freely available; anyone is welcome to know how to feed my cats!

    But some information you definitely want to keep secure. As mentioned in this online discussion: “There are some simple technical solutions (Keepass/DropBox etc) and some procedural ones (password for your master password file stored in an envelope with a solicitor or notary).”

    Personally, I’ve given a list of key passwords (and other confidential info) to the appropriate people and asked them to store it securely; the list did not have my name on it. I figured that while they may not have easy access to MY safe deposit box, they could store it in their own!

  9. posted by Mary R. on

    Jeri, thank you for this great post! Very important information!

  10. posted by Mark on

    Two words: organ donation

    Because, when your family is approached at the worst minute of their lives, asking permission to cut you up to save someone they’ve never met, the fact you had gone on record as saying yes, or no, will help them more than you could imagine.

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