If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that life is fragile and the unexpected can and will happen. This is why all of us, even the healthiest of people, should have some form of a legacy binder.
If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me? For I must be traveling on now…
Before I leave, I’ll be sure to fill out my legacy binder and let you know where it is in the case of an emergency. Have you filled out yours?
My guess is yes, you will remember me, at least for a little while, but will you remember how I manage our money?
Will you still remember why we do the backdoor Roth in January and know how best to take distributions from my 457(b)? How to access our joint taxable account or how the bills get paid every month?
Will you know where I want my body or ashes to be buried or spread? Or what I loved and will miss most about you?
A legacy binder like Chelsea Brennan’s Family Emergency Binder can answer these questions and more.
You can take care of your family’s financial needs with a life insurance policy (get a term life insurance quote online from PolicyGenius or from one of our trusted agents), but there will be a hundred other questions and conundrums if you were to pass away suddenly and unexpectedly.
Our friend Ether to FI shared his love letter from a dead man. Today, I’d like to share a resource that expands upon that idea and makes it easy to gather all the necessary information to share with your next of kin in the event of an untimely demise.
The Legacy Binder
What is a legacy binder? Also known as a death binder or legacy folder, it’s a place where you store all the pertinent information that can help your family pick up the pieces if you, your partner, or both of you leave this world unexpectedly. It can also come in handy if you are incapacitated and unable to function as you did before.
The resource I’m highlighting today is actually best prepared as two binders. The first contains basic family information that does not contain sensitive information that you could store on a bookshelf. This includes information such as:
- Emergency Phone Numbers
- Extended Family Contact Info
- Medical Information (doctors, insurance, POA)
- Child care preferences
- Pet care
- Insurance Policies
- Property Information
- Tax Information
The second binder is one that should be under lock and key, preferably in a safe. It may be a good idea to also share a copy with the person you most trust to help your family in your absence, or at least give them a labeled key to the safe.
This second binder includes sensitive information that would make an identity thief drool. Keep that in mind when deciding where to keep it and who will have access. It will include information such as:
- Investment accounts and passwords
- Investing strategy (preferably an Investor Policy Statement)
- Social Media accounts and passwords
- Email accounts and passwords
- Copies of Personal Documents (Social Security, Birth Certificate, Marriage License)
- Notes to your loved ones
There’s a lot of information to gather, but if it’s not easy for you to do while alive and well, imagine if your partner or child had to piece together as much as possible while grieving your loss or keeping vigil near your ICU bed. I don’t like to think about it any more than you do, but I don’t want to leave anyone in the lurch if the worst happens.
Family Emergency Binder Contents
To give you an idea of what this looks like, I’ve taken some screen shots of various excerpts from the legacy binder.
Towards the beginning, you’ll find a clickable Table of Contents that will let you jump to the various sections of the document.
The pages of the binder have a nicer look to them as compared to the hyperlinked Table of Contents. Here’s an example showing one of many entries available to enter an investment account. Note the detail that includes the account type, how to access it, value, and named beneficiaries.
Some sections are not meant to be filled out, but have a checklist for you to gather and insert pertinent documents.
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There are sections for insurance information and Power of Attorney documentation. Forms for POA for Consent to Medical Care for a Minor are included, and there is a link to free forms for durable POA for adults, the requirements of which can vary by state.
Rental property owners will be able to leave detailed information behind on each property they own. Several of these are included, and you can print off as many as you need. Below is a partial screenshot of that section.
If you’ve got pets, you’ve got pages that will pass along the information needed to properly care for them, as well.
If you’re like me and have social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, there’s a place for that information. There’s even a field to fill out the need-to-know information about my website.
That’s a small sample of what you will find in the binder. Trust me; it’s quite thorough. After the first release, Chelsea incorporated the feedback she received and nearly doubled the content.
In Case of Emergency Binder: What Your Loved Ones Need to Know
I have a problem with inertia. When I need to get things done, I start with the easiest tasks to accomplish. It’s easier to get a small ball rolling than a big boulder. To me, this binder idea has been a massive, oblong rock that I haven’t wanted to touch. I always reach for the pebbles and bypass the heavy stones.
Luckily for me (and for you if you haven’t done this), our friend Chelsea Brennan has taken the big oddly-shaped rock and turned it into something resembling a bowling ball. It’s still a bit heavy, but I can easily pick it up and roll it down the lane.
She has prepared an attractive 170-page downloadable that contains all the information you’ll need to prepare and complete your legacy binder.
If that sounds overwhelming, know that you won’t be entering info on 170 different pages. She’s included extra pages in numerous categories in case you have many individual investment accounts, rental properties, children, pets, etc… If you have no military history, rentals, kids, cats, dogs, or websites, those are pages you won’t need to print or fill out.
The “ICE Binder” has all of the information I mentioned above and additional pages for those with military service, private businesses, and plenty of blank note space for additional information not covered in the template. Having a well-organized print out makes it much easier to tackle this task, and you can easily do it a few pages at a time.
What’s not included? There isn’t much mention of wills and trusts, other than to insert your will and trust information. It’s important to distinguish that the ICE Binder is not meant to replace those. I didn’t see any mention of 529 Plans, but there’s plenty of space to add information for every type of account one can own.
Chelsea recommends printing the downloadable in color, placing the sheets in protective sleeves, and inserting all the documents and requested information that can’t be written in the pages in additional sleeves.
Where Can I Get My Legacy Binder?
You can come up with your own easily enough, but I doubt it will be as complete as the one Chelsea put together. If you value your time at above minimum wage, I highly recommend coughing up the $39 to download hers.
Chelsea is a generous person, but she’s no longer a hedge fund manager, having chosen to remain home with her husband and children while growing a freelance and entrepreneurial career. She does hope to receive some compensation for her efforts, and I think she deserves some.
The $39 cost is a great value, and based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback Mrs. Brennan and I have received.
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Do you have a legacy binder? Do you use something similar or different? What’s in yours that you recommend others add to their own?